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Generosity, Botswana style


William Monaka in his general store: A large chain store in his village is slowly depleting his customer base – and his inventory.

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Bible Study
Nine people ranging in age from 16 to 78, some of whom walked over an hour through parched hills, attended William Monaka’s Bible study, held at 4 pm this Saturday afternoon. Pictured here are (left to right around the table): Tonic Golobilwe, Susan Allison Jones, William Monaka, Sire Monaka, Kifelwe Icetshabe, Pshenolo Sebeelo.

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May 9, 2008
- Dan Dyck

KANYE, Botswana — With a passionate voice and enthusiastic gesturing, William Monaka leads a group of eight people – ranging in age from 16 to 78 years old – in a New Testament Bible study. Throughout, he pauses, asking someone to read a passage, and then prompts questions.

Monaka is the father of five children – all but one have since moved away from home – and is foster father to four children, one of whom has a baby of her own. He pays their school fees and gives them a place to live. He also supports his 80-plus year old mother, and two sisters in the family compound next door to the general store and diner he operates.

Business at the general store has not been good lately. The convenience store-sized building has just two aisles and sparsely stocked shelves. A large chain store moved into Kanye a while back; since then his sales have declined. He can no longer afford to carry the inventory he once did.

The downturn in business has curtailed Monaka’s weekly 90 minute round trips into Gaberone to attend the Mennonite ministries Bible studies; he could no longer afford the fuel for his car. Susan Allison-Jones, international ministries worker supported by Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, says he never missed a week until about two years ago. “He was always a subdued student in class,” recounts Allison-Jones. “He really lights up as a teacher.” In 1999, Monaka was appointed Assistant to the Bishop of Abanaesa Association Church, a group of congregations belonging to the wider group of African Initiated Churches.

In recent years, Monaka was repeatedly encouraged to start his own Bible study in Kanye, but the lack of an adequate meeting place deferred plans – until March, 2007. That’s when William organized the grand opening of a new church building – erected on land purchased with his own money, with construction financed almost entirely by him (a Mennonite ministries grant of $500 helped install windows to complete the project). “I built this church to spread the word of God and to encourage the Mennonite people [in] what they have done for us.”

Since then, William has regularly and passionately led weekly Bible study classes for anyone interested. “We used to read the Bible, but not understand it,” he said. “Since the Mennonite people came here, we are enlightened to know what we are talking about when we read the Bible. They taught us very well.”

Monaka claims that Mennonite Biblical instruction has helped him and other local leaders uncover an important distinction. “Preaching and teaching are different things. If you preach, people will just listen to you, not knowing whether they understand what you said or not. But if you teach, people must ask you some questions, and you must make sure that they understand and that they are listening to what you are saying. This is what I learned from the Mennonite people. They taught us that teaching and preaching are different things. Right now I can teach rather than preach. It is something that I have achieved from them.”

William hopes that Mennonite workers will continue to come to Botswana to teach. “They are very friendly and sociable and humble. You don’t get discouraged when you are with them. They associate with people. That’s how we can understand each other. This teaches us that to understand the Bible, we have to love each other,” he says.

Recently, business prospects are looking up for Monaka. Through his diner, he has acquired a contract to supply prepared meals to a local prison. But more importantly, he wants to share an invitation: “I encourage the people in Canada to keep on doing what they are doing. I want you to continue coming to our country.”