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Farming in faith

In June 2012, Christian Courier featured an interview with Rev. Dr. Wa Kitavi about a unique partnership between Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM) and the Pentecostal Theological College (Uganda) – the establishment of a dairy farm linked to the school. The project was designed to equip future pastors not only with community development skills, but with the possibility of earning a living as farmers. Recently I met with Garry Sytsma to chat about the progress of this groundbreaking enterprise. Sytsma, a retired farmer, is the volunteer Canadian Advocate for Wa Kitavi’s ministry in East Africa. He’s also an elder in his home church, Jarvis Ebenezer CRC, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the CRCNA.

Christian Courier: You’ve been involved in this venture for seven years. What started this journey? And what’s your current role?
Garry Sytsma:
In 2004 I met Mwaya Wa Kitavi in Lagos, Nigeria, at an international Bible League meeting. Later, when Mwaya was hired by CRWM to open a new ministry in East Africa, we reconnected. He said to me, “Do I have something for you!” It was this dairy farm project in Uganda, but they had no money and it was outside the budget. I came in when the project was just getting off the ground. I sat on the Accountability Team in Uganda, a visual audit group, so that when money started coming in for the project, the Memorandum of Understanding between World Renew, CRWM and Pentecostal Theological College would be followed. In North America my role was fundraising. Ninety percent of the funds for the dairy farm came from Canada!

Today my role is changing and I’m no longer doing fundraising. As Mwaya Wa Kitavi’s Advocate in Canada for the East Africa ministry, I try to fulfill any requests he might have. Most recently, he wanted a thousand bookmarks on prayer, so I was able to do that.

Can you update us on the growth of the farm?
I was just there in January of this year and the whole set-up was better looking than it has ever been. Part of the credit goes to Eric Ranck, a graduate of Penn State University, who spent 15 months there as farm manager. Along with some other administrative changes, holistically, everything was looking good. Dairy products are being used by the college and are being sold.

The farm is now operationally independent. That was the original intent. We did not want to build something over there that we owned. We were going to help build something that was self-sustainable and that was of great benefit to the church at large. We’ve reached that goal in seven years. One of the other good things that got done was the creation of a library in the school. And there were profs from Calvin, pastors and missionaries who visited the seminary and taught there for short-term assignments.

A big highlight for all of us was the celebration of the completion of the farm. But it was really gratifying to visit earlier this year and see that some necessary internal changes had been made. Suggestions and advice had been given and had been acted upon.

That seems to suggest that the project faced some challenges to get this current state of success.
Yes, there were some hiccups. One major challenge is that as North Americans and Western Europeans we have been the answer to everyone’s problems and thus have become the enablers of dependency. That dependency has become a culture in itself. Many white people go there to be in charge, but that’s definitely not why we were there. We were there to walk side by side and help Africans help themselves. Business management is a huge stumbling block. Tribal loyalties can sometimes be an impediment when family relationships are put ahead of sound business decisions.

One of our practical struggles was with the artificial insemination of the cows. Our African partners weren’t trained or skilled enough to make this work well. We finally had to have someone from the U.S. come and help with the process.

But the students were committed and enjoyed the dairy farm work. One interesting sidelight is that the seminary students had to work in the kitchen processing the milk. This was completely new. Men don’t do things in the kitchen! One student went home and began helping his wife in the kitchen, a boundary-crossing event for him.

There are non-governmental organizations who only hire women as managers because the men, once they become a manager, no longer feel responsible to do anything. Being a manager means you can tell someone else to do the work! It was a real eye-opener for some for some of our African friends to learn that my wife and I worked our farm alone. They had asked how many guys I had working for me.

Healthy cows at the farm in Mbale, Uganda.

You’ve travelled to Uganda nine times in the last seven years. What have you learned about African culture that might surprise us here in North America?
One thing that’s hard for us to understand is the time aspect. One pastor said to me, “You have a watch, but I have time.” So the idea of getting things done quickly or by a certain deadline is not how Africans operate. Also, if you have money, and someone in your family needs money, you have to share. It might mean that nobody has anything to eat tomorrow, but sharing is mandatory.

What future developments are in the works for CRWM’s East Africa ministry?
One new initiative is the Global Prayer Safari (GPS). Mwaya is trying to promote the idea that we have a responsibility to pray for one another, both internationally and locally. One of the components of GPS is to send teams into hospitals and prisons to pray for people. I was in a hospital in Nairobi and ended up praying for a man chained to his bed because he was a prisoner. In the end he asked, “Would you pray for my wife and children?” So this prayer ministry is well received.

Fifteen years ago the Maasai tribe in Kenya were an unreached people group. But by 2009 there were four or five little churches in place. One of those church groups has started a Christian school and two classes are up and running. A GEMS program has also been launched. Most of their pastors have a Bible, but not a Study Bible, so they struggle to write sermons. There may be a role for me here doing some fundraising for Study Bibles. I’ll be discussing this with Mwaya in a few weeks.

Eighty percent or more of African pastors do not have a degree or formal education. They’ve received a call from the Spirit, have responded positively and now urgently need basic Pastoral Training. The TEA (Theological Education in Africa) conference is a biennial program organized by Mwaya to bring pastors and lay leaders together for a week of in-depth training. Over 500 people attended the most recent TEA conference, representing some 80 churches and denominations. Calvin College’s Dr. Jeff Weima is slated to be a keynote speaker at the 2017 TEA conference. Timothy Leadership Training is another significant tool still being used effectively by both Mwaya and his wife, Munyiva, a Doctor of Education in her own right. 

 

Garry Sytsma lives in Hagersville, Ont. and invites anyone interested in learning more about CRWM’s East Africa ministry to contact him at 1-905-768-3961 or at moc.liamg@amstyshg.

Author

  • Cathy Smith, former features editor and columnist for Christian Courier, is a retired Christian schoolteacher who lives in Wyoming, Ont.

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