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International Day for the Eradication of Poverty: hope story

A look at why Church and Community Transformation works and the story of Joseline in Rwanda who is changing her life.

Written by Tarryn Pegna | 13 Oct 2023

Four women in colourful clothing sit together on a mat praying. They are part of a self-help group set up by Tearfund's local partner in Rwanda as part of Church and Community Transformation programming.

A group of women in Rwanda who have been part of a church and community transformation process pray together. These women meet together in a self-help group, where they save together and support each other as they build their livelihoods. Credit: Steve Adams/Tearfund

Poverty is not just a money problem, affecting buying power and access to physical necessities and comforts, it is a problem that affects the whole lives of people facing it. It has the ability to rob people of dignity, power and a voice. It can take a deep and lasting psychological toll that can echo through generations.

In the approach to International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October, the UN’s website states: ‘For the people experiencing persistent poverty, their lack of decent working conditions and respectful social protection creates insecurity that denies them to take charge of their lives and exposes them to exploitation, humiliation and feelings of futility preventing them from participating fully in their communities.’

A poverty response that respects people

Around the world, organisations like Tearfund have been set up by people who long to stand alongside and support those caught in cycles of poverty. We believe it is a good and loving thing to do. As Christians, it is a fundamental part of our faith as we follow the example of Jesus – to love one another and to express that love practically in a way that is appropriate for the situation.

‘For the people experiencing persistent poverty, their lack of decent working conditions and respectful social protection...exposes them to exploitation, humiliation and feelings of futility preventing them from participating fully in their communities.’
United Nations

However, how we approach this expression needs careful consideration. Rather than adding to feelings of ‘humility’ and ‘futility for those facing poverty’, it must be an empowering and sustainable solution for the people affected by it. It must recognise the whole-life nature of the problem and provide a whole-life solution.

This is the understanding that has led to the development of the Church and Community Transformation (CCT) approach that Tearfund uses.

[Read more about why we love the church and how it’s the answer to poverty here.]

Francis Wamui Njoroge is from Kenya. He’s a consultant and trainer for this process and he has been doing this kind of work for Tearfund for 26 years!

Journey to Church and Community Transformation (an empowering solution)

Francis started out working for another humanitarian organisation where he was an evaluation officer – responsible for monitoring and evaluating the success of its projects. His colleague at the time, whom he also counts as his mentor and friend, was a lady called Judy Hutchinson. She began to challenge the way projects were evaluated.

Francis explains, ‘Because she’s a people person, she said: “Wait a minute! True evaluation should be one where the people themselves are able to say who they are, where they are at, but also to be able to say ‘This is who we would want to become’. And once they have decided that, they begin looking for ways to get there. Otherwise, it has traditionally been what a funder or external person decided for them, rather than them deciding for themselves.”

‘That was very intriguing and transforming!’ Francis says, ‘Because it meant we had to change the whole mode of approach – even the design – so that it ceases being something done from outside, done by an outsider, because an outsider does not quite understand what is on the inside.

‘From there on, we began looking for tools that will help us work with the people to express themselves – to say who they are.’

Through years of reconsidering, retesting and reassessing, Francis and others have built Tearfund’s way of working within communities – through local churches and local Christian partners – that has been shown to be effective in bringing lasting transformation in people’s whole lives and often in their whole communities.

As Francis says, holistic transformation starts with people taking stock of where they find themselves and understanding who they want to be, so that they can start to work towards it. If we believe that each person is created by God with a plan and a purpose, it is completely reasonable then to understand how building and strengthening faith is a natural foundation for every other practical response to issues of poverty that flows out of it.

Joseline’s story of whole-life transformation

‘Because of the difficult life I was living, I had nothing,’ says Joseline. ‘My husband wasn't providing for us, so I felt compelled to engage in sex work – without considering the risks to my life.’

Joseline lives in Rwanda with her husband and their two children. Through help and support from the local church and Tearfund’s partner working in her community, Joseline has managed to change her life, and her family have started to build a new future together – one where Joseline doesn’t feel forced to sell her body to survive. She tells us, 'Our small home felt like it might fall apart, but I believe that God has rescued me from a challenging family situation. I trust that he will continue to provide and to improve our lives.’

Here is her story of transformation.

‘At that time,’ Joseline shares, ‘I was involved in fights, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol. I was living a reckless life.

Mwana Ukundwa [Tearfund’s local partner] came to our neighbourhood and began teaching people. At first, I was hostile towards them because of the life I was leading. I didn't believe they could help me. I would run away from them and the neighbours who would try to pray for me. I believe now that if it wasn’t for God's presence in the village, no one else could have changed me.

‘‘I now believe that if it weren't for God's presence in the village, no one else could have changed me. ’
Joseline, Rwanda

‘After Mwana Ukundwa arrived, one day my neighbours ended up chasing me down to ensure I fed my child. I had left my child on the street, believing that the way I was living wouldn't allow me to take care of a child. We had gone three days without food. I was wondering how I could take care of my husband, my child, and myself? Even the neighbours couldn't help us.

‘People from Mwana Ukundwa began showing care for me. They offered help and prayers. They advised me to stay home, stop going to bars and quit sex work. They promised to help me find a better way of earning a living.

‘I had endured a challenging life, and I hadn't even been to school. Because of the life I was leading, we were living in poverty. I was trapped in an extremely difficult situation. My turning point came through Christ – the only one who could change me.’

God’s plan

‘I prayed to God, acknowledging that this was a crucial moment in my life… It had seemed like my end, but God had a plan.

‘The people from Mwana Ukundwa helped me. They understood that praying for me wouldn't be easy, but they assured me that they would provide my child with school supplies and support me with prayers.

‘I had been a burden to them. I had exhausted them. But Christ revealed himself to me one night and urged me to quit my old life. He warned that my death was approaching and I was surrounded by many battles.

‘My turning point came through Christ – the only one who could change me.’
Joseline, Rwanda

‘I made the decision to stop going to the bars at night even though my husband would often stay away from home because we didn’t have a suitable place to live. So, I found myself in the same kind of situation I had tried to escape. But Christ, my saviour, saved me with the help of Mwana Ukundwa and the church pastor.

‘Afterward, Jesus Christ appeared to me one night and I gradually left behind my old ways. I would remind myself to be patient and reflect on my current life, which was much cleaner. I realised how good Christ is and how he can bring about change.

‘When I made the decision to change, I had only one kitenge [piece of fabric similar to a sarong], and I would wash it at night. In the morning, I would go to pray. I would carry my baby and feel grateful for my transformed life. Someone from the church gathering noticed me and gave me a pair of shoes.

‘After giving my life to Christ and staying home every night, my first child turned two and a half, and I became pregnant with my second child, who has now been born. But, life became exceedingly difficult after the birth of my second child. I fell ill and couldn't leave my house. My husband, seeing the hardships, left us.

God’s provision

‘But, because I knew who Christ was, I didn’t go back to my old behaviours. Instead, I received Jesus Christ as my saviour and got baptised. God provided for me, and I started earning small amounts by selling products on the street, which helped to sustain us.

‘After living alone for about a year and a half, my husband returned to me. The local leaders noticed our difficult circumstances and suggested we get legally married. My husband initially refused because of our financial situation. I told my husband that we could get married without him bringing anything, and we wouldn't have a party at home. I prayed for him for three days until he agreed to get legally married. He accepted, and I bought him an inexpensive suit with the earnings from selling vegetables.

Mwana Ukundwa arranged a celebration for us. We got legally married, and the reception took place at the church. My husband could see that I had changed!

‘Now, when he worked and earned money from farming, he would give me some of it, and I would use part of it to buy sweet potatoes for our meals.

‘God continued to provide, even though I sometimes encountered challenges.

‘My hope is that you will pray for me, so I can leave behind the debt and start fresh. This is my greatest wish.’

Poverty is not God’s plan. But we, his church, are. Please will you join us in prayer and if you are able, please give to help work that will support more people like Joseline to transform their lives in long-lasting ways.

[Pray for people living in poverty]

    • Thank God for Joseline. Pray for ongoing provision for her and her family and that she will be able to thrive. Ask God that more people facing extreme poverty, who may feel desperate like Joseline did, will encounter Jesus and the hope that is found in him and be able to transform their lives.
    • Pray for all those living in extreme poverty. Ask God for solutions that are long-lasting and empowering, and for his provision of every resource needed to help people be released from poverty.
    • Lift up the local church around the world. Pray that the church will be a voice and a vehicle for change in communities everywhere and that God’s love will be enacted, through the church, in the most practical ways. 

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Written by  Tarryn Pegna

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