This article was originally published in Edition (3) of Prayer Magazine, Summer 2005.

Community Transformation – by Arnold Muwonge

‘Oh God, Your ways are Holy. Is there any other God as mighty as You? You are a God of wonders and miracles, You still demonstrate Your awesome power.’ Psalm 77 v 13-14

We live in a climate of change. Here in the west, such change is coupled with relative wealth and security, with freedom and opportunity, through policy and policing, security and surveillance, crackdowns on corruption and strategic funnelling of funds, we strive to eliminate the dysfunctions in our societies that continue to exist. We want reduction in crime, violence and abuse, adherence to human rights, fairness and equality, and a flourishing economy. From the street where you live to the global neighbourhood, we seek the positive transformation of our societies. And whilst these social efforts of man cannot be belittled, we find that again and again they fall short. Crime continues, violence and abuse escalate, corruption slips underground, and economies remain unjust and unstable.

But against this backdrop, we are beginning to see another trend emerging. In some places, communities are being turned around, crime and violence reduced, human needs met, and economies are blooming. In some places in our world we are seeing not just attempts at societal improvement, but far reaching community transformation.

What has happened in these places?

What was the key?

Over the past 20 years the world has seen an unprecedented increase in prayer across the nations. The people of God realizing with afresh hunger the need to fall on our knees with humble hearts and cry out to God in order to see change in the communities in which we live, and in the wider world around us.

We have fallen on the promise of God’s word.

‘If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and forgive their sin and I will heal their land.’ [2 Chronicles 7 v 14]

Where our own efforts have failed, we have cried, we are learning to humble ourselves, we are turning away from corporate as well as individual sin, and in desperation we are seeking the face of God. This global movement of prayer has filled stadiums, built Prayer Mountains, packed churches, classrooms, government offices and prayer rooms in every language, culture and creed. It has been an awesome true work of God and testimony of His power.

But what really turns our heads and our hearts is when we see God begin to heal our land. And in some communities around the world we are beginning to see this take place…. We are not just seeing an increased fervour in prayer, but a resultant community transformation.

Where humility and desperation have fuelled united passionate prayer……… God has come.

I am privileged to have been part of a tiny expression of such community transformation around the world.

Living in Uganda, I was converted at the age of 17bfrom a family which was predominantly Muslim. An angry and hopeless young man, Jesus called me on my way to a notorious slum area to get drunk. I was also on the brink of turning to drugs. Convicted by the Holy Spirit., I knew that if I died I would go to Hell. So I surrendered my life to Jesus that night and went home. By 6am the following morning, I was an evangelist…… standing at the roadside to share my testimony how Jesus met me and what He can do for others. I knew only two things, Jesus saves and heals. My faith was simple but at the same time I knew that it was real, and within the first two years of my Christian walk, I saw everyone that I prayed for, get healed.

I got known as ‘Brother I can see’, because whatever problem a person came to me with, I believed that my God was big enough to deal with.

I was very poor, often going for days without food. So I decided to pray daily from 10pm ‘til 5am every day until I saw a change in my circumstances. But also I had a very gripping burden on my heart; I couldn’t stand the thought of me being in heaven after this life while my father, mother and the entire family were in Hell.

God spoke to me during this time of prayer convicting me of the authority that Christians have in Jesus. This introduced me to what many may consider to be ‘travailing prayer’ as I groaned every night to usher my family into the saving grace of God.

After a period of intensive prayer of about two years, God began to save my family one by one; and now more than 80% of my extended family have come to know Christ. The glory goes to God. After this, God focussed my attention to a slum close to where I was living.

This place was called GIZA-GIZA. A Swahili name that translates ‘double darkness!’ It was aptly named. Approximately 97% of the teenagers and adults were on drugs or some form of substance abuse. Most were illiterate; and all lived in extreme poverty. Disease, violence and abuse were commonplace. Most serious though, was the stronghold of witchcraft in the place.

A small group of Rwandese refugees that I was pastoring, began to pray and intercede for that slum. And as they prayed, things began to change. The stronghold of witchcraft was broken and people began to turn from their sin. The change did not come easily though; on many occasions we suffered violent physical abuse which has left me with physical scars on my body.

As a result of prayer, we saw people begin to change, one by one. Brothels began to close with no rational reason. The community’s attitude began to change, influenced by the presence and the lifestyle of the Christians who lived in this community. A vivid hallmark of the few Christians who lived in Giza-Giza was their unconditional love for the area and the fervent prayer for it.

Our experience taught us a remarkable lesson: ‘it is impossible to bring community transformation to a community you don’t love! And our love for the communities we want to see God transform must be an unconditional love. We cannot stand and look with judgement from afar – we must identify with our communities and become involved with compassion.’

In time, crime rates dropped dramatically, such that the local leaders couldn’t believe it. Many teenagers who had dropped out of school, enrolled in local technical and secondary schools. Wealthier families began to move into the area and money was channelled into it so that it has now been regenerated. The church of 40 grew rapidly to 400 members. Many residents and Christians now refer to the community as ‘double light’ instead of ‘double darkness’.

As this small group of Christians prayed and loved, before their very eyes God began to bring transformation. But it was not without cost. This small group of people gave everything they had; most importantly, their two main assets – they willingly gave their time and they wet the community with their tears!

Often in the western world we desire to see community transformation but without the willingness to give what we have. In the few communities that I have seen or read about God doing amazing things, the people have this in common – they were willing to change their lifestyles for the sake of what they wanted God to do.

If we are not willing to change the way we do things, if we do not get fed up of the status quo, it will be difficult for God to use us to be agents of community transformation. We must be willing to allow God to mess up our programmes, and give us His agenda.

We will be agents of revival only according to how much we allow Him to work in and through our lives. Transformation that spreads to whole communities and even nations, begins with the influence of individuals; where a few people see the depravity of their society and begin to pray and work in whatever way they can towards this goal. In many cases it begins by touching one life at a time.

In Uganda, war, poverty and the AIDS pandemic have left many children orphaned. Many Christians’ response to this need has been to take into their home those that God brings their way. Many families have many adopted children, each of whom have been rescued from poverty and some from abuse. These children now live as happy members of growing Christian families, knowing Jesus and enjoying education and a life of opportunity. For such children their lives have been transformed. One life at a time matters!

God is also able to turn around the direction of a nation, as we have also witnessed in Uganda. Over the past 18 years we have seen the nation changed as God has moved in response to His people’s prayers.

Uganda is a nation in a state of being rebuilt after years of war and the cruel dictatorship of Idi Amin when hundreds of thousands of people were brutally killed. They were dangerous times in the nation of fear, bloodshed and a disintergrating economy. According to pastors who lived during those times, they all agree that desperate times taught the Christians to pray. As Ps Jackson Senyonga of Christian Life Kampala reminisces, ‘God birthed a prayer movement. In small pockets, Christians gathered in secret places in the jungle, caves and swamps to call out all night to God.’ The Lord showed us “not to pray for a change in the government as problems come and go. Instead, as we intercede for the divine calling and destiny of the nation, everything else will fall into place.’

Between 1979 and 1986, two malignant leaders were deposed as the Christians prayed. In 1986, the current leader, Yoweri Museveni, came to power. since then, change has come to the nation at every level, from community transformation, to the highest strata of government. Ethics and morality based on God’s word have been underpinning law and policy making. Many members of parliament are born again believers and meet regularly for prayer. The crime rate has fallen by 50% and economic growth has been higher than the African average since the late 1990s (2004, Bertelsmann Stifung).

Uganda is also recovering from the devastating effect of the AIDS pandemic that nearly wiped out a generation. It was one of the worst hit countries but since a radical government agenda to teach and encourage godly principles of abstinence outside of marriage and faithfulness within marriage, coupled with supernatural healings that the doctors cannot explain, have led to a miraculous turnaround. Studies show that from 1991 to 2001, HIV infection rates in Uganda declined from about 15% to 5%; the greatest decline in HIV prevalence in any country of the world. (Joseph Laconte 2003).

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, a momentous occasion took place. President Museveni and first Lady joined a huge celebration in the national stadium and read a public proclamation coventanting the land to God to be used for the next 1000 years for the purposes of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Such stories are encouraging and inspiring. For anyone who carries within them the longing and hunger to see God at visible work in our communities, such stories motivate us to cry out to God for more. They inspire our visions and rekindle our faith.

And as we see God bringing community transformation, principles are beginning to emerge to help and guide us. These are principles that we have seen to be essential ingredients to God bringing transformation.

The first is travailing prayer. This is needed at all levels and includes:

  1. Prayers in homes.
  2. Prayers in churches.
  3. Prayers in communities.
  4. Prayers in cities.
  5. Prayers in a nation.
  6. Prayers for the nations.

These six waves create an atmosphere where God can dwell. When we open our ears to hear the cry of the land and the cry of the heart of God for our world, we cannot but cry out to Him until we see a change. Where communities have been transformed it has been birthed in the wombs of the people of God who have laboured and travailed and persevered in prayer until God has begun to move.

The second is unity in the body of Christ. National breakthroughs have been the result of the body of Christ coming together in unity. Again, as Jackson puts it, ‘Unity is more than having a crusade together, it takes a revelation of God to strike hearts in tangible ways, causing a need for each other. Because of the intensity of the spiritual darkness over a city, one man or one church cannot handle it. But when there is unity in the body, the spiritual strongholds cannot withstand the combined strength.’ George Otis Jr states that from his studies, community transformation does not occur unless these two core factors are present: persevering leadership and united prayer.

These principles are summed up in 2 Chronicles 7:14 ‘If My people…’ God is looking for hearts that are desperate for God’s intervention and abandoned to living and loving the way that He asks. He is looking for hearts prepared to be the altar for His burning love for our world. He is looking for desperate faith, humble unity and persevering prayer.

God rarely works the same way twice. Each testimony of transformation is unique and exciting. No community is too dark for God to turn around. We can be the vessels God will use for the next story of transformation.

I would, that the people of God in this nation, rise up in spirit to recognise who they are in Christ Jesus, that there is nothing impossible for Him, that no matter how hopeless the surroundings look, God is bigger. I would, that we rise up in faith to believe what God has said. That we rise up in hope, to gain a vision of what God can do and will do. That desperation would emerge in our hearts to see a God of power work wonders in our communities and nations. Why? Because our communities need transforming and because God can do it.

With love and a deep belief in Transformation,

Arnold Muwonge

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