Kerith Community Church in Bracknell have been on a five-year journey that has taken them all the way Zambia, and to the community on their doorstep. And it all started with Bono.
It’s given me a whole different perspective on life.
Simon Benham, leader of Kerith Community Church
It was the words of Irish rock singer Bono that lit the spark paper in Kerith Community Church’s heart. Based in Bracknell, Kerith Community Church (KCC) is a contemporary family church.
They have, as a congregation, long nurtured small international links with missionaries around the globe, but it wasn’t until they hosted the Willow Leadership Satellite Conference in 2005 that they were convicted that God had more for them.
Unexpectedly it was all to do the global epidemic of HIV/AIDs.
Bono gave a very strong charge to the Church that the greatest human tragedy happening on earth at that moment was the HIV AIDs epidemic; wiping out millions people and leaving millions of children living as orphans - and yet the Church really hadn’t got involved,’ KCC leader, Simon Benham, said.
Because it was tied up in sex and sexuality, the church had chosen to not engage. We heard that talk and felt that it was almost a prophetic call to us as a church to do something and to get involved.
Shortly after, the KCC leadership team contacted Tearfund. They were keen to explore ways of putting this conviction into action, and so a team from the church went on a ‘immersion’ trip with Tearfund. They stayed with families living in poverty in Serenje, Zambia, where many people were affected by the reality of HIV AIDs whether directly or indirectly.
For many on the trip, it was a completely new experience. 'I was nervous about how we would connect but then when we were there it was easy,’ said KCC member, Catrina Benham. She recalled the moment they first went into the home of their host, Jean. ‘She had a pretty little table with a mirror on and she had two pairs of shoes laid out really beautifully, and something hanging up and I thought: women are pretty much the same the world over.'
As they encountered first hand the life-robbing reality of HIV AIDS - not just for sufferers but for families and whole communities, KCC knew they had to help.
When you’ve been in a village and you’ve sat with a family and watched them with no hope in their eyes, wondering where their next meal’s going to come from, and mum and dad died of HIV AIDs, you see that sense of desperation and feel like you just have to do something.
And so a partnership was born.
Kerith committed to partner with Tearfund and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia to invest in the Zambian district of Serenje.
Listening to the needs of the community, their aim was four-fold: to support HIV prevention; to improve food security and provide livelihoods; to help provide education for children who have been orphaned or left vulnerable by HIV AIDs and to develop leaders within the community.
Back on Bracknell soil with their aim solidified, they began to share the experience the team had in Zambia and inviting others to come on board and make a difference. The church embraced the partnership, giving generously to support the work of EFZ . The congregation got involved in an effort that spanned generations, reaching the very youngest in the church…
‘Because the church was involved in other ways with the community in Serenje, we wanted to do something for the children there. What we could do that would really identify with our children was to raise money for pencils for children to have,’ explained Yvonne Scott, who was the children’s pastor at KCC at the time. The children’s groups decorated Smartie tubes to look like a pencil and the collected twenty pence pieces which they donated to EFZ to buy pencils for children at school in Serenje.
But perhaps the most unexpected part of the tale was how, as church members put their passion for Serenje on display in other areas of their lives they saw how it provoked the interest of those outside the church.
KCC member Ian Hudell, is a coach at the local football team in Bifield, Bracknell. He suggested donating out-of-seasons football kits over to the community in Serenje so that the children there could play in proper kits. ‘The committee members were very happy to get involved and it snowballed from there,’ Ian explains.
‘People in the community heard about it and we started getting donations of football boots… It was great to see the film brought back by the church showing kids running around in their kits. This went up in the village newsletter which led to more requests of 'how we can help?' from across the community.’ Donations flooded in and KCC were able to take over football boots and other donations in the their next visit.
‘It makes people more aware of what's going on in the wider world and how we're all one big world,’ Ian said. ‘It gives people a sense of purpose. It brings people to Kerith, to know what we're engaged in and how we're trying to help others in practical ways. It's a great opportunity for us to approach others and get others involved.'
Ian wasn’t the only church member whose passion for Serenje spilled over into the rest of life. ‘I'm a primary school teacher so it was just natural to talk about it when I got back,’ Catrina said. ‘We linked up with a school out there. We wrote letters to the children; they wrote letters to us. We made a scrapbook of our school and our area; what we eat for lunch, for example. We sent out disposable cameras with our scrapbook and they did the same and sent them back for us to process them.’
The Head Teacher and school governors were keen to nurture the partnership and to help children learn about life in other countries. ‘Africa club’ began, where different children could come each week to learn about life in Serenje and present ideas to the school and the school governors about how they could help as they discovered more about life for their Zambian counterparts. The school raised money for materials the children in Serenje needed for their school work like workbooks and stationery, and for a mobile library that would service not just their link school, but others in the area, too. Some of the Teachers even rewrote part of the humanities curriculum to use examples from and focus on Serenje.
‘All our ideas have come from the people in Serenje - it's really important for us not the have these big ideas of what we think they need,’ Catrina said.
As the groups went to visit Serenje, they discovered first hand the impact they were making. As a results of the seed project, lives in Serenje were being turned around.
‘We all have enough to eat now,and we have so much to eat that we can sell our excess,’ was the message they heard as they sat with farmers. ‘
Come and see what the Lord has done,’ they said. Families who used to depend on wild fruits but now ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But return visits also meant discovering new challenges. Church members discovered that children from Serenje village have to move away if they’re to attend secondary school. This means they’re without proper accommodation and are therefore vulnerable.
The Church had a vision to build a dormitory which would house the pupils during term time when they were away from the village, giving them a safe place to sleep and allowing them to attend secondary school without endangering themselves. The youth group took on the mantle of raising this money. They took on all kinds of fundraising activities including car wash, a nine-mile conga and 125-minute non-stop disco.
As the project grew, so did KCC’s relationships - with both the people of Serenje, and those in their own community. 'It's really helped our relationships with the schools,’ says youth pastor, Luke, ‘they can see we're not just about talk; we're about doing things and making a difference.'
It's really helped our relationships with the schools because they can see we're not just about talk; we're about doing things and making a difference.
Luke, youth pastor, Bracknell
Garth Hill College, a secondary school in Bracknell, held a sponsored walk-to-school day, where staff and pupils could raise money to walk to school rather than travel in the car or by public transport. This was also an act of solidarity with the children of Serenje, who walk miles to get to school.
Five years on, rural farmers have become more independent as they have developed sustainable ways of farming. A dormitory is being built to house girls, particularly, while they are away from home attending secondary school. Children who had a long walk to school did so wearing coats and shoes from their friends in Bracknell. Friendships have been forged and a community in Bracknell has been woken up to the effects of HIV AIDs, and what they can do to help.
Kerith Community Church contacted Tearfund in a response to a call from God to engage with the global HIV AIDs epidemic, and played a significant part in one Zambian community’s fight against the effects of the disease. But it wasn’t just Serenje that was changed.
For us as a community it’s made us realise the richness of what we have and how God has blessed us, but how with that comes a responsibility to make a difference. The fact that people are thousand of miles away doesn’t mean that they’re not our brothers and sisters and that we shouldn’t get involved in their lives. We have a responsibility out of the richness that we have to make a difference in their lives.
Kerith Community Church have just complete their five-year commitment to partner with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia to support Serenje. They about to begin to support a Church Mobilisation project in the same district, helping churches to see their own God-given potential to find ways out of poverty and to helps others do the same.
If you want to find out how your church can partner with another church in developing world, working hard to make a difference where they are, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208 943 7972.