What does it mean to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in rural Uganda?
At Kibo Group International, the nonprofit where I work in Uganda, we take faith seriously. To my coworkers and me, that means Jesus is with us whenever we go to work in our partner villages.
Sometimes, that means talking about Jesus. More often, though, it means trying to live like Jesus. At Kibo, we try to preach the gospel through action. Like Jesus, we try to address people’s needs holistically. It’s easier to meet people’s spiritual needs when they’re physically well.
After all, it was looking at the example of Jesus that compelled James to write:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. … As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:14-18, 26 (NIV)
James saw that Jesus preached the good news by living the good news. The commandment to love your neighbor isn’t a passive feeling of goodwill, but an action that is absolutely key to faith.
In my Kibo program, Healthy and Safe Kitchens, we are foremost addressing physical needs. In the rural Busoga region of Uganda, where Kibo works, women do 90 percent of the domestic work, and a huge portion of their time is consumed by cooking: collecting firewood, fetching water, preparing meals. The traditional open fires that women use for cooking burn a lot of wood, produce a lot of smoke, and make it a lot more likely for burns to happen.
On the surface, our program addresses obvious physical needs. We teach women how to build fuel-efficient stoves that contain fire and smoke, make it easier and safer to cook meals, and reduce the time women spend collecting firewood and preparing meals. This helps them reduce respiratory issues, avoid severe burns, and free up more of their time.
But on a deeper level, our program addresses profound spiritual and social needs, too. Building locally sourced Kibo stoves doesn’t cost any money, but it requires a lot of teamwork. By the end of the program, people who may not have cooperated before are united with love. A united community can better address future problems.
Our program makes marriages stronger and healthier, too. In our region of Uganda, men often pay a dowry for their wives, which leads to feelings of ownership over women instead of partnership.
Before we teach the community to build stoves, we gather the men and the women in the village together to talk about women’s domestic responsibilities. For many men, it’s often their first time realizing just how much their wives do for their household. This begins the process of developing a mutual respect between husband and wife, rather than one-sided submission and domination.
During these preliminary conversations, men say they don’t help their wives in the kitchen because it is “hell.” That’s the word they use. And it’s not inaccurate. If a woman doesn’t have a stove, the open flames in her dark, airless kitchen turns the walls black, fills the room with a suffocating heat — and the smoke ... People who aren’t used to it start coughing and their eyes start watering within seconds of walking into a kitchen.
It’s no wonder men don’t want to be in there. But they expect their wives to be. Sometimes for nine hours a day. All while taking care of the children, the garden, and the home.
Discussing this openly in a group setting helps men realize how much their wives — and therefore their families — would benefit from having a stove. If the men aren’t on board, if they don’t begin to respect, appreciate, and value their wives for all they do, it can be difficult for our program to take effect in a community. The community must be united as a whole. Not just the women, but everyone together.
By the end of the program, women are still responsible for most of the domestic work in the house, but family dynamics often change for the better.
Men come into the kitchen to talk with their wives because it’s now an airy and pleasant place to be, which means women are more likely to be included in making decisions for the family. Women have more free time, which means they can pursue economic projects and improve their financial well-being. Stoves make it less likely for food to be late or burned, which can reduce the likelihood of domestic violence.
Humans aren’t bodies with souls who live in community. We are whole beings — physical, spiritual, communal, individual, emotional, intellectual beings — and there are no stark lines between the different aspects of our health. For an individual to be spiritually healthy, their community must be physically healthy.
If we want to preach Jesus, then we have to live like Jesus. And living like Jesus means drawing people closer to God — communally and individually, mind, body, and soul.
Special guests Roy Mwesigwa and Abraham Mulongo will be visiting us at The Journey Sunday, April 14, 2019
Harriet Kefeza | Manager, Healthy and Safe Kitchens
Harriet educates communities about the importance of sanitary kitchens and oversees the process of teaching them how to build stoves. She was hired when Kibo Group needed someone to do research on WASH. Harriet has a daughter named Tania.