A personal story told by Phanuel Odany Mbande, Kenyan pastor and maternal/child health champion:
I strongly opposed World Vision’s program in my community about birth spacing and family planning when I first heard about it from a fellow pastor.
I am the pastor of Last Trumpet Call church in Siaya county, Kenya. We are an independent church with about 800 members in five locations. In my church, we believed that things to do with reproduction and giving birth belonged to God, and no man should interfere. I used to quote a lot of Scripture to support this.
Meanwhile, my life was not pleasing to God. I had six children one year apart, and I could not provide for them. After our first two children, my wife, Phoscoria, and I prayed that God would intervene and we would have no further children, but we did not want to use a family planning method. We are farmers, but I could not do the work alone and my wife was always busy caring for the children. We struggled financially. Sometimes there was no food for my children and my wife. We did not have peace in our family, and sometimes my wife and I quarrelled a lot.
Two years ago, in 2014, I reluctantly accepted an invitation to attend a Channels of Hope (CoH) training workshop for faith leaders. I was very moved by what I heard at the course and felt family planning was the right thing for me to do personally and to share with my church. You see, the CoH training was part of World Vision’s Mobilizing for Maternal and Neo-natal Health through Birth Spacing and Advocacy (MOMENT)[i] project, and is helping families to get the information and support they need to make informed family planning choices that are right for them.
That same week, I buried a woman who died in childbirth. At the funeral, one of the mourners said to me, ‘You pastors are good at burying people, but what are you doing to save the lives of our women who are dying in childbirth and the children under 5 who are dying?’ I came to my senses and realized that God wanted me to share the information about child well-being and maternal health that I had received through Channels of Hope.
We formed a team in the church and started teaching parents about things like malaria prevention and diarrhea treatment—things I’d learned in the course. We practiced this at home and our own children are healthier now.
Phoscoria says we would not have suffered the way we did that if we had had this information before. After the course, we agreed that we wanted to do family planning. She went to the clinic to get implants and then she began spreading the message in our church. She talked to youth about not giving birth before age 18 because your body is not ready. She spoke to women about not giving birth after age 35 and the importance of delivering in a clinic, not at home unassisted. She is teaching the word of God and the good news of family planning. We want many people to be blessed by this message.
Our own six children are now measurably healthier. And Phoscoria has started a market gardening business with the additional free time she has now that our last-born is three years old.
I realize now that, as pastors, sometimes we just quote words and don’t dig deep into the meaning. We lead others astray because we are not interpreting the Bible in context. As leaders, we should be the first to understand. If you are astray yourself, eventually the whole flock will be nowhere.
I have a diploma in theology, but I did not learn any of the things that I learned through the Channels of Hope program. This curriculum needs to be taught in Bible schools.
My prayer is that my wife and I will continue to be a channel of hope and that this program will spread across our county and our country.
[i]The Mobilizing for Maternal and Neo-natal Health through Birth Spacing and Advocacy (MOMENT) project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.