This is an article from the March-April 2013 issue: Urbana Gets Radical

Raising Local Resources

A Dormitory in Rural Africa?

Raising Local Resources

Recently an appeal for funds came across my desk and caught my attention. It was an appeal to help build a girls’ dormitory in a rural part of Africa. Obviously girls need an education, and they need a place to stay while they study, especially if their homes are far away from the school. Who could oppose raising funds in America for such a worthy project?

First of all, the appeal stated that the girls currently need to find housing in nearby villages with relatives or others willing to take them in. Unfortunately, this has led to various forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, and being forced to work for the host family when the girls should be in class or studying. Teenage pregnancies are forcing some to leave school, perhaps never again to have the opportunity to finish their schooling. The appeal for funds said the dormitory was necessary so that the girls can be “safe” from the evil in the surrounding villages. 

As I read it, the appeal made me sad because I had some personal knowledge of that area of Africa. The gospel has been preached in that area for over 100 years. In the early days, mission stations were established as places where local people who wanted to follow Christ could find a safe haven, away from the “sinful atmosphere” of the surrounding villages. So, the idea that the school dormitory would be a safe haven is not new. Interestingly, one of the facts of life is that young girls, despite the “safety” of school dormitories, can still get pregnant out of wedlock. 

What grieved me most is the implication that after 100 years of preaching the gospel in that area, the villages are still not safe places for these girls to live! What does this say about the nature of the gospel that was preached—that local populations cannot be trusted not to prey on teenage girls? It is quite possible that the men violating these young girls attended mission-related primary
and secondary schools themselves. Why has the gospel not brought deep spiritual transformation? Should they not, after 100 years, display a level of morality that makes their villages safe places for young girls to live?

If there has not been an effective level of transformation in the hearts and minds of the villagers, will building a dormitory on the secondary school compound solve the problem in the long term? Or does this lack of spiritual transformation point to the inadequacy of Western-style education, which may leave the mind improved but the heart wanting? 

About 40 years ago some anthropological research was done in East Africa on the spirituality of those who attended four years of secondary school. It was discovered that those about to finish four years of secondary education were more likely to be committed to an animistic paradigm than when they entered the program four years earlier. The explanation was that the nearer the students got to graduation (anticipating the adult world), the more likely they were to take the non-Christian paradigm seriously, indicating that many of them lacked a deep personal relationship with the Lord. To them, Christianity did not seem to have the answers for “adult” questions, perhaps because for them it was formed, incubated and developed in a Western-style educational environment that often denied the realities of the “spirit” world.

In a situation such as this, where compassionate Christians want to provide shelter for young women, what could possibly be a workable alternative? The alternative is to present a gospel that does not extract people from the real life of traditional villages, but finds a way of dealing with the spiritual issues faced in the villages where the young women are seeking accommodation. This, of course, needs to be addressed in the long term. The need for the dormitory represents a more urgent and short-term solution.

How can sinful villages be transformed? Western-style education is definitely not adequate to deal with the realities of the spirit world in which most of these young people live their lives. The only viable solution is to present the gospel—within the villages themselves—in such a way that the kingdom of God and the power of His transforming grace can be extended over the villages, so they can become safe places for everyone to live. When that happens, the village no longer needs to be a place of evil but a place where God’s transforming grace is seen on a daily basis. Those same villages can become places where adult men and women will create a safe place for their children, youth, and all residents and visitors who are seeking shelter. 

 In short, the long-term hope for the Christian church in rural Africa or anywhere else is not extraction from but transformation of the village. A life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit, combined with biblical teaching and an emphasis on holy living, can turn sinful villages into places where spiritual men and women will care for and disciple their youth. 

And when it comes to mobilizing local resources, think of it this way: if villages are safe places for young women to live, foreign funding for dormitories will not be needed. In fact, if local people deem such dormitories to be necessary—and they take psychological ownership of the school—they may even make and burn the bricks to build the buildings! If that were to happen, the appeal letter can be sent to the local people capable of making and burning the bricks without appealing overseas for funding. People in Africa deserve the blessing of doing such things for themselves.


Hi Glenn, thanks for your thoughts here—I completely join you in your desire to see local resources raised, dignity emerge from that, as well as for the transformation the Gospel brings.  As I read through your material here, several questions came to mind:

1. Will a western church’s act of building a dorm destroy dignity that comes from self-help? 
Personally, I’d say “Yes… as will the sexual exploitation of daughters by relatives.”

2.  Would I send my daughter there if I was an African father?
Maybe—because short term exploitation is the lesser evil compared to long term exploitation from lack of education.  she has a chance if she goes; none if she stays home. 

3. Can we take responsibility for transformation by changing the way we present the Gospel? 
Partly.  We can remove barriers such as language or cultural baggage, but transformation is God’s work in a person submitted to His reign.  The Kingdom of God only comes where His reign is acknowledged.  Transformation is where the glory is, and that is God’s.

4. Does keeping a daughter in town work to transform a community that has had the Gospel 100 years? 
No.  I would want my daughter in a dorm… because the burden is on others at this stage:
Where is the local church?
Where is the local government? 
Where are the family elders? 

5. What was mentioned as a vehicle of transformation here? 
An arbitrary group of Christians from the other side of the planet
A small and vulnerable population of girls going to school

6. Where is the burden of responsibility for the current state of things:
The westerners need to change the way they present the Gospel
The girls need to remain in an exploitative situation
The community… is passively acted upon by westerners and vulnerable girls.  It is viewed here as somewhat inert.
(It seems the burden for change is being moved to the intervener—that wasn’t where Jesus message started—it started with a call to repentance).

7. So would I fund the dorm?  Maybe, but only in partnership with the local church, the government and families in the community.  Mine would be the last money in. 

Would love to get your (and others) insights on any of this.  Blessings!


This does smack of a clever trick intended to pull the heart strings of a westerner, by making a total outsider responsible for the moral stand of local people’s own daughters. Morality is not bought. Neither is it constructed out of bricks (the walls of the dormitory). It needs to be lived by the parents and teachers. It needs to be upheld by local traditional law; that has been downtrodden and almost obliterated by excessive outside interventions’ undermining of local authority. Just a few thoughts.

I appreciate Glenn’s acknowledgement for the need of a girl’s dormitory and his passion for local fund raising efforts. However, the following are my concerns:

1. Does the preaching of the Gospel in an area for over 100 years obliterate all social vices - including the security of girls? If that is so, then the US would truly be a heaven on earth. If that is so, then there would be no Police Departments in US cities. If that is so, then there would be no law courts, and lawyers in the US. If that is so, then there would be no prisons in the US.

2. Glenn asks the following question, “Why has the gospel not brought deep spiritual transformation? Should they not, after 100 years, display a level of morality that makes their villages safe places for young girls to live?” Such a question and concern must be answered by all Christians, particularly, Christians living in countries where the Gospel has been preached for over 300 years.

3. “How can sinful villages be transformed?” asks Glenn. He answers inter-alia, “The only viable solution is to present the gospel - within the villages themselves - in such a way that the kingdom of God and the power of His transforming grace can be extended over the villages, so they can become safe places for everyone to live.” I wish Glenn’s answer could equally apply to American and other western cities, countrysides, neighborhoods and ghettos.

No matter the generosity of countryside Africans and their willingness to fund certain projects, it would take many years to complete huge projects such as a Girl’s dormitory. There is, therefore, nothing wrong when an appeal is made to some Christians in America or elsewhere to help. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Priest and the Levite perhaps thought like Glenn and many others when they saw the need of the man who was attacked by robbers. God, in His wisdom, created human fingers of different sizes and length. Therefore, for anything meaningful thing to be done, each finger must make a contribution.

Glenn, Thank you for your concern. It is worthwhile also, to heed the observations raised by Thmoas Oduro in his comment dated 28 March 2013. I would be happy to follow up the conversation directly with you via e-mail.
Jesse Mugambi

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