Written annual report 2015 by Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Secretary General
Translated by Patrick Nielsen, december 2015
What do you remember in particular about Mission Africa’s work from the past year?
Perhaps the crisis situations with our partners in Africa, with the Ebola disease and the bloodshed by Boko Haram, are the first things that come to mind. I believe that will be the case, for a lot of us. These atrocities are depressing and call for our prayer. We empathize with those who have suffered and continue to suffer, and must once again realise that we are born in the privileged part of the world.
Having said that, I sincerely hope that you will not remember only the dark side of things. Although the world isn’t always as perfect as we could have hoped, we have also been able to contribute towards lighting the way, creating hope and spreading happiness. Along with churches, organisations and individuals, Mission Africa has helped make a difference for the better. The yearbook before you shows glimpses of how that help has been demonstrated across many projects and activities.
I also hope that your thoughts of Mission Africa’s latest year of work has a coupling to your own life. Perhaps you remember a great experience from the circle, congregation, one of our thrift shops or a project in which you felt that you were part of something bigger. In which you felt that your efforts were important and appreciated one way or another. In which you experienced a strong sense of community for an important cause. I hope you have not had negative experiences or grievances with Mission Africa. But if you do, I would that we can start anew, and instead raise our sights towards what needs to be accomplished in the future.
When I reflect on the time that has passed in Mission Africa there are plenty of different experiences, events, and news that come to mind from both the international work, but also from the domestic scene. Let me share some of these with you.
A blossoming development
We have a long standing tradition in Mission Africa of being holistic in our mission of understanding. Both the evangelistic and diaconal efforts are important facets of the work of Mission Africa. In the past, we have focused on strengthening the development departments of our partners. In Cameroon and Mali we observe our partners becoming better equipped to handle development. All the while the Christ Lutheran Church in Nigeria is establishing a development department, and we have because of this had the pleasure of having the newly appointed head of the department, Joshua Timothy Napa, on a course at the Diaconal High School in Aarhus.
Also, on the emergence aid side of things, we have had the opportunity to support our partners. This past fall, we held a joint fundraiser with the Christ Lutheran Church in Nigeria on behalf of the refugees running from Boko Haram in Nigeria. Just as we, through grants from the Danish Mission Council Development Department, were involved in helping refugees running from Boko Haram in the northern Cameroon. In relation to the ebola outbreak, we gathered funds towards the victims of the disease in Sierra Leone and Mali, and two grants from the Danish Mission Council Development made it possible to further support the Anglican Diocese of Bo and the effort that the church has made in the fight against the ebola virus.
The gospel has been preached
On the evangelistic side of our work, there is also reason to rejoice in exciting projects and activities. We are extra delighted to be part of some truly innovative and rewarding media initiatives. In Cameroon and Mali, we’ve helped introduce “Mobile Mission”, which allows people the opportunity to meet Christian service via their smartphones. Whilst on the subject, we should also mention our commitment to the SAT-7 program. While we have supported the great work that is sending Christian television to North Africa and the Middle East for many years, the increasing pressure on the Christian population of the region during these last few years has only made our commitment more relevant. Last year we were able to send Mette and Claus Swartz Andersen to Cypern as employees at SAT-7’s headquarters.
A network organization as a goal
In the spring of 2015, Mission Africa announced that we wish to become a network organization. Since then many have asked what that actually means; some people see exciting new ways to become volunteer workers, others are worried whether the increasing influx of volunteers will cause instability in relation to our international work.
I solemnly believe that there is no reason for concern. Mission Africa has always sat on a solid foundation of loyal, generous and praying volunteers; that’s how it was when the organisation was born, and that is how it is today. Without a large and active volunteer network or strong base back home we might as well have thrown in the towel. Others have felt, however, that it hasn’t always been easy to join in as either an individual or a congregation. Therefore we need to find out how we can create new opportunities and openings for volunteering on both the Danish and international fronts.
A network organisation must continue to uphold the respectful and equally cooperative work with our partners in the south. A network organisation also has a continued need for a secretariat with employees who can ensure continuity of work, organize a good framework for voluntary work and assist the volunteers in their activities. There will also continue to be projects, that are most suited for the secretariat. A longer process has been set in motion, which will end with us reaching the goal of being able to call ourselves a network organisation.
It won’t happen in a single afternoon, but it will be a process, that will take time, and require communication in many different contexts. I hope that you will help us, and let your voice be heard.
Much to expand upon
Fortunately, we’re far from rock bottom in our efforts towards becoming a network organisation. We have already got a committed base at home, which has support Mission Africa’s work in many ways, and which has taken a huge responsibility. Back in March more than 150 people gathered for the Mission Africa day in Ikast, where former general secretary Mogens Mogensen sparked conversation with an inspiring speech about the future of missionary work.
In the past, we have seen new project groups protrude. April of 2015 saw the first ground break for a project about the work in Mali, while we along with Africa InTouch assembled a bunch of volunteers around the SAT-7 project. The first assignment for the SAT-7 enthusiasts was to draw attention to the tv-work during the SommerOase event, where money was collected for Mission Africa’s commitment towards SAT-7. The two new volunteer groups attach themselves to the health project which was started last year, and the two Mission Africa and Africa InTouch groups: Lights of Youth and Pearls of the Street, support our partners in Sierra Leone and Cameroon respectively in their work among children and adolescents in the areas. The project groups are all examples of how great responsibility could easily be placed on the shoulders of volunteers.
Similarly, we see that our ambassador corps grows quietly larger. Around 20 people from various dioceses around the country have made themselves available as special advocates for the Mission Africa cause in their local areas. In this way, they complement the fine work as districts traditionally have done. Although no new circles are being opened, there are still about 100 Mission Africa-circles that pray for the missions work and raise money towards the cause. We have every reason to be grateful for the faithfulness in the work of each of our circles.
Whilst we’re on the subject of networking, it’s also important to mention how churches can see themselves as part of Mission Africa’s cause. Last May, we collaborated with the Danish Mission Council to arrange a theme day for the church and mission, and this is a topic we must continue to focus on. Some Danish churches have a friendship church among our partner churches in Africa. We have to consider how our relations between continents and cultures can be expanded in the future. Danish churches especially will benefit from receiving new inspiration from Africa, where the church’s situation is often quite different to the situation back in Denmark. Many churches, associations and mission houses have been visited by the Mission Africa lecturers. There has, among other things, been a great interest in lodging missionaries. Mette and Alex Bjergbæk Klausen (The Anglican Diocese in Bo, Sierra Leone), Mette and Claus Swartz Andersen (SAT-7, Cypern) and Peter Michael Lauritzen (City ministries Nigeria) have visited many many community centers, schools and mission houses and lectured in the past year.
In the spring, we embarked on an exciting course with Aarhus Valgmenighed. Keld Dahlmann, who is a priest at the church, and Clement Dachet who has previously been an employee at Mission Africa, went to Abuja, Nigeria during the spring to organize a workshop for 44 priests and employees of the diocese churches. The workshop brought new inspiration to all of the participants, and is a good example of how Danish and African congregations can benefit each other.
30 years of recycling
Autumn of 2014 marked the 30 year anniversary of Mission Africa Recycling. What started as a good idea has now become a supporting pillar of Mission Africa’s economy. In 2014, the 81 shops and 2400 volunteering retail workers amassed an impressive profit of 9.1 million kroner. It was about 1.5 million kroner less than the surplus in 2013, mainly due to the restructuring of the VAT compensation pool that Mission Africa, through their recycling, holds shares in.
In the spring of 2015, the recycling committee and the board of Mission Africa adopted a three-year strategy to strengthen our recycling efforts. The goal is to ensure recycling work as a great source of income, and maintaining the link between recycling work and the purpose of Mission Africa. The annual recycling rallies as thus play a large part. This spring, rallies were held across seven cities and a total of 487 retail workers showed up, which is a huge improvement compared to last year. During the rally, people were given an introduction to the work of Mission Africa and news from the recycling front. It has also become a tradition that a new collection fund is introduced at the rallies. Last year the stores gathered a total of about 35,000 kroner which went towards getting children off the street in in Nigeria. This year a goat breeding project was introduced in Mali, which the stores will collect money towards until the the next rally in 2016.
A lot has been done on the managing side of things to achieve savings and to strengthen the economy of the organisation. In the autumn of 2014, we put the telephony from the stores into a joint system, which will mean significant savings going forward. Another eight stores received ATM’s in 2014, which means that more than half of our stores accept credit cards. Finally, rent negotiations have been undergone with several store landlords.
We are in regular dialogue with stores about their current situations. We had to close a single store in 2015, due to a deficit that couldn’t be reversed. Other stores have been moved to new and better premises in order to increase revenue. The northern region in particular has been very busy with relocating stores.
There has been a great competitiveness about recycling in recent years, and many organizations, municipalities and private recyclers are on their toes to get a bit of the recycled gold. We need to be constantly aware of developments and continue to innovate our way of working. At the same time we rejoice in the strong foundation upon which we build, and in the many dedicated employees who help us secure funds for our work in Africa every single day.
A tight economy
It’s depressing when the visions are bigger than the means to bring them to life. This has unfortunately been the case in Mission Africa. As stated elsewhere in this report, we came out of 2014 with a deficit of 1.7 million kroner. When that was added on top of an already pressured cash flow, the board had to make some tough decisions to rectify the economy this spring. It has since then been decided to step out of the Confirmation Action. This decision was also due to difficulties to implement the project in the difficult situation that our African partners are in. Similarly, the operating aid to Africa InTouch was terminated. We would like to continue our work with Africa InTouch, but in new ways that we are still to clarify.
The economic situation has also had a major impact on the staff side of things. The Danish secretariat has been reduced by even more employees. In order to achieve savings, we have had to dismiss Bitten Andersen (Secretary, part-time), Clement Dachet (Cultural staff, part-time), Anette Drewsen (management secretary, part-time), Arngeir Langås (Partner coordinator) and Carsten Bruhn-Lauritsen (Partner coordinator). In addition, the graphic artist position has been reduced to a part-time position and the Deputy Secretary General post was abolished. With the numerous savings, the goal is to restore Mission Africa’s economy by the end of 2017. In these hard times, it’s been extremely uplifting to feel the support from the strong base at home. It is expressed both in terms of helping hands, prayers and financial donations and loans.
When there are layoffs, additional burdens are put on the remaining employees, but the situation will always be worse for those who have to leave their work. We are ever grateful for the efforts that they have all, in their own way, put into Mission Africa. It is dear to work for Mission Africa, and it can also be hard to say goodbye. We wish them the very best and God’s blessings in the time that lies ahead.
We have welcomed a few new people to the secretariat. Hanne Fornitz replaced Anne Marie Rasmussen as secretary. Pia Kruse and Inge Marie Eckardt stepped in as accountants (both part-time), when Inger Juhl retired. In February, Torben Hesselbjerg was appointed as finance coordinator. He replaced Kasper Pedersen, who had taken up a new job. We have been pleased to collaborate with the employees who have chosen to leave us, and we are pleased now to have welcomed some great new employees into the workspace.
Changing of the Secretary General post
One person in particular deserves special thanks. Kristian R. Skovsmose left Mission Africa during the spring, after he and the board agreed to discontinue cooperation. For seven years, Kristian led Mission Africa and took it skillfully through many processes of change and major events: The organization’s name change in 2008, the celebration of Mission Africa’s 100th anniversary in 2011, the relocation of the secretariat from Christiansfeld to Aarhus in 2011, preparation of Mission Africa’s visionary documents in 2012 and the merger of Mission Africa and Mission Africa Recycling in 2012 to name some of the biggest milestones. Kristian deserves a big thank you for his good and dedicated effort and we wish him all the best in the future.
The board has decided to appoint me as Secretary General. I have since 2013 been employed as Deputy Secretary-General, and I am now looking forward to the challenges and tasks that await in this new role. I am very interested in hearing the thoughts, ideas and opinions of the base at home, so thank you if you would contact me, others in the Secretariat or members of the board, if you have something to say. Torben Hesselbjerg, who in February was appointed as finance coordinator, was in conjunction with the changing of the Secretary General post, appointed as finance and administration manager, which will help strengthen our efforts to improve Mission Africa’s economy.
I started this report by asking what you will remember, from the past year. As is the case with every year, there are events we can be thankful for and experiences that we would rather be without. Despite major upheavals and shocks, it is with great gratitude that I think back to all that we have been allowed to be a part of. In the future, we must focus on how Mission Africa can be a living network organization with room for the volunteer initiative. In the process we need each other – but most of all we need God’s guidance. Let us listen to what God wants for Mission Africa, and let us encourage one another to boldly explore new avenues.