A Case of a Transformational Urban Mission

A Case on Transformational Urban Mission: The Community Development Program of the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church[1]


Increasing urbanization presents a major issue of concern in Ethiopia, given the rapid urbanization taking place it its major urban centers such as Addis Ababa. The effects of natural population growth, growing rural-urban migration with concomitant urban problems associated with poor management, lack of infrastructure, inadequate service delivery is typical of urban poverty today. Re-current drought is also adding to the number of people migrating to urban areas.


In addressing the needs of the urban poor, the Integrated Urban Development Department (IUDD) of the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC) started the Nazareth Community Empowerment and Development Programme (NCED) in 2002. A year after, a new model was adopted where the local churches became implementing partners, known as the Church and Community Mobilization for Development (CCMD). This project intended to improve the livelihood of the destitute community members through community empowerment and development model called Self Help Group (SHG) approach where in the direct beneficiaries are the poor and very poor women who came from low income groups, mostly unskilled, majority are illiterates, with low health profile and high prevalence of HIV/AIDS. The project was the first of its kind ever. This work now receives financial support from both Tearfund UK and Kinder Not Hilfe (KNH).


The CCMD aimed at reducing vulnerability and poverty in the urban areas by empowering 12,400 poor people through community mobilization, capacity building and Self Help Group approach. The objective of organizing self help groups (SHGs) is to empower the poor and poorest community households and to enhance their livelihood and to bring change in the overall goal of holistic development. Nineteen (19) local churches and 45 church staff were mobilized for the project.


Development Impact


An evaluation of the programme had enhanced social security mechanisms such as a new way of thinking on savings among the beneficiaries, resulting in the accumulation of capital which the beneficiaries were able to get as loan. By investing in small scale livelihood projects, the SHG members gained economic benefits and were able to improve their household in terms providing the basic need for food, shelter, education of children and other needs. They testified that the programme have helped build their self- esteem and confidence. The women were empowered and there was improvement in gender relation. Spiritually, the programmes were able to link people of different faith such as the Muslim, the Orthodox and the Protestants. The participating local churches themselves were impacted by the CCMD programme. It opened up new avenues for reaching out to the largely morally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically destitute people that the church is called to serve. It has also improved community perception and relations with the local church. The church’s concern for the poor has opened up bridge into the community and facilitated better services by the local government to the poor.


The majority diversified/expanded their businesses like injera baking, vegetable vending etc. Some were working as daily laborers or employed by other people but now are self employed. “We are no more taking loan from money lenders that are blood suckers”. Some were able to purchase improved stoves. Others were able to connect their homes to piped water, phone services and power supply. “We used to buy ready made food from the market at high prices but now we prepare food at home”.  “My child was not going to school before but now she goes. I was also able to send my daughter to skills training to increase her skill/ employability”. 


One confident lady said “we were confined at home, being shy, completely ignorant of the world outside the home environment. We did not have hope. When we were encouraged to deposit our money in the bank we felt equal with the rest. It was a break through to explore the world we have not seen before. Our self esteem has increased as we developed confidence”. 


Church leaders believe that women are the most benefited section of the community by taking part in SHGs as opposed to other projects that are men biased. Because of women’s contribution to household income, their participation in household decision making has increased. A member said “My husband now listens to my advice after realizing how economically independent I can be.”   SHGs have accorded economic power to women who in the majority of cases are dependent on men’s income. “Personally, I have improved my self. I was not expressing myself at home but now I talk in public in confidence”.


Linking people of different faith


Tolerance among various faith groups were attained due to relationship building. Leaders at Addis Ketema Church noted that the CCMD work has brought the church very close to poor people and built relationship. The church has also demonstrated love, compassion to people in need irrespective their religious background that cemented relationship with Muslims and Christians alike. “As a Muslim, I thought my friends were only Muslims, but now my attitude has changed. I have made many Christian friends from whom I received love that I have never expected. I never had a Christian friend before”. Without SHG, members said will lose trust, will not have access to credit, fail to build relationship and would not have known each other. “We could have also missed the social insurance that we built”. Some said, we could have led life without progress being dependent, continue being milked by money lenders living in a vicious circle of poverty. “A leader in Awassa (Addis Ketema church) said those neighbours that were reluctant to pass by the local church now enter our premises to hold meetings, including our Muslim brothers.” He said, the SHG model helped the church to relate to poor communities, teach about work ethics, savings culture and our values.


New perspective and actions of local church mission


The CCMD programme opened up new avenues for reaching out to the largely morally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically destitute people that the church is called to serve. Leaders were challenged by the slowness of the church’s response to the plight of the poor and distance from people living around the church. The church introduced the importance of unity, organization and managing funds.


The CCMD work has become one department in the church’s ministry. Church leaders’ home to home visit has greatly helped the church to see, touch and sense the depth of poverty among people. This has changed the way holistic mission has been viewed in the church. It has given unprecedented energy for the local church to breakaway from the traditional salvation based ministry. In one local church, about 12 men came to the Lord. “People that were throwing stone at us have regretted after having seen the compassion of the local church to the poor”. 


The church’s concern for the poor has opened up bridge to the community and the local government. In all churches visited, the surrounding people were initially afraid to enter the compound of the church. Because of the relationship built through the SHGs, people have changed the perception they had on the churches and are now friendly to the church.




[1] Excerpt from Emmanuel M. Luna, Vijay Kumar, Mulugeta Dejenu and Simon Haile. 2008.Evaluation of the Church and Community Mobilization for Development Program (CCMD) and the Nazareth Community Empowerment and Development Program  (NCED).Integrated Urban Development Department, Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Development Program.