D is for Discipleship

(Posted by Laurence)

Engineering Ministries International has three core values: design, discipleship and diversity (affectionately called ‘the 3 Ds’) and these interplay every day at EMI, both in the office in Kajjansi and on our construction sites.  Discipleship takes two forms within EMI: spiritual and professional.  Professional discipleship most often appears as informal training of casual labourers, spearheaded by EMI foremen but also enacted by experienced workers who pass on their skills.  At other times we might run more formal training (on site safety for example), or instill a certain ethos through our site policy and management style.  EMI doesn’t dictate this to me, and likewise when it comes to spiritual discipleship I am given a relatively free rein.

EMI site routine includes group prayer at the start of the day (led by the foreman) and a weekly ‘chapel’.  Involvement in both of these is optional for our workers – they can sit elsewhere on site if they please, and still be paid for their time – but generally all are present.

When I was thinking over our approach for chapel on this project, I was keen to involve the workers as much as possible, and avoid just a weekly sermon.  We aren’t a church; our workers come and go from projects, and although we can disciple them through our management of the crew I think that any lasting spiritual development will come from their own thought and initiative.  To that end, Yusuf and I are trying out Alpha, a course started in the UK but now used worldwide that explores the basics of the Christian faith through short talks and discussions.

I was dubious about how the discussion part would go down – based on my experience of awkward silences in groups of mature adults in the UK – but I was put to shame!  After my introductory talk last week (theme: truth) the discussion points, questions and counter-questions came thick and fast, and before we knew it we had filled forty-five minutes just discussing “Can more than one religion be true?” and “Is it OK to switch religions when it suits you better?”.  I was amazed by how engaged the crew seemed to be, and how thoughtful their responses.  Maybe I’m doing my countrymen a disservice, but I’m not sure British labourers would engage so quickly in theological discussion.  The reason for that, I think, is that the average person here is much more spiritually aware than in the UK; I haven’t questioned each worker but I know that we have a mixture of Christians and Muslims in our crew (and possibly other belief systems), who might have varying levels of adherence to their religion but at least have some awareness of a spiritual realm rather than the outright denial often found in the UK.

Finally, I was overawed to see how easily Christians and Muslims can not only work side by side but also discuss their religious beliefs.  I know that many Brits of both religions would do the same, but it just seemed to come so naturally to these men and women.  Jane and I were musing as to whether this good relationship between religious groups could also breed apathy to personal faith… I don’t want to make that claim, because I don’t know, but I do hope that our weekly discussions on site over the next two months will lead to people analysing their assumptions about faith and finding new personal beliefs that are based on clear thought and understanding, rather than just tradition and culture – regardless of what those beliefs turn out to be.

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