Transformed Lives in the DRC

We have touched on the small savings groups before in this blog, but I wanted to let the women of DRC speak for themselves today.  We know of several opportunities in Kinshasa, in Mbuji Mayi and coming up in Burundi where our co-worker Rev. Jeff Sikabwe provides training for women, men and orphans on the program provided by another Eglise du Christ au Congo partner, CMS (Church Missionary Society). Jeff works with Innocent Afful, and the Department of Women and Families to help locate, train and follow up with groups interested in transforming their own lives and their communities.  Here are some examples and photos from recent training events and follow up sessions.  Happy reading!

 

These women, by pooling their resources, financed each other’s businesses–soft drink, dress making, clothing store, soap making, ……. . Their saving group grant allowed additional investment in supplies and equipment to start, improve and scale up their individual businesses.”

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Meet Élisée Tshibunda

From the saving group Mrs. Elisée TSHIBUNDA received a lump sum of $300. This amount helped her to purchase one new sewing machine and repair two and purchase other raw materials to expand her business. Now it`s a workshop of 5 dressmakers. Today, she is working with four trainees. Élisée is very happy to now be a self-sufficient woman. The saving group has not only helped her establish her own business and overcome many of her challenges as the breadwinner for her family, but it has also put her in a position to provide a source of income and inspiration to young women.

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Meet Nana Mujinga

Mrs. Nana MUJINGA received a lump sum of $50 from the saving group to increase her small business. She stands behind her table full of vegetables: tomatoes, onions, beans, spices, nuts, fruits, eggs… ready to welcome customers with an eager, bright smile.

Many people come to join their group as they see her progressing in her income generating activities.  Her unique creation helps to pay for rent, household expenses and school fees for her children.

And from our friends in Lingwala – Pastor Romain’s church a new group has started as of last week!

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And from Masina – training by Rev. Jeff and Pastor Martin

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To our friends, Jeff, Martin, Innocent and Rev. Berthe Nzeba – we thank God for their transformational work.

From the UN to the Orphanage and back again.

We frequently say we never know what our week will be like.  A few weeks ago, Aaron bought a white board so we could put our schedule up and try to keep our coworkers aware of where we might go next!  There are things that never make it onto the calendar, for example the unexpected presence of writers and illustrators for Christian comic books who came to church last Sunday and stayed to talk about their upcoming conference in Kinshasa.  Some talented and passionate young women and a young man!

 

On the schedule for Tuesday was a round table discussion with the UN Foundation and Congressional delegation from the US as they heard from representatives of the religious communities in Kinshasa.  It’s hard to describe the impact of the MUNUSCO presence in Congo in a brief blog post, but we keep learning about the work of these troops around Kinshasa and especially in the East.  To the religious community MUNUSCO represents the ability to overcome or at least address the huge transportation, communication and security needs of the upcoming elections.

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Another way we know that the Ghanaian MUNUSCO troops are involved is their help with our Global Ministries Missionary, Innocent Afful.  Innocent works with us at Eglise du Christ au Congo, focusing on orphanages and vocational programs.  Friday we were able to visit Chero Orphanage in the Cimetiere area.  The orphanage is in a compound that rests along a ravine in a roadless area of Kinshasa.  The path to the orphanage follows the trickle of a stream that runs along the bottom of the ravine with hundreds of small dwellings on either side.  Madam Muyombo, who is the matron of the orphanage, accepts children of all ages and abilities.  While we were there we met one of the boys who has polio and have begun looking for ways to connect him to services in Kinshasa that he needs to live a more comfortable life.  As always, we are humbled by the workers we find serving the needs of the children.  In this case from an infant up to the late teens.  The MUNUSCO troops are also looking for ways to support Chero and other orphanage homes in the Kinshasa area.

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A big bonus for us in the last week were visits from Global Ministries staff!  We were so thankful to have our Executive Secretary for Africa with us, Yollande Yambo!  Yollande and her husband Greg had dinner with the Afful, Zigbou and Vandersommers families while we shared our experiences in Kinshasa.  What a treat for us to have her visit not only our home but our office so she could meet our co-workers and neighbors as we walked home for a lunch meeting.  We are so very encouraged by her presence, her knowledge of DRC and her integrity.  As if that were not enough, Assistant General Secretary, Mande Muyombo also visited us on his way to Angola.  Feeling supported, which is no small thing!

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And then today, we returned to the political, as Aaron and I attended the unveiling of the kits being used throughout the Congo, by the CENI (National Independent Election Commission) for enrolling voters.  The kit includes photo recognition, finger printing and other data to confirm the voters identity and eligibility in a specific community. Quite a fascinating process which led us right back to the discussion from the previous week about the huge need for transportation and communication as well as security and election education.  Big challenges.

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And I preached this last Sunday, and as the photo shows – my hands were in flight.  God is pleased to give us the Kingdom – which is certainly good news!  We get that sense every day, many challenges and many blessings!

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Do No Harm

Our number one rule as Missionaries, Do no Harm.

Mary and I had several conversations this week about our philosophy as missionaries about the new paradigm of mission work. That is to work WITH our hosts. Listen to what the communities needs, has, can bring to their ministries and understand better how we can work WITH them as a partner.  We talked about the new 50/50 initiatives and sustainable programs.

Missionaries  no longer bring a check book to a community.  We look to be present as the locals bring their talents and resources and connect other congregations to their ministries so that they will continue when Mary and I are reassigned or retire (again).

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Time was spent understanding what needs to be done to begin accepting teams here next year. We had a couple of calls back to the states last week, to understand better how we can connect US congregations to Congo.  I went and toured several guest houses to see about available housing, locations,and meal possibilities. Time was spent looking for at 4-wheel dive vehicles that will be needed to transport the groups. Many are available and it appears the price is dropping for election season. Now we just have to secure funding.

On Wednesday we announced the ECC team to begin a program called “Passage”.  It is a a pilot program in Kinshasa organized by Georgetown University, Tearfund (British) and USAID. “Passage” is a long term study and program to address gender issues, violence,early marriage and family planning in Congo. Theses are difficult subjects and so important to increase the safety and   opportunities for girls to be educated and become a respected part of society. I am humbled to be able to work on such an important issue.

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On Thursday Mary and I were able to visit one of Universities associated with the ECC.  The campus of the UCKIN. The Christian University of Kinshasa.  A much larger program than I expected ( again with my expectations). On the campus is also a church,a primary and a secondary school and of course a very large football (soccer) field. UCKIN has a study program of Theology, Medicine,Law,Economics,and Conflict Resolution.

There were no classes in session.  We attended during the last two days of school when the senior were taking their oral exams. A big difference than in the USA. The families were also there. Eating, laughing. Everyone was dressed in their best, balloons, flowers. What a festive family affair. Mary and I  would love to see these devoted educators connected to the teachers,professors and theologians that we encounter in our journeys.

Following church yesterday, Mary and I met a group of Christen Cartoonists and artist from the neighboring country of the Republic of Congo. Affectionately referred to here as Brazzaville, Congo. They are attending a seminar in Kinshasa.  We talked about the United Methodist church in Brazzalville. She was very interested in having us come across the river a form a connection. I don’t think we have many United Methodists in The Republic of Congo and there are no Global Missionaries there.  It may prove to be an interesting connection.  God is always in control.

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Finally, Over a week ago, I had a conversation with a missionary about a need for a water pump on a farm.  The farmers haul water from a near by river, one bucket at a time for the crops,AND its the dry season. We could really need a pump to reduce the labor required.I listened, made a mental note.

Last Monday I had an email from a person in Reno, Nevada. She asked about supporting our ministry here. ” Oh, by the way I know a Hydrologist that has experience in Africa but not the Congo. If we ever need a water expert, let me know”.  I have never talked about water with this person. But there it was!!!!

On Friday, I received an unsolicited quote from a “farming engineer”( I think), detailing all of the parts and hoses along with labor. $2400 US,to install the pump on the farm. It seems that almost everything just came together without me doing anything. I like that!

Now, I’m assuming if I continue,my work strategy the rest will happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live peaceably

Living in the Democratic Republic of Congo means I listen to at least two languages that are not my mother tongue every day.  Sometimes checking in on Facebook, or reading “the news” from the US, is just a way to relax my brain after interpreting French, Lingala or Swahili (maybe Beni, or Kikongo….).  But most of what pops up on my feed is far from balm for the soul.  We are at that time in the US election cycle where divisive language seems unavoidable whether it is among families, churches, friends or colleagues.  It may surprise many of you that here in the DRC, tensions around elections are also very high.  It is probable that the elections that are supposed to occur in DRC in November are not going to happen and that leadership struggles could deteriorate.

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So into this world of mounting tensions came the gift of stepping back last week, as I was invited to participate in a Healing Retreat led by the Pilgrim Center from St. Paul MN.  They gathered us together at a hotel on a surprisingly quiet little street on the east side of Kinshasa.  We delved deeply into our inner experiences of peace and reconciliation and what disturbs that peace and interrupts our relationships.  We talked about leadership that is gentle, respectful, inclusive, providing safe spaces, and is deeply connected to God’s justice which flows from God’s love.  There are all kinds of things that are difficult to imagine. perhaps even living peaceably with one another, but it is what we are called to do.

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So to nourish this, we were invited to start a small group that would meet regularly to encourage, pray and check in with one another.  This morning was the first meeting for the women from our group!  6:45 a.m.!  A beautiful and quiet time in this city of 15,000,000.  What a blessing it was and I am so thankful for this time to renew and to “take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.”  (Romans 12: 18) Peace be with you all!

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Unexpected Blessings

Life as a Missionary continues to expose me to the unexpected.  I’m writing this today on my 59th birthday from Kinshasa, DRC. I could not have expected to ever receive such blessings. I am blessed to receive such hospitality, kindness and be able to serve God’s people in a country that struggles with life,security,and basic humanitarian needs. On this birthday I praise God for providing me with this opportunity to be His hands and feet.

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I was blessed last Thurs. when Pastor Romain took us to the farm. In my last post Mary and I went to the school… well, we finally got to the farm. It took about 2 hrs to drive the 50 miles out of town and waaaay in the country.  I was expecting a little garden but we found a 10 hector (24 acre) farm.

This is the farm/school that Gay Street UMC, Mt. Vernon,Ohio is supporting though their Seeds for School project. The farm grows both corn and cassava, along with other crops to bring back to the city and earn money for the school cost.  You will remember that the Missionare Evangelique school is completely supported by the church congregation to provide education for some of the poorest children in Kinshasa.  These kids would not be in school if it wasn’t for this church and their support of the neighborhood.

On Friday our blessings completely changed when Rev. Milenge asked us to attend lunch with two visitors from Minneapolis. Dr. Jim Olsen, the President of the Pilgrim Center,and Dr. Justin Byakwell are in Kinshasa to conduct “Spiritual Training for church leaders” We talked the entire lunch, in English and Rev.Milenge didn’t get a chance to speak but he seemed OK with that.

We went immediately following lunch to downtown to a funeral.  I was not expecting to be attending a funeral. This happens sometimes with my lack of language skills.  The Bishop said “something’ about a funeral but I missed the details. so that is where we ended up. I would just shake my head and say;   to myself,    OHHHH that is what he said about a funeral!!!

This was not just a normal funeral.  This man was a Priest who was very active in the community and very active on the Election Committee along with interfaith programs.Who’s who of Kinshasa was there. Several Catholic Bishops, many Potestant leaders, the leading Imam and many politicals.

As we arrived near the CENI (Goverment Election building) there was a crowd of hundreds outside the building and just as many inside, where the funeral was taking place. A credential and  invitation were required for attendance. Bishop Milenge took us though all of the police, solders and crowd directly into the service.

I don’t think I had ever attended a funeral for a public figure. There were at least 20 photographers and video cameras from news stations and papers and many speeches by dignitaries and politicians. What a blessing to see tribute paid to a great man of peace. It is clear that he will be missed and the Congolese have lost a great man.

Then on Sunday Mary and I attended a small church in a neighborhood called Victory.  Pastor Sylvain and the “Evangile sans Frontiere” also operates the Mico-finance program that we wrote about a couple of months ago. This church is small on the outside but was packed with 200 people.  This is another congregation that is very involved in their community with helpful programs.

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What an powerful service.  Most of it was in Lingala, some French and the children sang a song in Kongo. Guy did a great job of interpreting for us.  The music program is amazing, men’s choir, ladies’ choir, youth, children, and a praise band.  The preacher for the day was a Congolese Missionary from Milan,Italy.

So on my 59th birthday I feel blessed.

July is, Cool and Dry

Today is July 13th and Mary and I have been very busy in several projects since I last wrote.  I had thought about writing several times but in the last week but continued to run out of energy and sleep continued to call each night.

I want to start off and ask for prayers for the people in the South Sudan where fighting broke out again last Sunday.  South Sudan touches the northern border of the DRC but is at least 1500 miles away from Kinshasa.

I have a friend from Cuba who is a Methodist Missionary from Cuba serving with the orphanage “Children Out of Conflict” in Jaba.  She posted several times about how close and intense the shooting was to the orphanage.  I can only imagine how frightening it is to hear helicopter gun ships while protecting her children. Pray for Lisette and the children in Jaba.

Last Sunday I attended a small church in the neighborhood of Peto-Congo, Masina.  This is where Innocent holds one of his vocational programs on fabric making and certificates were being given out during church. Its always nice to attend a neighborhood church for the first time.  Finding our way there on Sunday morning was interesting.

The driver dropped us off at the corner and we walked though the neighborhood until we found the church.  Innocent is from Gahna and speaks English and only a little Lingala and I was (LOL) the only french speaker, but we made it.  Great music and wonderful hospitality.

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Then it was on to an orphanage and school called ” Jeue au Soleil”. The  Chaplin from the UN peacekeepers was celebrating his birthday with the children with cake and a lunch.  There can be no better way to celebrate than with 40 smiling and loud kids.

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Mary and I met with Thomas Wetshi who’s  NGO specializes in peace and reconciliation.they are very involved to help make the upcoming elections peaceful,fair,and democratic. Mr. Etshi is an ” Ambassador to Peace” a non-goverment position that is very special here in the DRC.  It is very apparent that we were among Godly people serving their country for peace.

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We also met with Pastor Romain from the “Missionaire Evanelique”. A little church and school in a very poor part of Kinshasa.  This was our second visit here. School is out but we hope to connect a church in Ohio with this school and congregation to help build a lasting relationship. On Thursday Mary and I will travel about 50 miles away to see the farm that is used to help sustain the school. It should be very interesting.

That’s all for now. Remember to pray for the South Sudan and pray for a peaceful election season here in the DRC.

 

 

 

Congo River Shipping

Good morning friends.  Today is July 6th and I hope everyone has enjoyed the holidays. Since I last wrote last Congo has had their Independence Day, June 20th, Dan celebrated Canada Day in Toronto, South Sudan had their 5 year Independence Day on July 5th ( in the midst of a civil war) and of course most of you celebrated the 4th of July.

Happy Independence Day!

This Missionary continues to be surprised. I have no idea from day to day what God has in store for me or who I will be blessed to meet next.

Last week my surprise was the opportunity to meet and spend a few days with two people from JAARS. They are in the DRC to study transportation.  How is it possible to transfer materials, supplies, vehicles and people to the interior villages and cities? I don’t know much about the commercial river traffic or the ports but lets see what I can learn.

What does this have to do with mission work?????  Well…JAARS is the transportation arm of Wycliffe Bible translators.  They are responsible to transfer everything that is needed to the remote interior villages where the scriptures and bible stories are being translated into dozens of languages.

I have written before about the struggle here reaching and communicating within the Congo. Every ministry and mission first has this challenge before anything can happen.    If transportation the experts from JAARS can learn from this visit, maybe I can learn something useful to the many programs at the ECC.

So we were off, first to a commercial dock on the Congo River in Kinshasa.  It took a while to get entrance but with the help of our government host we were in.  Few vessels but many barges. They look old, (will they stay afloat?) but we were told all of them would be gone in two weeks and replaced by more.

I also was surprised how many families lived at the dock and on the boats. Family life here happens where you are and many times where you work.

AND what to my eyes should appear to me but … a row boat full of natural rubber. I have seen rubber before,but never like this arriving by Congo row boat.

Then we were off again further up river about 50K to Maluku. We had been told that another large commercial port was there. NOPE! it had been closed.  We did however find a fishing village with many fishing canoes and great lunch of river fish and fried bananas. There is no words to describe these delicate fish, steamed in side leaves and served moments after catching.

A great day with new friends, great food,and its always good to be on the water.  I’m still not sure what to do with my new knowledge about the Congo River.

Someday, somewhere, sometime, someone will ask,

I will say HEY! I remember????

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Congo Central Ouest

It has been a busy first week back to work in the DRC.  I will not try to include everything in one writing. with fellow

 

Last Sunday we were invited to our last UMC conference ( we think). After church was over at the UMC Englophone church, we were requested along with Innocent Afful to attend the conference being held across town.  Bishop Yemba would like to introduce us to his pastors.  So we were off.

Once again an interesting day.  Bishop David Kekumb Yemba is the United Methodist Bishop for Congo Central Conference.  It is a very large area, running from the coast to Kinshasa and into the interior.  He breaks down his Episcopacy into 3 separate conferences. because of the distance and difficulty of travel.

We attended the the Central Congo, West Conference.  We arrived during worship service to a packed church spilling into the street.  A lot of music and an joyous atmosphere.It’s always a joy to listen to the African music and participate in communion.

After the service more music and celebration, in the street and then back to business.Our introduction was made by our Pastor Desire Tiriwepi and the delegates were very welcoming to their three Global Missionaries.

More of the week to come and Tomorrow, We attend a small church in a neighborhood of Kinshasa ” Petol-Congo” Massina.

 

 

Mansfield, Lakeside and Home Again

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A lot has happened since my last blog from New York on the 11th of June.  It was just over a week ago that we left Lakeside, Ohio, traveled to Istanbul and finally returned to Kinshasa late last Monday night. Unfortunately I caught a bug in Turkey and have been sick and out, for  4 days. Today, is Sat. June 25th and I’m returning to life.

Lets go back to Ohio… Mary and I preached at Mansfield First UMC on June 12th.  Well,  Mary preached, I offered support. We first connected with this congregation back in March when they wrote me in the DRC  and asked for photos to hang in their mission room.

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How amazing to get the opportunity to meet everyone at Mansfield. We found much interest in Congo and Global Missionaries. I look forward to continuing our connection. Our new friend Rev. Ken Joy is moving to Elyria in July and old friends, Revs. Don and Tammy Kuntz will be serving in Mansfield 1st. How exciting for us to continue to connect God’s ministry in the DRC with these two congregations.

East Ohio Annual Conference at Lakeside. What a blessing to be at Lakeside with so many people that helped us prepare for this journey.  There are so many clergy and lay leadership in EOC that we were able to spend time with. Mary and I were able to meet former Mentors and many Pastors, old friends and several new ones and explain how God is moving in the Congo and how East Ohio is connected.

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That was exactly our purpose in the US. Mary and I traveled to Reno, Nevada, Castle Rock, Washington, the East Ohio, Baltimore/Washington and New York conferences.

Our message is the same. As Methodists we are connected together to serve and transform life. Whether in Congo, Reno, Ohio or Washington, we offer God’s caring transforming love to anyone and everyone we encounter.

 

 

 

Long Island

imageI had visited NYC many times but yesterday was my first time to Long Island NY.  What a beautiful place.

 

We were invited to attend the New York Annual Conference being held at Hofstra University.

Mary and I roamed and greeted delegates in the Global Village that Rev. Joseph ( Conference Mission Coordinator) had set up to represent Missions to everywhere.

We spent the day, introducing and discussing Global Missions and life as a Missionary.

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We met up with Rev. Nelson Kgoy a Congolese pastor serving a NY church that we met in Portland Oregon.

How exciting it was to  visit the Wesley UMC, Franklin Square, NY, during lunch and see where Nelson preaches and connect to the congregation there.

Now it’s back to the East Ohio Conference at Lakeside  following church tomorrow at Mansfield First UMC  10:00