Talking with Sidney Muisyo, the Vice President of our Africa region, is like having a waterfall of wisdom wash over you. He has a Master’s degree in Leadership Studies and is working on a doctorate in Organizational Development and Leadership. But more than that, he grew up in poverty himself and has a passion for equipping the Church in Africa to be a light. Muisyo has been with Compassion for 15 years, and we sat down to talk with him about his vision for his continent and the Church.
Compassion Africa serves more than 684,000 children living in extreme poverty. What is your vision for Africa?
First, we want to equip and mobilize churches to protect children and provide meaningful opportunities for them to escape poverty. That’s the core of it. I envision a network of churches passionate about children in poverty, and that passion translated into really practical and transformational routes for children and caregivers to come out of poverty.
Second, our vision is that churches are on a maturing journey of their own. So often the churches we partner with are themselves poor, and more so at the institutional capacity level. For sure, these churches are rich in passion and vision, but we recognize that these churches need to be on a development journey of their own. And I must say that this developmental journey is mutual—Compassion, too, is on a learning journey. How do we increasingly become better partners to local churches?
Through Compassion, churches are increasing their confidence to minister to children and call on other resources besides Compassion. The outcome is a renewed narrative of hope across Africa with the church at the centre of it all.
In this issue of our magazine, we’re talking a lot about innovation. In what ways is the Church in Africa helping communities innovate to solve their problems?
Often when we think of innovation, we think of technology. But in the social space, the Church is innovating. Most African communities have a rite of passage when boys and girls become adults. Some of these have not been biblical, such as female genital mutilation. Our church partners have reinvented these to create biblically based rites of passage. That is social innovation where it didn’t exist before. And of course, rites of passages are core to identity formation, so these new rites of passages are helping create a new identity of what it means to be a Christian in an African context.
Another innovation is community savings and loan schemes. Caregivers of Compassion beneficiaries form groups of up to 50 people. They receive training and hold each other accountable to save an agreed amount regularly. The pooled savings are available for lending to members at reasonable interest rates. This has enabled low-income households to mobilize savings, access affordable credit and improve their economic well-being. In addition, these groups have tremendous social and spiritual value—inclusion, psychosocial support and discipleship.
Young people are also being developed in their skills and knowledge. They are enabled to develop skills such as computing, they can attend technical vocational training, they can grow as leaders and they can learn entrepreneurship.
What do you want Canadian Christians to understand about the Church in Africa?
We need to have a balanced picture of what God is doing in Africa. Yes, there is need. Yes, there is poverty. Yes, there is suffering. But out of that, the Church is shining. Africa has one of the youngest populations, and we are unleashing a new generation of young people growing in the Church. The Church is relevant in Africa. It’s right in the midst of the African reality, so there’s a vibrancy that is in the Church and through the Church. Sometimes I liken the African Church to an African market. It’s a beehive of activity. Sometimes it might seem like bedlam, but there is a vibrancy and focus. That’s a story Compassion has helped to build—where the Church is light, it is salt, it is relevant, it is hope and it is creating a balanced narrative.
You mentioned what the African Church is gaining through Compassion. What do you think we in the West can learn from the Church in Africa?
One of the greatest gifts the African Church has to offer the world is hope. What does hope look like? The gift of hope is found in contexts where you desperately need it.
The African peoples have suffered from different deprivations over the centuries, but out of that has come a beautiful gift of what it means to have hope. Hope can grow out of a genocide. Hope grows out of situations where God seems absent, where there is deep suffering. It’s one thing to ask where God is out of your abundance, but it’s another thing to ask where God is through intense suffering. It produces something different—a joy that is beyond the circumstantial.
Hope—and the joy that springs from it—is a gift. It shouldn’t be seen as need. The African church is in need in many ways, but the need is not a curse. It’s actually a grace. The giver and the receiver have something to give to each other. While the African church has been open to receiving, I wonder if our brothers and sisters in the West are also willing to receive from the African Church.
Is there anything you would like to say to our Canadian supporters?
I would not be an African or a Christian if I didn’t say thank you. The partnership of the Church in Canada helps us to help restore the dignity of the local church in Africa. The Church was always called to be a light and a salt. Poverty is a darkness. Our ministry provides a light. Poverty is decay of society and individuals. Your partnership allows us to help the Church truly become the Church and the antiseptic to the decay of poverty.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Read the full interview here, including Muisyo’s thoughts on growing up in poverty and what Canadians could learn from the Church in Africa.