Monday, September 19, 2016

DR Congo, a political update


As we are moving towards an interesting and polarizing November election here in the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which also has a scheduled November election, is moving closer to the brink of chaos and upheaval.  The President, Joseph Kabila, finishes his second and final term on December 20th, but all signs point to him clinging to power and not stepping down from office.  Opposition groups are raising their voice, and it feels like there is not even enough political goodwill to move a chair from one side of the room to the other.  The government planned and hosted a “national dialogue” with opposition groups, but the opposition chose not to participate because their demand for the release of all political prisoners had not been sufficiently met. 

Today, Monday September 19th, planed political protests have transpired in Kinshasa, the capital city.  We have viewed images of smoke from burning cars and tires, alongside angry crowds.  Most schools and shops are closed in Kinshasa, and most people are staying home to avoid unrest.  According to a recent BBC article, 17 people have been killed, including 3 police officers, one of whom was burnt alive.  From the US State Department website, we have learned that the US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Tom Perriello, was physically blocked and verbally threatened at N’djili International Airport after ten days of seeking to promote dialogue amongst a wide range of actors in the current political impasse. 

Protest, Kin 2 (Sept 19th)
Hundreds have taken to the streets (photo, Reuters)

burned out car, Kinshasa (Sept 19th)
a burned out car in Kinshasa (photo, AP)

Protest, Kin (Sept 19th)
Burning a billboard of President Kabila

Right now it is difficult to know what the short term and longer term picture of Congo will be.  In a recent article, the International Crisis Group, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, contends that what is needed in DR Congo is a firm but nuanced political approach.  Though frustration with the lack of will by the Congolese government to move forward regarding the democratic process is understandable, what is needed are international actors and partners who are able to provide a consistent stance which provides open communication channels with all parties, including the government, the opposition, and civil society groups, helping all move towards a peaceful transition of power in line with democratic principles. 

Please pray with us for a peaceable path forward for the Democratic Republic of Congo.  While we may be caught up in the wiles our our own election cycle, eventualities feel much more grim for people who live in a land we have grown to love.  Thank you!    

Monday, September 12, 2016

Crisis in Kasai

A few weeks ago, a conflict erupted between a tribal chief and government military near the city of Tshimbulu, about 70 miles from Kananga. Many people were killed – the estimates range between about 30 to more than 150, including both military and civilians in the village. Homes and schools in the village were destroyed, and many people have fled. As people fled the violence and families were separated, many unaccompanied children were brought to Kananga and temporarily housed in the Kananga jail (which is already overcrowded and has deplorable conditions). Several organizations, including Ditekemena (or the Hope project for street chidren) were asked to temporarily care for some of the children while they await reunification with their families. This conflict did not make the international news, and we did not hear of it until a few colleagues told us. If you want to read a local French report, it is at http://www.radiookapi.net/2016/08/13/actualite/securite/kasai-central-le-chef-kamwina-nsapu-est-mort-dans-les-combats-contre.

If you have been following the progress, of the 23 children originally with the program since 2014, 11 children have been reunited with their families, one new child was added, and now 13 await reintegration with families. The process is slow as they seek to provide follow-up and adequate support for families who are welcoming back their child. When this recent crisis arose, the CPC (Congolese Presbyterian Church) leadership agreed that Ditekemena could temporarily care for these displaced children, but the program is already stretched thin with resources.

Ditekemena - Betty and Andre with familyFrancois, one of the Ditekemena staff, visits the home of Betty and Andre
after they have been reunited with their father. Their mother has passed away.

Would you please pray for all of these children, for them to know God’s love and provision in the midst of this crisis. Pray also for Pastor Manyayi and the other caregivers, for discernment, love, and sensitivity as they care for the chidlren and look for the right situations for all of them. Ditekemena is in need of funds to care for these children, including for food, education, and the process of placement with families. If you would like to help wtih financial support, you can do so by either sending a check or donating online. Please read through all the steps to ensure it gets to the right place.

To donate online: 1. Go to http://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/e864116/
                             2. Choose the option on the right (give to Presbyterian Community of Congo)
                             3. When you enter the payment information, there is a ‘comments’ section.
                                 In the comments box, enter “CPC/Ditekemena program for street children”
                             4. Let us know that you have donated so we can alert our colleagues in Congo.

To donate by mail: 1. Write a check to Presbyterian Church (USA) or Presbyterian World Mission
                              2. Put “E864116 – Ditekemena” in the memo
                              3. Mail it to: PO Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
                              4. Let us know that you have donated so we can alert our colleagues in Congo.

Monday, September 5, 2016

I am listening


For the sports minded reader, you will be aware of the current controversy surrounding the Forty Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  For others, you may have heard headlines and are wondering about this particular controversy.  In short, during the San Francisco Forty Niners preseason games this year, Colin Kaepernick has refused to stand during the national anthem, most recently taking the knee at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.  This behavior, as I understand it, wasn’t even noticed for the first game or two.  However, when it became apparent that Kapernick was not participating in this patriotic gesture, he began making public statements defending and illuminating his actions, being the public figure he has become.  What he has told us is this, “There are a lot of things that need to change…One specifically?  Police brutality.  There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable.  People are being given paid leave for killing people.  That’s not right.  That’s not right by anyone’s standards” (this quote taken from this CBS news article by John Breech, September 2nd).  Carter Evans of CBS This Morning quotes Kaepernick as saying that he, Kaepernick, will not stand up and show pride for a country that oppresses people of color.  As you can imagine, this particular action by Kaepernick has touched a sensitive nerve in our current milieu regarding racial injustice, brought to the fore by public awareness of specific instances of police brutality over the course of the last two years, an awareness now perpetuating national concern and debate, an awareness also forging movements such as Black Lives Matter.

As you can imagine, the response to Kaepernick’s actions have been as charged as the current national struggle and debate over this important issue have become.  On one hand there is great outrage, many believing that Kaepernick has chosen the wrong venue and wrong method to express his political views.  On the other hand, other people believe that Kaepernick has a right to express his views in this manner.  Even President Obama has weighed in on the issue, saying that it can be thorny in relation to the military, but also defending Kaepernick and his right to voice his concerns through this gesture.  Some are openly sympathetic to Kaepernick.  At Qualcomm, fellow Forty Niner Eric Reed also took the knee while Seahawks Jeremy Lane remained seated during the national anthem on Thursday.  This action was met in San Diego with grave defiance and anger.  Kaepernick was booed from the time he ran onto the field until he was pulled from the game at the beginning of the second half.  Chargers fans were relentless, writes John Breech, booing him on all 34 plays of which he saw action.  “While Kaepernick has made a silent protest, it was amplified in San Diego which is a big military town,” notes CBS correspondent Carter Evans. 

As a person of faith, I am seeking to digest and understand this current situation in light of the public good.  Public Theology is “lived theology,” seeing God at work in the midst of the marketplace of ideas while seeking the general Shalom (Peace) of God for our communities and nations.  It has become painfully obvious to me that our nation is at a flashpoint, perhaps no less revealing and painful as that of the Civil Rights era.  This year Kristi and I have spent time reading works by Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and W.E.B. DuBois.  Through these readings we have heard the deep cry of our black sisters and brothers for equality and justice.  We have heard public laments that ravish heart and soul.  Unlike any other period in my life, I have felt a deep empathy and pain for these Americans sisters and brothers who have been largely left out from the American dream and not given a slice of the American pie.  Worse yet, it seems that there has been little done in the way of genuine healing and reconciliation between our races.  We seem to live in parallel universes, one zooming ahead, the other left behind.   

Listening to the voices of these black sisters and brothers, I feel remorse and shame, yet I also feel inspired.  These voices from the margins of our storied past need to rise and give rise to a greater national consciousness of what it means to be American in the truest and purest sense.  Perhaps giving rise to a greater national consciousness is precisely what Colin Kaepernick seeks to help us achieve.  While not standing at attention for the national anthem may feel anathema to some, perhaps Kaepernick’s failure to stand is a prophetic gesture towards helping us identify our failings and seek a greater future, together.  Does standing during the national anthem make one a patriot in the truest sense?  Maybe there are nuances around this issue that should give us pause, encouraging us to listen to the message and not get hung up on the method of protest.  After all, what makes us noble and good is not the act of standing during the national anthem, but rather seeking in all earnestness to achieve the ideals by which the flag and the nation have sought to embody, and if we are failing to do so, we need faithful and responsible citizens to tell us so.   Indeed, if we are failing to achieve our ideals, only the harsh and uncomfortable act of public lament can wake us up from the dream that all is well when all is not well.  We need to listen to the voices from below and from the margins to know this truth, and perhaps Kaepernick and those who are kneeling with him are trying to show us the way.   

Prophets of old in the Biblical witness made public demonstrations of lament.  Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  Isaiah went around naked for three years.  Noah built an ark.  Jesus, a Jew, lamented over Jerusalem and even prophesied destruction over a city and a nation who had fallen away from true worship and righteousness.  We need prophets, brave men and women who will stand tall and courageous, willing to weather the boo birds, telling us that we can become better.  If we stop to listen to the message and graciously permit the chosen method, perhaps we will comprehend that Colin Kaepernick has something important to tell us.  Maybe we can actually stop and listen, and in doing so perhaps new paths towards a better future will open before us.  Colin and crew, for the record, I am listening.                       

Friday, August 19, 2016

Tips from the road

As Bob wrote recently, we have started our grand tour of the U.S., a quest to visit churches and friends which will take us up one side and down the other of the continental U.S. over the next few months. We do like to travel, but we also like to come home after a trip! Several months straight of being on the road is a completely different ballgame than a two-week trip. Fortunately, expectations and mental preparation are a big part of making it work. The wonderfully hospitable and inspiring people that we get to connect with along the way are the ‘diamonds in the rough’ that make this journey sweet when it could be really tough.



Lessons learned from life on the road:
1. Make sure my digital watch is on the right time zone so that the alarm doesn’t go off at 4AM.
2. Regular exercise – even in irregular places and times – is a great boost to help us stay sane.
3. Bob can pack for a whole month in a carry-on suitcase.
Bob with suitcase
4. Mcdonalds has great cheap smoothies…and they are ubuiquitous.
5. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I lay there for a few minutes, working out “where am I? And how do I get to the bathroom??”
6. Routine is very helpful for making life less stressful; but it is all about perspective. Even when each day is in a new place, I appreciate the little pieces of life that are consistent, like brushing my teeth or praying with Bob, which help me to create a ‘road routine’ in my mind.
7. We can do a week of lunches on the road with a loaf of bread and a package of ham and cheese. That way we can find a park to stop in for lunch instead of a fast-food restaurant. Being around some ‘green’ and being able to take a short walk is so refreshing during a long drive.
Picnic on the road
8. Audiobooks are a wonderful thing! We just finished listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – a timeless classic. And the best part - you can check out audiobooks digitally through Overdrive with your library card!
9. Friends are a wonderful life-giving blessing. We try to connect with as many as we can while we are traveling. Even when we feel tired and time feels tight, we always feel refreshed and grateful for a conection with kindred spirits. Thank you, to our friends old and new, who make this journey sweet.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

We Need Each Other


This month of July Kristi and I have been on the road.  We have had fun, hiking in Pennsylvania, seeing Shakespeare performed in Louisville, sitting under the stars near the Allegany mountains, attending a Pirates/Brewers game in Pittsburgh, eating Handel’s ice cream near Youngstown (OH), speaking in various churches across Ohio and Pennsylvania, and being fortunate enough to attend two significant conferences, one in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. 

Kristi with Pennsylvania sign

Pittsburgh - Bob and kristi with PNC park
PNC Park across the river, had fun exploring Pittsburgh!

Handels ice cream in Canfield, OH 
Got caught in the rain eating ice cream on a Sunday! 

The second week of July we attended the Presbyterian Church (USA) World Mission Sharing Conference at Laws Lodge, Louisville Seminary.  This conference brings together PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers serving afield,  currently on home assignment.  This year we were a group of almost forty adults and children, coming from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean Islands, Indonesia, the Mexican/US border, Central Asia, Costa Rica, Columbia, Germany, a country in the Middle East which I cannot name, Thailand, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Malawi, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Our facilitators commented several times that this was a special group with lots of experience.  We spent lots of time laughing through our sessions, commiserating together and celebrating together the joys and challenges of a unique life and shared calling.  The time together almost felt like a homecoming, a place of nurture, a place of shelter in the midst of the storms and vicissitudes of life within our families, our communities, and our ministry contexts.  Each morning we spent time studying the book Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, then spending time in small groups where we could share more deeply on themes related to our brokenness and call to serve God as His beloved daughters and sons.  I was impressed by the vulnerability and openness of members of our groups, and it became evident that this was a deep and meaningful time for all.  Kristi and I are grateful for the Presbyterian World Mission (PWM) support staff, for the ways they brought us together to foster a community of love and trust.  We were given a significant opportunity to connect with members of “our tribe,” re-identifying a common identity and being renewed in our vocation.

This last week Kristi and I attended the New Wilmington Mission Conference, held at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.  It is our second time to participate in this one hundred and eleven year old missions conference, the longest running mission conference in the United States.  I have been impressed hearing over and over how people feel drawn to come back to this conference, feeling loved and accepted, empowered to fulfill God’s calling.  Having representative missionaries and nationals from all over the world, we have received insight into events and God’s work across the world, ideas and realities which transcend the news conveyed by the manifold news services, delivering only in sound bites, delivering non-nuanced and under-informed interpretations of global realities.  For instance, a pastor from the Czech Republic informed us how Christians in his homeland have “stood” their ground in response to the stranglehold of communism, “walked” forward against oppression and injustice, and “helped others to run,” empowering sisters and brothers in Ethiopia and other countries.  Lesser known stories like this one are voiced and inspire us to greater commitment and service. 

NWMC - Africa game with Ludwigs 1
Kristi and I and others hosted “the Africa Game” at the NWMC,
helping children and others understand the challenges
children face going to school in Congo

NWMC Shelvis and Nancy
Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather, colleagues who serve in South Sudan
taught each morning at NWMC, inspiring all delegates to
greater faithfulness and service to the Living God


Throughout this week Kristi and I have served on the Mission Staff, speaking to different age groups each day of the week.  We have helped high school students understand how they are connected to youth in Congo, tied by the dark reality of conflict minerals, minerals necessary to satiate our hunger for smart phones and electronic gadgetry.  We have told the story of our calling to Congo to groups of young adults, provided young children an idea of what life is like for Congolese children, and shared with others our passion regarding healing and reconciliation and providing financial services to the poor in Congo.  Our Mission Staff has been a large group of thirty, and our morning meetings have served as a place of laughter and vulnerability.  I was personally blessed by a colleague serving in Ethiopia who took the time to check in with me early in the week.  His tender care, his listening ear, and his faith filled prayers lightened my load, helping me know that God’s Spirit knows the cries of my heart and that God will unravel uncertainties hidden within my heart.       

NWMC B&K with Karen and Dave
What a joy it was to reconnect with old friends – Karen Sloan and her
husband Dave Carlton, and to meet their son Daniel, being introduced
to Daniel’s joyful, effervescent spirit!              


This month I am reminded of how much we need each other.  We need to know that we belong to a company of companions who care, that others around us share visions and values, that others are willing to come alongside us as we share brokenness and dreams, and those close to us can encourage us on the journey, speaking God’s life giving word, tearing the veil of uncertainty and fear.  Truly, we need each other.  I am thankful for those whom God has graciously and lovingly placed around us.  God’s mercies and love never cease to amaze me.