KANYE, Botswana (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission) — With a passionate voice and enthusiastic gesturing, William Monaka leads a group of eight people – ranging in age from 16 to 78 – in a New Testament Bible study in Kanye, Botswana. Throughout, he pauses, asks others to read passages, and then prompts questions.
Monaka was a subdued student, said Susan Allison-Jones, one of his teachers at the Mennonite Bible studies that led to the Kanye group's formation, but as a teacher, "he really lights up."
The encouragement from the Mennonite studies in Gaborone, 45 minutes from Kanye, has helped him and other local leaders uncover an important distinction that led him to start a Bible study in his hometown.
“(The Mennonites) taught us that teaching and preaching are different things," Monaka said. "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.”
Monaka added one more vital component: "To understand the Bible," he continued, "we have to love each other."
Monaka is the father of five children – all but one have since moved away from home – and is foster father to four others, 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 mother, who is more than 80 years old, 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 Gaborone to attend the Mennonite ministries Bible studies; he could no longer afford the fuel for his car.
Allison-Jones, an international ministries worker supported by a partnership among Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, said he never missed a week until about two years ago.
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 Monaka 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,” he said.
Since then, Monaka 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.”
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network's director for Africa, said the results of Monaka's efforts are what Mennonites have hoped for.
"Leadership development is what we have been doing for the past 30 years," Wiebe-Johnson said, "and it is what we need to continue working alongside Africans to do."
Monaka hopes that Mennonite workers will continue to come to Botswana to teach.
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 (North America) to keep on doing what they are doing. I want you to continue coming to our country.”