The Hospitality in Cancellations

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Greetings to all of our readers from Nairobi, Kenya.Our journey has taken us to Kenya until the beginning of next year. I know, Christmas in Nairobi sounds like a Bing Cosby movie but it is our reality this year.

Traveling to Kenya from Kinshasa should have been 4 hrs but like other connections this year, it took a wee-bit longer,30 hrs to our guest house destination. Appropriate for Dec. there was “no room in the inn. We were provided with another location for the night, NO not a stable. Mary and I talked this morning about our cancellations this year… and we noticed on each occasion the hospitality.

During a cancelled flight from Brussels to the US, the Brussels Airline associates made arrangements, secured our bags and  escorted us to a Hotel at the airport.  The hotel provided a meal to 200 people, without notice and without missing a step or a smile.

Again same thing in Johannesburg in October from South African Air. Hotel,transportation, dinner all with smiles and radical hospitality under adverse conditions.

This week on Kenya Air, following an aircraft landing issue in Nairobi, the airport, hotel and transport associates all went above the call of duty to make everyone was comfortable in a situation that no one could control.

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We are Missionaries wherever we are.  In Brussels we met a man who worked for the World Bank and had worked in Liberia during the Ebola Crises to help the country recover. In South Africa we met 2 men from a Christian Bible and book publishing house who are very interested in expanding into French speaking Africa.  Yesterday we had breakfast with two ladies from Zambia, who work with human rights and gender violence issues. What amazing conversations and new friends these situations provided for Mary and I.

Each time that God provides us a delay… look for the hospitality and opportunity.

“We have the means…”

What does it mean to you, to be told, “We are all made in the image of God?”  How do you relate to your own self-image and to the others you meet, reflecting on this passage from Genesis 1:27?

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Often mission work focuses on the challenges in a particular place at a particular time.  We find ourselves absorbed in the “work” and less inclined to see the creation as God sees it.  To see each one of us as made in God’s image.  To seek and see beauty and truth.

Having the “veil” removed, or the speck of dust taken from out of our eyes or what ever we need to do to see ourselves and see one another as children of God, created in and for love, can leave us breathless and in awe.  Or it can be a devastating blow to our world view.  Either way, it’s a humbling opportunity to be re-united to God and one another – even for a brief moment.

The last two days in Kinshasa offered us some of those moments.  Tuesday gave us the chance to see a group from the Baptist Youth who have been working in the neighborhoods of Kinshasa to train young people who live in poverty.

Rev. Pierre Ndonganani reminded the group of 40 participants that they are created by God and have been given such great resources – in themselves, their churches, their community and  in nature.  That within themselves, God has given them the means for real transformation.  These 40 will be taking the training they received over the past two days into the neighborhoods to train other youth on how to first appreciate their own God-madeness and then to creatively and systematically form enterprises that can not only lift them out of poverty, but also in fulfilling their own dreams they will help to transform their communities.

This gathering focused first on the spiritual foundation for transformation and faithfully responding to God by utilizing the gifts given to each of us.  This was followed by several sessions on the practical means of growing an enterprise from the seed of an idea or dream, into the reality of a sustainable business.

Seeing how this particular group of leaders volunteered their time and expertise to regularly train and follow up with the youth, brought to mind the words of  John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”  We tend to find a lot of Baptists who remind us of Wesley in the DRC.

Wednesday was a very different kind of day.  We moved from the quiet, air-conditioned office space in Gombe (the business/government district of Kinshasa), to one of the neighborhood churches in Limete for an inter-religious gathering, “Non aux mariages precos et forces, oui a l’education des enfants.” or “No to early and forced marriage and yes to education for children.”

The Religions for Peace organized this event to discuss the importance of all faith groups promoting the end of early and forced marriages throughout the DRC.  A compelling take away from this event was the inter-faith interaction.

Wow, such a great witness to who we are when we reach out to one another.  We heard from a variety of faith leaders who, in unity spoke to the need to end these practices.  It was the young women from the Islamic, Bah ‘ai, Kimbanguist  and Protestant traditions who asked great questions and expressed themselves so eloquently, who moved me to see them – not as potential – but as they are, in that moment, created in the image of God, beloved and with real resources, not just in some future time.  We are blessed to live in a world with these sisters.  And how thankful I am for the leaders who are encouraging them.

May each of you see God today, in yourselves, your families, your neighbors and across what ever divisions – real or imagined you carry with you, and in all of creation.  We are all beloved.

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Broadcasting from Kinshasa!

As it cools down in the US, we are experiencing the beginning of the rainy season in Congo, with the accompanying heat and humidity.  No electricity at work for several days, so we have sped up the acclimatizing process.

Monday, saw us back at the orphanage at Cimetiere to check up on the progress of treatment for Kaya, a young boy with polio whom we hope to connect to a residential treatment program in Kinshasa.  This is a local NGO, with support from Stand Proud.  Our hope is that not only will Kaya receive the care he needs but that we can help our local groups connect for the future care of others.  We also helped Innocent Afful to deliver some much needed rice and “biscuits” for the orphans and children who attend school at the orphanage.

 

Yesterday we had an appointment with  Pierre Omadjela, Special Projects Manager for the United Methodist Communications here in DRC to discuss the United Methodist Radio station – Methodist Lokole Radio.

Together with Pierre, Rev Andre Masudi and Nico Munongo, we toured the station and talked about the role of the station in carrying out the four areas of ministry focus of the UMC in Congo.  1) Engaging in Ministry with the poor. 2) Improving health globally.  3) Developing principled Christian leaders.  4) Creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations.

 

The radio station in the past has given voice to the United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Men as well as the Youth and various agencies of the church, they have spread the Good News, provided needed information on health and sanitation initiatives in the areas they reach, as well as many other program promotions.  This work continues with a dedicated staff of 10, but unfortunately the transmitter, which is, “older than me!” according to Pierre, is not fully functioning and so their broadcast reach has significantly diminished.

While they await an evaluation of the transmitter, they look to a future with a sound studio and equipment that can be rented out in order to support the radio station operation and assist it to be self-sustaining.  The continued support from various local groups and individuals is expected to grow once they have a fully functioning transmitter.  We hope and pray that this will happen soon!  Stay tuned (sorry🙂 )

 

 

Walking with Saints

Our unexpected language barrier gaffe led to one of our most amazing days yet here in DRC.  Last week Aaron was introduced to 3 women who came to the ECC office for some help and were directed to find, “Mama Mary.”  I wasn’t there that day, so Aaron arranged for us to meet them at their center “on the Matadi Road” on Tuesday.  Aaron thought we would be meeting with the three women to discuss what was needed to continue the work of their center for young mothers.  Instead this is what greeted us:

Our group from ECC, Innocent, Aaron, Clovis, Guy and I were were greeted by dozens of women from various districts of the Federation of Women who collectively fund a center for young mothers, as well as a primary school for local children who would otherwise not attend school.  The community is a little west of central Kinshasa in the midst of some small farms and rolling hills.  The young mothers come from all over the Kinshasa province and live at the center for 2 years (minus holiday breaks) as they learn a variety of skills as well as receive an academic education so that they can not only provide for themselves and their children through vocational skills, but will also be able to read, write and manage money and other resources with confidence.  The program has been supported by these women for several years.

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The president of the Federation, Madame Marie Louise, led us on a tour of the facilities.  Several classrooms, dormitory rooms, kitchen, and a bathroom are built around an inner courtyard and we met with all the women, the young mothers and several of the children as they described the programs and their history.

The women began as a Federation over 50 years ago when a nurse, Marie Mathie, traveled to Ghana and other African countries and met church women who were organized and serving in their communities.  She brought the concept back to Congo, and the Federation was born.  The group of women we met today have continued the tradition of serving the needs of the most vulnerable, including raising the money to buy the property for the Centre Marie Mathie Mitendi.

Currently they are looking for ways to provide more sewing machines and other materials for their vocational programs, fund the building of a compound on the property for the primary school children (they currently hold most of their classes outside), and augment the food they provide for the young women.  We were thankful to have Innocent with us to ask great questions about the vocational program and Guy to help us translate!  We are already looking for ways to connect them with some local resources for their teachers and will be seeking other ways to help walk with these Saints!  What a way to celebrate All Saints Day.  God is so good.

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Connecting Around the World

Transposed  from our newsletter Nov 2016.

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It was a year ago this month that Mary and I traveled to Kinshasa for the first time. What we have found are amazing people working very hard, struggling to improve their lives in a location that can be difficult.

Mary and I are realizing how challenging it can be to not dive into projects but instead to listen and learn more about what so many are already doing for their neighborhoods. We see pastors and servants who are aware of what is needed in their communities and modeling Christ at the margins. Many times these servants just need to be understood and encouraged but sometimes Mary and I are able to find a partner church, or a local or international NGO to work alongside. Many times we have learned that we serve best by listening, caring and loving and just being present.

We were told when we arrived a year ago to expect a long time of relationship building.  I believe that all we do is relationship building!

And from these relationships we have begun to identify programs that can be strengthened with a connection and not just in the DRC. Many congregations in the USA will benefit from connecting to our new Congolese friends here.

We have learned that our Mission is not only with the Congolese but also with Americans, Europeans, Cubans, British, Ghanaians, Liberians, South Africans, Ohioans, Nevadans, North Carolinians.

Being a UMC Missionary in Congo has provided the place for us to understand how connected the world really can be.

CONNECTIONS THAT WORK

Mary and I would like to thank all that are encouraging us in prayer and support. We especially want to point to some of the connections that have been made since our last newsletter.

We are so grateful for the support we have had from congregations in the USA.         Reno 1st UMC (Nevada) and Gay Street UMC, Mt. Vernon, Ohio both have held special events for our support and connection.

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Gay Street also had a special fundraiser to provide seeds for the farm operated by Pastor Roman’s school and congregation in Lingwala. The summer children’s program raised funds to provide school supplies to the UMC/ECC Orphanages.

Reno 1st UMC has not only agreed to be a Covenant Connected Church but has also raised funds for us to use in our ministries as we move into the interior next year. Reno UMW is in the process of connecting with a Small Savings group that supports individual street businesses through an Eglise du Christ au Congo program.

We have received support for a mission vehicle from Tuscarawas District, East Ohio Conference 3Cs Missions Committee and the East Ohio Foundation along with a large contribution from Gay Street UMC. The funds have been secured and we are waiting for their distribution to the DRC. This will enable us to answer invitations from Congolese partners to visit their ministries which have to date, been out of reach.

We are thankful for the support provided by Trinity UMC, Orrville, Ohio and the 1st UMC Mansfield. Mary and I are humbled each time we see our information and blog shared on your web sites and newsletters. We feel very much a part of your ministry and look forward to the time that we can share in person.

Most of you have been following the political unrest in the DRC. The last month has been difficult for the Congolese and difficult for us to move around Kinshasa.  We understand that the disagreements have not been settled and this leaves the population tense and uneasy. We pray for a resolution and understand that a settlement is still in the future.

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In the meantime, Mary and I continue to work within our ministry sites as best and safely as possible. We continue to work with the churches in the neighborhoods around Kinshasa.  Mary is trying to locate resources to help the orphans with polio and chronic illnesses to receive regular treatment.  We are looking at a vocational program in a village in a nearby province.  We continue to discern how to help the church in Yolo Sud with the community orphans.  Only this week we have been in talks about possible needs in the province of Kasai and Mary has been invited to meet with an ECC vocational program for young mothers this week.  There are many ways that congregations are serving their communities.

Giving Tuesday. Tuesday Nov.29 is the United Methodist special day for mission AND is also our wedding anniversary. Consider your Thanksgiving or Christmas gifts early and help Mary and I celebrate.

umcmission.org/give     Aaron-advance # 3022154         Mary-advance # 3022155

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“We Serve for Peace”

This has been an interesting week in DRC.  I know, we say that a lot.  Technically, the week started in South Africa, so I guess I will begin with that.  Aaron and I spent 6 days in Cape Town mixing some work and some rest time at one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Surely the colors, the sounds and the people are still all mingling in my mind and I continue to be thankful for the time we had there.

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On our journey back home to Kinshasa, we had one of those unexpected encounters in a long airport line.  Our new friends turn out to work for a major Christian publishing company in the US and were very interested in our ministries in DRC.  Would we be interested in staying connected with them and possibly finding ways to print and distribute free digital publications from their press?  Why, certainly we would!  And wouldn’t you know 2 days later in Kinshasa, we met with someone who was looking for printed resources to share with youth in Bandundu.  Always amazed when these things happen.

Back in Kinshasa a day later we took a lunch break with fellow missionary, Innocent Afful, so we could catch up on the latest news at the office and around the city.  But our friend is always “present” and in the moment, and the first thing he noticed at the cafe was this sign:

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After engaging the waitress in an interesting conversation about why the sign was in English at a Lebanese cafe in French/Lingala speaking Kinshasa, he turned to us and said, “We need this sign on all the street corners in Kinshasa.  For God’s love is indeed all we need.”  Amen.

On Wednesday, we were able to be with Innocent and Pastor Sylvain and Mme. Celine as we toured an orphanage in Makala, and witness God’s love in action.  One of the parishioners at Pastor Sylvain’s church is making a home for 7 orphans in a small compound, and with few resources.  Our hope and prayer is that Innocent will be able to find ways to help the church develop this ministry.

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And then today we had the honor of being at the medal presentation for the Ghanaian Peacekeepers with the UN here in Kinshasa.  This is not the first time we have been with these amazing people who have a very difficult position here in Kinshasa.  They are often at the orphanages, helping to provide food, clothes and other material assistance, not to mention, singing, dancing and much laughter.  “Love is all you need.”  The leader of the Ghanaian Delegation visiting from Accra, reminded the soldiers that they were indeed here in Kinshasa above all to bring hope and that they serve for Peace.  The prayers from the chaplains, one a Christian and one an Imam,  brought home the need to keep sharing this love wherever and however we can, through unexpected encounters, to the hard intentional work of being peace keepers in challenging times and places.

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May we all continue to serve for Peace, wherever we are.

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LOVE IS ALL WE NEED!

People of the Morning

 

Greetings from Kinshasa, Today is Weds.(Mercredi) Sept. 28th. Since my last post things have been quite in this city. It appears life and business continues as before with a little bit of tense anticipation. A little uncertainty and anxiety .  The dialog has been delayed, President Kabila has gone to see the Pope and other leaders.  The ministers are present  in Washington  and in Europe. The Congolese have returned to normal life… HOWEVER everyone knows that little was accomplished in regards to election and these issues will return to be revisited.          BUT WHEN????

Mary and I are back to work, walking though the neighborhoods. This is the best part, greeting everyone. The men working on the trees, Jean who looks for us every morning at the end of the street. We greet the armed guards who are guarding a compound, and the man picking mangoes. Vincent comes to talk about his medication and recent operation. The Moslem couple that has the bread stand, she is waiting with our bread. The young man who always wants to shine my shoes.  THESE are the people of the morning. They are the ones that we missed last week and wondered about,and they were concerned about us.    It isn’t important that we all speak different languages,we talk anyway,we somehow communicate and most of all we smile and then…God smiles back.

 

Dance of Sadness

A couple of years ago I read a book titled ” Dancing While  Standing Still”.  Two weeks ago I order the new book by Richard Rohr ” Dancing with the Divine”.  I  understood for quite some time that my life is a dance.  I dance with the God of creation, I dance with my wife, I dance with creation.  Sometimes its slow, sometimes a very fast dance. Sometimes dancing with God’s creation is happy but today?  It IS SAD.

I have written in for the past nine months about the amazing people and situations that Mary and I have had a chance to dance with. These are God’s people who live in the neighborhoods of Kinshasa. We are here to dance with these who are created just like we. These who live on the margins of society and in some of the poorest areas in the world. They live, they work, they laugh, and OH do they dance.They survive the diseases,the rain, no power, no water. They dance with the cruelty of life.  Today we dance together in sadness.

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On Monday Kinshasa erupted in violence.  In response to the government not scheduling an election, and in response to the overwhelming belief  that the President intends to continue his rule and not step down as mandated by the countries constitution, 1000s of people took to the streets in protest. The police and military responded with live ammunition.  Reports are of  between 40 and 100 already dead, buildings set on fire and total chaos.

Mary and I have been at home since Sunday.  The various embassies have warned ” not to go on the streets”. We are safe, the other UMC missionaries and their families in Kinshasa are safe.  We have food and water.  Currently we have intermittent power and internet.

Mary and I wonder and worry about all of those that we know and have met in the neighborhoods. How are they coping? How have they been effected? When will it be safe for us to return to God’s people in Limete,Yo Lo Sud, Petro-Congo, Lingwala, Cemetrie. A short time ago these places, these people did not exist to us.Now we wonder? Now we worry. Now we mourn.

 

Information is that tomorrow and through the weekend the protests resume and the government opposition believes will continue until a new government is elected.

This feeling, this worry, overshadows everything else. Pray for the Congolese.

This weekend we dance to mourn the lost and a dance of sorrow. We dance for a better tomorrow.

 

Apres (After) Work Hours

When God called us to be missionaries, the lines become blurred between personal and work. Mary and I are grateful to find opportunities to continue to serve outside of  our “normal” work, building relationships and transforming lives. Over the last couple of weeks we have found opportunities.

Mary and I have a guest bedroom purposely to honor our call for radical hospitality. What a blessing it is to have had our new Methodist Missionary friends from Switzerland a few weeks ago  and to host Mark Dawson the visiting Mennonite Missionary while he was in Kinshasa.

We have hosted small group studies, as well as missionary meetings in our apartment. Occasionally Mary and I are both asked to preach and attend churches and this week I was asked to fill in for the Bishop and speak to a group of Kinshasa pastors for their monthly meeting.

Mary and I are always eager when we are asked to host, greet,or just be present with  visiting “anglophone” guest who frequently visits from a variety of English speaking countries.

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Last Sunday, I believe to be the most unusual event for a Methodist Missionary.  Mary and I received a formal invitation to attend the Installation of the new Anglican  Arch Bishop of Congo and the new Bishop of Kinshasa.

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This was a very important event for the Anglican Church. This Mass  was held at the Cathedral of Saint Pierre. Filled to capacity with tents outside and TV screens for additional attendance. This installation mass was “High Church” which lasted over 6 hrs and a formal dinner to follow. The mass was filled with music and Arch Bishops, Bishops from around the world.

Adding to the adventure in between the Mass and dinner, Mary and I connected LIVE via Skype to the Reno First United Methodist Church service. What a beautiful site for us to see our downtown  Reno church filled with smiling faces. We look forward to continuing this connection with the DRC.

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Mary and I are grateful  to witness God working in so many ways, transcending denominations, cultures, countries and time zones.

This Missionary is humbled to witness LIVE…   Sunday ending in Congo and beginning in Reno,10,000 miles away with the smiles and laughter of His children.

Revisiting

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Last Thursday we went back to the Orphanage in Cimitare with the two new mattresses that we had at our apartment along with treats for the kids..  It was clear that rather storing them until we had children visit again, they could be better used by these children.

 

While there we had a discussion about the needs of the young disabled boy who appears to be a polio victim. Mary and Innocent are looking for help for him at Handicap International and other NGOs.

It’s forever interesting to me, how are purpose can change in a moment.

On Friday we were visited by Thomas Wetshi, Director of OPURR a local NGO that works fro Peace and Reconciliation. We affirmed our interest and hope to go with his group to a future  event in the interior.

On Sunday we attended church at the MANUSCO, the UN military base with the soldiers from Ghana. We had worked with them before at the orphanages when they do service projects for the neighborhood. What a joy it was to worship with our “West African” friends. The choir was great, a brass band played the hymns and everyone danced during the offering.  The Post Commander was the preacher of the day. What a great message delivered by a humbled man of God.

Lots going on this week but on everyone’s mind is the elections and the  14 day “Dialogue” which began on Friday. Theses are talks related to the elections by opposition parties and the government.

Pray for the DRC during these talks. Pray for a peaceful resolution.