Recent studies by Gallup and Pew Research suggest that U.S. church attendance and Christian religious affiliation are decreasing. Amidst heartbreaking political divisions and public leadership scandals, it’s easy to feel disappointed and wonder if the church has lost its moral authority.
But could a unified church write a different story?
In places like Malawi, this is exactly what’s happening — pastors and volunteers in World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zones are leading the way. Keep reading to hear personal stories from the staff, pastors and community members who are coming together across denominational lines to serve others and affect change in their communities.
Transformation Starts With You: Dixon’s Story
Dixon didn’t always have hope in the local church. Early in his life, he experienced a series of hardships that his local church failed to respond to. This left him feeling alone and bitter. But God wasn’t done writing his story.
Church Empowerment Zones: Change that Lasts
Today, Dixon oversees World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zone (CEZ) work in Malawi. A CEZ is a geographical location where World Relief works with multiple communities to address multidimensional poverty.
Within each CEZ are multiple, smaller church networks. These church networks are made up of churches from different denominations who come together to attend to the needs of their community with a focus on serving the most vulnerable.
These groups utilize a variety of programs ranging from health and sanitation, maternal and child health, economic empowerment and more. Everything is anchored in biblical teaching so that churches are meeting the needs of their community holistically.
Pastor Mwanza, Chair of one church network in Mzimba put it this way: “When there is a problem in the community — like a need for shelter for a family — but a [single] church alone can’t build it, it takes a network to assist the community to solve such a problem.”
Improving Health and Sanitation Household by Household
In Malawi’s rural communities, only a quarter of the population has access to basic sanitation services, putting people at greater risk for waterborne disease.
Churches in Mzimba identified this as a key issue in their community. The network took action by partnering with World Relief to train volunteers like Rose to share important lessons and information about health and sanitation with their neighbors.
Through this initiative, Rose and the other volunteers from her church each committed to visiting 10 households in their community, sharing the lessons and rapidly multiplying the church network’s impact. Christina, Rose’s widowed neighbor, was one of the 10 people Rose connected with.
Transformation Through Community-Based Saving
In addition to health and sanitation, the church network launched a community-based savings program in partnership with World Relief. In rural communities with limited financial institutions, these savings programs address practical day-to-day issues, such as how to save, where to get a loan to purchase livestock and generate income, where to get money to hire farm labor and more.
Savings groups also provide a mechanism for a community to build and manage a fund through which they can care for themselves, each other, and their neighbors with their own resources.
World Relief began these groups as one component of CEZs in 2008. Since then 17,000 savings groups with over 365,000 members have formed in Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, DRC and many other countries, bringing change to thousands of villages and communities.
Tobias is one community leader in Machimila whose life was transformed by a savings group. He now multiplies that impact by running a group of his own.
The Church is Changing. You Can Be a Part of It
Across the globe, World Relief has mobilized more than 4,600 local churches and 80,000 volunteers to respond to the most pressing issues within their communities. And when churches come together to serve those in need, it’s not just the marginalized who are transformed, but pastors and congregations are transformed too.
Pastor Langwell, another pastor in Mzimba, shared that after his church began partnering with others in the church network, he saw his own congregation transform.
In the midst of complex challenges, people like Pastor Langwell and Tobias, Rose and Christina, Dixon and Pastor Mwanza — all of them give us hope, not only for the work they do locally but because they are part of a global movement that churches and includes people like you.
As we reflect this season on how Jesus drew near to us so we can draw near to others in their greatest season of need, World Relief Malawi’s Country Director, Matilda Matitha, has a parting word and invitation for you.
The crises in the world are not getting simpler, but together we can make a difference, and you have a role to play. Will you join this global community by giving today?
Jacob Mau has worked with displaced people since 2006 and currently serves as a content developer and digital storyteller for World Relief Chicagoland. He also collaborated with the Refugee Highway Partnership to produce Beyond Soundbites, a podcast that shares the voices of people navigating displacement in the U.S., Turkey and Central America.