Congo Trip – October 2007
Observations, Assessments, Reflections and Brainstorming Ideas
Together with my wife Sharon, my brother Stan, and his wife Bonnie, I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was a personal journey, but an exploratory one as well. It was personal because Congo was home for my brother and me as we spent our formative growing-up years at Ndjoka-Punda. We were returning after a 43-year absence.
Our trip was exploratory in that we are seeking God’s direction regarding future involvement and ministry in Congo. The question we find ourselves asking is, “Is God leading us or this just an emotional desire driven by our love of Congo and our childhood experiences?”.
Our trip included travels to Kinshasa, Mbuji Mayi, Tshikapa and Ndjoka-Punda. We began our time in Congo in Kinshasa with two days of meetings held at MPH, Methodist-Presbyterian Hostel.
We went to observe, listen, and learn. This was accomplished through the people we met, conversations we had, places we visited, and the things we saw and experienced. We made our plans, but God directed our steps (Proverbs 16:9). This does not make us experts by any means. Rather it reinforces the novices that we are. It has peaked our interest and challenged our thinking and begs the question, “What now?”. What is my responsibility with what I have received, seen, experienced and learned?” We know it has not been without purpose. We continue to sort out and seek God’s further direction and plan. What follows is a part of that process. In summary this was all a divine appointment engineered by God.
We attended a two-day Partnership Council meeting. This meeting included representation from three Mennonite Church bodies present in Congo, the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren Church and the Evangelical Mennonite Church. This included the presidents for each of the church bodies and various lay representatives from what was termed the Forum.
I was impressed with the three leaders and their leadership within the three church bodies. I was impressed with their commitment and desire to serve God and their desire to work together towards a common goal, kingdom work. They understand their history, their current situations and current challenges and needs. They each have a vision of what they want to accomplish. They are organized, addressing and tackling the various issues and challenges that they face.
The challenges and needs include:
More trained pastors; there are more churches than trained pastors — a 2 to 1 or greater ratio.
Income generating opportunities
Legal issues, addressing property boundaries and regaining lost properties
Mission efforts, sending and support
Pastors leaving rural areas and migrating to the cities and larger populated areas
Training needed for technical and industrial arts
Keeping the youth engaged in the life of the church
Addressing and lowering ethnic and tribal barriers and conflicts
Micro-finance availability and encouragement in entrepreneurial efforts
Mentality of dependence vs. initiative
Ministry related resources; vehicles, computers, generators
Our travels to the communities surrounding Mbuji Mayi, Tshikapa and Ndjoka-Punda were humbling, enlightening and sobering. We met people with the joy of the Lord despite their experience of physical poverty.
The presence of God and the spirit of the Lord were very evident. Visible and verbal dependence upon God for each day’s activities and outcomes was evident. Asking God for safety before getting into a vehicle to travel and thanking God upon arrival was routine everywhere we went.
We saw the evidence of poverty as well as the effects of poverty. The evidence was experienced in working with people in positions of authority. Systems and processes were dysfunctional and corrupt. Personal interest outweighed the larger community interest. The effects were such things as chaos, corruption, hunger, lack of infrastructure, lack of governance, material poverty, lack of services, etc.
We witnessed poverty first hand on several levels within Congo.
On a larger scale, poverty is not a lack of material things but a lack of healthy relationships. Poverty fundamentally is the result of broken relationships. These broken relationships include spiritual, personal, family, business and government. The ultimate broken relationship is the issue. Therefore the work of the church is the fundamental starting point to addressing the issue of poverty. A changed heart as the result of a personal relationship with God through the saving work of Jesus Christ is crucial in repairing all other relationships. But one must then work towards restoring proper working relationships in all other areas fundamental to a healthy community and society.
The fundamental needs for the believers in Congo are in the following areas:
Economic Community Development
The church and church-related ministries on the whole are doing very well in comparison to the other areas. The church is vibrant, understanding their calling and mission. They are focused on missions, evangelism, church planting and discipleship. The church is organized and has its own engine and is driving forward.
The others areas of support are present in varying degrees, but we did not see any formal organized effort, particular engine, or driving force that was mandated to propel these areas forward. There are leaders in some of these areas but no central, organized and synergistic approach and effort to actively address the needs in each respective area. There is no organization, responsibility or accountability within the larger framework. If they exist, we did not sense that they were functioning and viable. If they exist they are weak in presence and visibility.
We see a need to organize on several levels within each church body using lay leaders at the national, provincial, and local levels. There should be a mandate given, needs assessment made, goals set and a plan put together and implemented to achieve the overarching mandate.
We came home with two distinct messages for the American believer and church.
We depend on everything but God…we are materially rich.
Our excessive materialism denies us the need (the privilege) to depend upon God. Philippians 4:6 encourages us to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Personally, I realized that I depend on my bank account, my job, my material resources, technology, education, self help books etc. everything but God to supply my daily needs and give me peace and happiness.
The two short weeks I was in Congo I was forced to depend solely upon God. Everything that I routinely depend upon was stripped away. I did not have access to any of it and God met me at every point of need and I experienced the peace of God in the midst of chaos and poverty.
Materialism is adversely affecting our relationship with God…we are spiritually poor.
In Mark 4:18 & 19 Christ explains the parable of the sower and has this to say; “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Our wealth, worries of everyday life and desire for more is stealing from us our spiritual vitality and leaving us spiritually poor which ultimately over time will lead us into poverty in every sense of the word.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a life time.” This proverb is very insightful and appropriate in application to many areas of life. But to fully realize the end goal we must add two more elements beyond teaching one how to fish. We must provide a fishing pole, hook, bait, spinners etc. and equal access to the pond.
The Congolese are very resourceful. Many have access to a basic education, but they lack the necessary resources and equal access to the pond in order to genuinely make a difference and impact their immediate surroundings. We take them to the pond, demonstrate how, but stop short of making the resources available and helping to ensure them access to the pond.
The following are some ideas to consider:
Initiate a think tank with both American and Congolese representation utilizing lay leaders from a cross section of disciplines to create solutions-based dialogue.
Focus on providing tools, resources and equal access to the pond
Approach the World Bank in Congo (BECCO) regarding medical and water supply needs in the communities.
Increase awareness within the American churches
Encourage American churches to adopt a community for a 3-5 year period. (Graber family has already decided to adopt Ndjoka-Punda)
Develop strategic partnerships with faith-based organizations that specialize in specific areas of need.
My lens is that of a business man with a view and interest toward economic community development. This report is not intended to be exhaustive and complete but rather a general reflection of my initial observations and thoughts.
It is not intended to require a formal response or a plan of action. I leave that up to God. My desire is to be open and ready to obey.
On a personal note I want to thank Rod Janzen, AIMM, and Pastor Komuesa for the effort put forth to assist us with our plans. This proved to be invaluable. We could not have made such a trip without their help.
Meeting Tim Froese, Tim and Suzanne Lind, Daniel Geiser, Hyppolyto Tshimanga, and Daniel and Martine Nussbaumer was a privilege. All were of like heart and mind for the Congolese and the Mennonite Church in Congo.
Traveling with Steve Johnson and James Krabill bordered on dangerous! However, they played a key role in helping us acclimate to the culture and environment and what lie ahead of us when we went our separate ways.
We never ceased to be amazed at the people we met that knew and remembered our parents. We made new friends that have been added to our prayer list. We know this is not our last trip to Congo.