The lakeside community of Chipoka, Malawi, is more than just a thriving port town. It is home to about 5,000 people, many of whom make their living from one of the largestÂ ports on Lake Malawi. It is also a site where the Christian church is having a strongÂ impact on the mostly Muslim population â and business lies at the center of it.
âChipoka is one of two communities that has started a village savings and loan initiative,â said Zakka Chomock, Southern AfricaÂ team leader for Christian relief, development and educational ministry working in the area. âIt is impressive to seeÂ how organized the group is and how their initiatives promote the accountability andÂ transparency that are essential for the function and cohesion of the group.â
Kazibwe Womenâs Group is made up of 22 women andÂ two men. The members meet regularly and each contribute part of their ownÂ savings to the group account. These savings are then used in two ways. The first is aÂ social fund that is used to meet membersâ needs when family obligations to pay forÂ weddings, funerals and other events are too much for the members to pay on their own. The second is the share fund. In this fund, members can buy shares based on theirÂ financial ability and then take loans from the fund to engage in business activities. TheyÂ pay back their loans at a low interest rate from their own business earnings. This, in turn,Â increases the amount of funds available for future loans.
âAt every meeting, group members are called by name to deposit their contributions,âÂ said Chomock. âEach member comes to the front of the room, dancing and joyfullyÂ making their deposit. The others smile and celebrate the contribution. When peopleÂ take out a loan, the group expresses their hope for a good outcome from their investment.Â Because they are lending their own money, the group provides good management forÂ the fundâs oversight. The ownership of the funds and process is much clearer than if (we) had provided âseed moneyâ to get it started.â
The group is also having another positive outcome. It is promoting peace and goodÂ relationships between groups of people from different religious and cultural backgrounds.
âOf the 22 people who make up the Kazibwe Womenâs group, about 80 percent areÂ Muslim,â said Chomock. âThe social fund helps to create a bond within the group. TheÂ members are thankful to be able to support each other and be supported in this way asÂ they mark events in their own familiesâ lives. In this way, the group is encouragingÂ members to live together peacefully.â
Because the group is made up of mostly Muslims but is supported by Christian staff, it is also strengthening theÂ Christian witness in this region.
âThere is a strong working relationship between the church and this group,â saidÂ Chomock. âThe opportunity for Muslims and Christians to work together has givenÂ Muslim group members a deeper understanding of Christianity and Christian faith.â
While the groupâs aim is not to proselytize, some Muslims in the region have publiclyÂ confessed Jesus and accepted Him as Lord. The witness of this program has played aÂ part in that.
âPlease pray that we will continue to attract people to the Kingdom of God by what weÂ do and how we help people so that they see the love of God from our work,â Chomock said.
Kristen deRoo Vanderberg is the communications coordinator for theÂ Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
(Photo courtesy of CRWRC.)