Blog

Return from DRC

Our group returned to the United States on Monday the 22nd of September. Today is our second day back and we are continuing to assimilate back physically, mentally and culturally.
The demand of the work schedule has a way of driving that assimilation.

We come back with an array of thoughts that need to be sorted and sifted through. Many need to be captured before they are lost. I will post some of those thoughts for the purpose of record and for the benefit of those interested in this blog.

Congo Trip 2008 – Itinerary

The group includes Stan Graber, Brad Graber, Adam Graber and David Rocke. We will meet up with Dr. John Martin in Kinshasa and travel together to Ndjoka Punda and on to Tshikapa where John Martin will remain following our departure for the States.

Thursday September 11, 2008, 9:15 p.m. flight from Chicago O’Hare to Washington Dulles Airport.

Friday September 12, 2008, 10:05 a.m. flight to Addis Ababa Ethiopia via Rome Italy.

Saturday September 13, 2008, 12:50 p.m. arrive in Kinshasa-Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sunday & Monday September 14 & 15, 2008 in Kinshasa, activities will include attending church, laptop computer setup for the hospital at Ndjoka Punda, purchase of autoclave for the hospital, trip to a local hardware store and purchase of phone minutes.

Tuesday September 16, 2008 MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) flight to Ndjoka Punda via a Cessna 9 passenger plane.

Wednesday September 17, 2008, Ndjoka Punda

Thursday September 18, 2008, MAF flight

Friday September 19,2008, Tshikapa, anticipate a trip to the Lubilu Forest where the sawmill operation is.

Saturday September 20, 2008, MAF flight back to Kinshasa (which will be too soon for several African mish kids!)

Sunday September 21, 2008, 1:40 p.m. depart for the United States

Monday September 22, 2008, 1:27 p.m. arrive at Chicago O’Hare and go our separate ways.

First Annual Ndjoka Punda Youth Camp

The first annual Youth Camp organized by Dr. David Ishingu, resident medical doctor for the Ndjoka Punda hospital, was held April 16-22, 2007.

675 youth attended the conference. Dr. David invited 10 speakers, both pastors and doctors, to participate.

His vision is a “rebirth of our community at every level.” He began by establishing a large intercession group made up of 18 youth.

Dr. David has reported that on the last day of the second annual Youth Camp around 1400 youth were present. Many were led to commitment to Christ, or renewal of their commitment.

Continue to pray for Dr. David and the Ndjoka Punda community. In his words, “please pray for us because we are being threatened by the Enemy.”

Congo Trip 2008

July 14, 2008
Ndjoka Punda-Providing hope for the next generation

To family and friends,

Last fall, my brother Stan and I returned to our childhood home: Congo. We traveled to the Congolese communities where our parents served as missionaries. From 1950 to 1964, our parents served helping to build and expand the witness of the church in Congo. Since then, the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen an entire generation grow up under a dictatorial fist and is living in the aftermath of a 10-year civil war in which five million people lost their lives. For us, traveling back was more than just a walk down memory lane. We quickly came to the unsettling realization that Congo over the last 40 years had taken significant steps backward in time.
I commute five miles to work every day in a climate-controlled car, hardly noticing the few potholes that bite at my wheels. It’s a ten-minute drive. In the Congo, the idea of potholes does not exist. Instead, we traversed dirt paths in an old Toyota SUV, an equivalent two-hour trip from Des Moines to Kansas City took us ten hours in Congo.
I recently sliced my finger open at home in my garage. The two-inch gash required ten stitches and two hours in the emergency room, just minutes from our home. When we visited the hospital in Ndjoka Punda, Dr. David Ishunga, a medical doctor passionate about meeting the physical and spiritual needs, told us that it was the only hospital within 50-60 miles. People walk 2-3 days for medical care, including childbirth.
I’m recharging my laptop’s battery as I write this letter. It’s as simple as plugging it in at arm’s length. However, in the Congo, Dr. David told us that the injured and ill could only be treated by the light of day. If patients arrived at dusk in need of emergency treatment, Dr. David was powerless to do anything until the sun came up the following day.
I have a new Blackberry, supplied by my employer, so I can call or e-mail anyone from anywhere in the U.S. at anytime, day or night. However, Dr. David has no computer access in Ndjoka Punda. Instead, every 45 days, he travels a day to write and respond to e-mails—making it a three-month reply time for any communication.
We returned to our comfortable lives here in the states committed to help improve theirs. We had seen a hospital with no electricity and only basic medicines. We saw classrooms without roofs, students without textbooks, a sawmill without reliable means of getting lumber to market, and a brick-making effort in need of the most basic man-powered tools. Travel, medical care, electricity, and long-distance communication are basic amenities for us, but they require immense amounts of effort every day in Congo.
Thanks to many of you, our family and friends we have begun to address some basic needs such as a generator for the hospital, a brick press for making bricks, carpentry and masonry tools to assist with maintenance and construction efforts. These improvements are not changing the world. They are changing individual lives. Today we are asking for your help again as we plan to take on more in September, when we return. There, we will follow up on these strategic initiatives and assess future projects with the hospital, educational needs and improving means of communication.
These basic efforts require time, money and prayer. We (Stan Graber, Brad Graber, Adam Graber and David Rocke) are asking for your heart, your prayers, and your investment in our strategic effort to come alongside the body of Christ in Congo and provide hope for the next generation.
Travel to Congo is very expensive and very risky. We are asking you to venture out and take some risk with us by way of your prayers and money. Each of us need $3,000 for international travel and $1,000 for in-country travel. In addition to these expenses, we hope to commit $3,000 toward a laptop computer with solar charging capability and a autoclave sterilization unit to replace a 60 plus year old unit that is being operated over an open fire.
To give to this effort send your checks payable to AIMM and designate it as the Graber Initiative. Feel free to earmark it for travel or strategic initiatives. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.

Sincerely and to the praise of His Glory,

Brad, Stan, Adam & Dave
Mail checks designated as Graber Initiative to:
Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission
P.O. Box 744, Goshen, IN 46527

Congo Trip 2007

Congo Trip – October 2007
Observations, Assessments, Reflections and Brainstorming Ideas

Introduction:

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.

Observations:

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.
Future leaders
Income generating opportunities
Legal issues, addressing property boundaries and regaining lost properties
Evangelism
Discipleship
Mission efforts, sending and support
Financial resources
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.

Assessments:

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:

Church
Medical
Education
Economic Community Development
Government

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.

Reflection:

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.

Brainstorming ideas:

“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.

In summary:

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.