A typical church in rural Africa: eager children, with willing adults to teach them, but little else. This group, meeting under the shade of a big tree, is one of 25,000 congregations of the Church of Uganda. The size and history of this denomination is impressive, larger than the entire Mormon Church globally or, by another comparison, as many members as there are Jewish people in the whole world. One-third of all citizens of Uganda belong to this church. That’s 13 million members, of whom, 74% are age 30 and under. David C Cook is working with the church to develop its first-ever comprehensive children’s curriculum.
Uganda demonstrates God’s great move across the African continent. In 1900 Christians were a tiny minority. A study by the Pew Research Center found an enormous change in just one century in the number of Africans who follow Jesus
…soaring almost 70-fold from about 7 million to 470 million. Sub-Saharan Africa now is home to about one-in-five of all the Christians in the world (21%).
The big change began in 1877, when the Church Mission Society sent British believers to Uganda to share the faith. Many Africans turned to Christ but, within fewer than ten years, martyrdom began. Scores of young Christians were thrown live into a giant fire for refusing to worship the local king or participate in his sensual ceremonies. Since then, Ugandan Christians have often paid with their lives for their faith. The martyrs of Uganda are among the greatest examples of courage in recent Church history.
Yet for all their momentum and fervor, Christians in Uganda are often empty-handed, “making do” with barely any resources. A drum, a few wooden benches and the shade of a big tree are enough to gather a crowd. According to local customs, there’s nothing wrong with this, but just what do the children learn? The Church of Uganda has churches everywhere and operates over 5,000 schools across the country providing a basic education. Until now, though, there has never been a comprehensive program to ground its millions of children spiritually.
Janet Muhindo exemplifies believers who work tirelessly with children in the Church of Uganda. She heads the entire children’s ministry nationally, but also can be found on most weekends somewhere in the countryside teaching crowds of kids.
She’s so passionate about children growing into mature disciples that she’s stayed on the job for years past her scheduled retirement. Around church headquarters in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, she and other leaders often quote an African proverb:
Bend a twig while it is green
During the past year Uganda Christian University conducted an extensive survey of pastors across the country. Overwhelmingly, most of them felt ill-equipped to deal with the problems brought to them by people in their communities. Life expectancy is so short…only 53 years…that every family copes with grief. Promiscuity spreads AIDS. Acute poverty plagues most of the population, 80% of whom are subsistence farmers. Then, making hardships even worse, cultic sacrifices of children began showing up again over the last four years.
David C Cook is a ministry with 137 years of experience crafting materials designed to grow children in the faith. In addition to books, curriculum and worship music sold in First World countries, we take our best content and give it away in many parts of the world, like Uganda, where Christians cannot afford the resources they need. Offering the content free, however, is not enough. To be effective, it must fit local realities. In Uganda, for instance, children should learn about the faithfulness of martyrs in their country so they develop the same resolve to follow Christ, no matter what the cost. Cook has materials that deal with fear and trauma, but those require adaptation to help children and their families who are terrified of the kidnappings and bizarre ritualistic child murders that are becoming common. Children must be taught, specifically, how to avoid becoming victims.
Local advisory groups review and edit each lesson to make sure it addresses all the critical issues; content must fit cultural understanding. Teams in Africa and Colorado work together to assure that the life-giving message of the Gospel reaches deep and sticks.
There is a lot of material involved. The Church of Uganda wants enough content to use three ways: children’s church programs, Bible classes for weekday schools, and clubs. Each lesson is designed to capture the interest of children and then deliver an enduring message about how to build a positive life walking with Christ.
Church of Uganda leaders and their chosen advisors from clergy and several universities reviewed a variety of David C Cook children’s programs. They liked what they saw, but quickly agreed that the one they wanted was the J127 Orphan Initiative series that Cook created to heal the extreme hurts and address acute problems that orphans have. Ugandans told us that the heart-breaking issues orphans face are the very ones that pastors said they felt unqualified to help. The leadership team of the Church of Uganda enthusiastically told Cook representatives,
We want this!
Right now, editorial revisions are under way. Experts in Uganda are inserting local insights. The David C Cook team is checking learning design and packaging the lessons to be easy for village teachers to use. First editions are being published now. Later this year, these lessons will undergo extensive local testing, with plans to distribute them widely throughout Uganda beginning January 2013.
This is a project of historic proportions, requiring collaboration and hard work by Christians in both Africa and North America. Ugandans are doing their part. To make it possible, David C Cook is donating all the content, supplying editorial assistance and design, plus tens of thousands of dollars for out-of-pocket expenses. To make the materials available widely across Uganda by next January will take another $100,000. Be part of this major initiative; give generously.