By Fr Christopher Sichinga*
The mission of the church has always been holistic and integral in nature. For proper execution of this mission of the church locally, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi pastoral directory (October 2018, pg 86) recommends that; suitable and relevant Commissions, Committees, Departments and Desks should be established in order to assist in the implementation of the gospel values and concretely help to build the kingdom of God where the church exists.
The church has therefore been contributing in the social economic development through commissions like CADECOM, Health, Education, Peace and Justice etc. Their nature of operation has always been in an integrated manner as they maintain their Catholic identity. This article aims at reemphasizing the role played by the church in sustainable development in Malawi. It also confirms that the social economic agenda of the church does not deviate its main reason of existence.
Why the church has always been interested in social economic development
Social economic development has always been at the center of the church; the church has always longed for a complete liberation of man. It is a continuation of the ministry of Christ who came to announce the Good News of liberation. Guided by the gospel, the church has always been seen championing social and economic liberation of the people (LK4:18– 19).
The church’s contribution in social economic development is also a clear and paramount way of practicing the gospel values. Fr. Peter White, The Pastoral Secretary for Dedza diocese and the parish priest of Dedza parish believes that, the church also values meaningful life hence it has always pushed for quality life.
With reference to Gaudium et Spes Fr. White also indicates that the church had taken a positive and listening attitude towards matters that concern people and their societies. Social Economic Development is one of the pertinent matter of the societies. Hence the church cannot avoid its involvement.
For the Church in Africa, according to Fr. White, Social Economic Develo-pment issues are in tandem with the church’s teaching on self-reliance. When our societies are developed to the tune of being self-reliant, Christians can generously support pastoral activities of the church. In short, the church is concerned with social economic development as its pastoral mandate to continue the ministry of Christ who came to liberate the oppressed.
Some specific social-economic contributions of the church in some places
The role of the Church in the social economic development of the societies has become significant as there is an increasing recognition that through its Commissions, the church is able to play a leading role in motivating the residents of low-class locations to better themselves. Mr. Pieter Nthenda, the Mangochi CADECOM Coordinator indicates that the church through its commissions has been involved in numerous social economic development activities.
Some examples according to Mr. Nthenda includes; Capacity building of women in economic empowerment through village savings and loans groups (Mpatsa women group in Nankhwali parish is an example), support to food security through promotion of irrigation farming, supporting good sanitation through provision of safe water by borehole drilling (in Mofolo, St. Mary’s Parish in Ntaja and Lulanga). CADECOM has also been supporting communities in capacity building to support their economic wellbeing e.g Bee keeping group in Mofolo parish, irrigation farming in Nandumbo-Ulongwe parish just to mention but a few.
There has been numerous contribution on issues of environmental conservation, building measures against climate change, drought and natural disasters. We appreciate the church for helping in food security and its contribution in the fight against high levels of household poverty. High literacy levels among girls and women could have been worse if the church was not aggressive in its social economic agenda. Public health programs among other areas has always been the concern of the church from time in memorial.
The church has been establishing schools and other educational institutions and through the new educated generations, it has brought about radical change in their value system and worldviews. Many educationalists agree that the church contributes to the education and training of individuals who can because of education earn an income and contribute to the transformation of society at large.
Why the church is well positioned in social economic development?
Fr. Donasius Malajira, the director of Holy Cross Catholic Pvt Primary School outlines four reasons: Firstly, the Church’s ethics makes it to do things in an orderly manner. Secondly, the church has a division in virtually every settlement, both large and small. This makes it easy for awareness-raising campaigns, and networking initiatives at a large-scale.
Thirdly, the church has resources in the form of buildings and agricultural lands that can be engaged for economic programs and provision of social services. Lastly, its exclusive approach to issues makes it to stand at an advantage in its effective social economic development agenda.
Is the church doing enough?
Much as we applaud the church for its commitment in the social economic agenda, we believe that there are some gaps that need to be filled. There are some areas that need to be improved. My plea is that, the church has to ensure that promotion of human rights, education, good health and sustainable development agendas are implemented effectively and efficiently.
It has to ensure that programs are sustainable, rights based, environmental and gender sensitive and inclusive of all groups. Democracy and good governance issues needs a special attention. Quality and relevant education is also key to integral development. Quality health services needs a lot of attention and investment. Yes, the church is trying its best but it has a lot of challenges in exercising its mission. It can do better.
The church can surely do better with the resources available to the church because they influence the majority of the highly placed young working class. Indeed, the church can do better to fulfil the Great Commission which should not be limited to preaching alone but aiming at converting and influencing the totality of the common good.
Challenges that the church in Malawi face in its social economic development agenda
Poor coordination with the government stakeholders in relevant plans and actions is one of the major challenge according to Mr. Nthenda. Donor fatigue is also contributing to the failure of the church to support the larger community. Since many programs are donor funded, the impact is always limited to the specific targeted areas.
Wrong mentality and Poor community response according to Mr. Nthenda has also created tension and unnecessary conflicts in the project areas. It is sad that there is still lack of long-term social development programs, limited participation and lack of ownership of local sustainable projects.
According to Fr. White, the aid syndrome is killing people’s initiatives and creativity. There is too much dependency on free aid as compared to self-help. Corruption on the other hand is the biggest challenge that leads to loss of donor trust and pull out.
Way forward: towards an action
The 2017-2022 Strategic plan for the diocese of Mangochi challenges the church to focus more than ever before the enhancement of social and economic empowerment programs of women and youth. We need to find better means of increasing household income, food and nutrition security. This is the time to strengthen capacity of communities to mitigate effects of climate change and respond to natural disaster and emergencies.
The church has to identify areas of importance in the economy, such as the manufacturing industry, so that they channel resources towards establishing enterprises that are viable and useful. For the church to continue to effectively contribute to the social economic development, I strongly recommend formulation of policies that facilitates and empowers the church to do more investments and programs.
The government on the other hand should ensure that policy issues relating to joint ventures between non-governmental organizations and churches are created so as to incentivize the creation of more programs by the church.
The government should also introduce policies that offer tax alleviation to church organizations that are evidently making impact to the communities they are located. An example is that of the health and education sector. The Church in Malawi, should also attempt to engage in the production of goods that directly contribute to economic development so as to have a positive impact on the Gross Domestic Product of the economy.
Last but not least, the church institutions should maintain control over the supervising and evaluative process, the planning of revenue generating activities, implementation and costs. This is fundamental to ensure viable and decision-based development, which in turn promotes evaluation. I also recommend the church to seek more collaboration with other faith-based organizations in community development initiatives.
It is unfathomable truth that the Church, inspired by the Scriptures, has a mandate to serve the poor as its responsibility. By fulfilling this mandate and responsibility, it does not deviate its mission or overlap its spiritual mandate.
*Fr Sichinga writes in his personal capacity. Views expressed in this article do not represent an official position for any group/Church.