Manna interview: Growing together in faith

31st May 2023

Rachel Shaw is Zambia Link Coordinator in Keynsham Parish, which has a link with Chipata South in Eastern Zambia.

What prompted your church to establish a link?

We restarted our link to Zambia when Bath and Wells celebrated 40 years of the link in 2022 and I was fortunate enough to go on the diocesan anniversary trip and spend some time getting to know people in Chipata South in Eastern Zambia.

Why Chipata South?

There are a lot of parallels between our two places. We have four churches, rural and town and they have three town churches and one village church. The main church in Chipata is quite a big church and built in the western style and the other churches are built in the local style. It is a very busy and thriving community – and a good match for Keynsham.

How did you get started?

We’ve tried to organise it in parallel. We have a Zambia Action Group and they have a similar set up in Zambia organised by Peter Ngoma. Because clergy tend to move around a lot in Zambia it is important that the link is not reliant on clergy, so lay input is important if the link is to be maintained.

We worked out what we wanted to support and how we wanted to do things. Since we began we have been clear that the link is about getting to know the people and grow together in faith.

How do you manage that?

Our main challenge is to share with our congregation what life is like over there. We’ve shared stories on our Facebook page, held Zambia evenings and also set up a WhatsApp Friendship Group and we now have about 40 people on there, half from Keynsham and half from Zambia.

Does technology help?

WhatsApp is a great way of maintaining a link as its used a lot in Zambia. It’s a quick way to share photos and stories with each other and get a real sense of what is going on in each of the communities and through that friendships have developed.

The link is very much based on shared faith and recently we have set up a weekly message to allow us to focus our prayers for the week on specific activities which are taking place either in Chipata South or in Keynsham. We have a group of people who pray regularly in both places.

Nothing beats face to face communication of course and last year I went out again to attend the dedication of a new school that we had raised funds for. It was great, as although I had been before, this time I was going out with four years of having built relationships with people over there and communicating via WhatsApp. We could talk face to face about how things are going, what we valued and where we might go over the next five years. It is not a one-way thing at all it is a very collaborative. 

With my Western eyes I thought it would cost a lot of money for us to fly out and did ask, “Wouldn’t you rather we donate more money to the school instead?” They refused as they genuinely value the opportunity to meet face to face and build on the relationships we have so we can grow together as brothers and sisters in faith.

So what’s next?

During the visit I was able to join their Zambia – Bath and Wells link meeting and discuss what do we want to achieve in the next five years. Obviously they have ongoing costs and expansion plans for the schools, but what they felt was most important for the link to focus on is to organise a teacher exchange link with two of our local church schools in Keynsham. The schools are in the process of forming their own links with Chipata South School and we are raising funds to fly over two teachers from Zambia to spend a couple of weeks in schools here which will be both beneficial for the teachers who come over but also the Keynsham schools’ communities.

What have you learnt from your link with Chipata South?

We have seen a real value from the link and learnt from it. It stops us being so focused on money and what we can’t do. We can see what they do with so little with such faith, joy and hopefulness. We can learn so much from that. When Father Benard came over we were quite humbled and inspired by what he shared.

What would you say to anyone considering setting up a link?

For any link to work you need key people in place who can see the value of it and keep it alive – in a modern way, not one that harks back to the past.
Look at the information on the website. It does need people to be prepared to be committed to it but there is so much to be gained. It is good to talk to people who have done it and get a realistic idea of what is involved.
I would also suggest they look at encouraging their local school to develop their link as well. With technology that is quite easy to achieve and it will allow children here to get to know people from another culture who have a shared faith, learn how the world works, look at things globally and of course get an added understanding of the global environment challenge we all face.

A shorter version of this email was first featured in the June edition of the Manna mailing.

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