Saturday, January 14, 2017

Living in Limbo

The day after Thanksgiving we received a text message that changed the trajectory of our current life situation and altered the plans made and later confirmed when we left Congo in early 2016.  A few days after receiving the fateful text message, a Skype call confirmed this reality.  We are not returning to Congo this month as planned.  In short, due to the continued political trials faced by the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, coupled with an ongoing church conflict which has lasted four years and longer, our mission leaders have been advised by our partner church, the Congolese Presbyterian Community, that Kristi and I and another colleague should not return to Congo until a more favorable time.  When that “favorable time” pokes its head from the clouds of the current political and ecclesiastical impasse remains anyone’s guess.  It could be two months, it could be twelve.  It could be indefinite.   

So what does one do under such circumstances?  Well the answer is obvious, go to Disney World!  Kristi and a friend will travel to Orlando at the end of the month to celebrate a landmark birthday which they share.  One also takes time to celebrate “hygge” (hoo-guh), a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”  This term made the short list of finalists in 2016 for “word of the year” by the Oxford Dictionary (see New Yorker article).  We plan to practice “’hygge’ today, making a fire in the hearth and reading books of inspiration while sipping wonderful teas like Breakfast in Paris and Blueberry Hibiscus.  One also chooses to leave the bitter cold and wind, the snow and frozen ice of Central Illinois for Southern California, where we will spend the month of February and some of March.  One also enjoys winter sports, as Bob plans to ski or snowshoe with friends in the Sierras or Pacific Northwest.  Of course, our time of being and waiting will include more than fun activity.  We will find a few work projects, read books that have long been waiting in the wings, do research on church and culture in Africa, and find creative and therapeutic outlets which bring healing and nourishment to our souls. 

So, why does God allow periods like this one to surprise attack us?  Well, for one, it feels to us like a “holy disruption.”  For months now, the scripture passage from Isaiah has come to mind - 

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43: 18 – 19) 

Whatever happens in the end, it feels to us like God seeks to do a new thing, to spring forth fresh and new ways of being and doing ministry.  As you can imagine, in many ways our hearts are still in Congo.  We wait on pins and needles to receive more information from our church partner.  During this season of “living in limbo”, we seek to simply “be,” waiting reverently and actively.  Please pray with us, that the road becomes less murky and foggy, and that we will embrace the current fog and make the most of it.

With love, Bob and Kristi

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Savings group member testimonies

We have shared before about the savings groups for women that have been started around Kananga. The first group was started last August (2015), and they gave themselves the name “Tujukai, Tuibake” (Get Up, Let’s Build). That group finished their first cycle in July of this year, and held a big celebration on the day that all the women received back their savings with interest. In June, our colleague Christi Boyd visited this group and recorded the meeting and also some testimonies from group members about how they have used loans from the group and their plan for their savings. I have selected just a few of the testimonies and compiled them into this short 3 minute video – I hope it can give you a taste of the significant impact that this program is having in communities!

Monday, November 14, 2016

This Old Body (a post-election poem)

This old body, yearns for yester year
Fourth of July hotdogs, Coca-Cola n’ beer
This America smells, good n’ plenty
Image of peace, well-being and safety.

Transmuted visions, of nostalgia now come
Black and brown brethren, express aplomb
Newness arises, America are we keen?
Tell me my sister, are we so mean?

The new body dazzles, diets and dialects,
The old body tattered, dreams found wrecked.
The new body bold, invites us to play
Are we so dogged, turning away?

This old body, Rusted has arose
Machiavelli, stares down his nose
What have we created, what will we leave?
Help us old body, new body to cleave.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

forgive and forget?

At a seminar we attended recently on trauma healing, one of the topics we addressed was forgiveness. Participants in the seminar came from 6 continents (all but Antartica!), with exposure to a rich diversity of cultures and experiences. Different voices in the room contributed suggestions as to what forgiveness is, or is not. For example, forgiveness IS:

  • a choice; an act of the will
  • An ongoing process – sometimes it requires repeating
  • Acknowledging the wrong that was done
  • Not holding the wrong against the person who did it, but rather hoping for their good!

And forgiveness is NOT:

  • Saying the right words
  • Brushing it off (e.g. “it was nothing, don’t worry about it.”)
  • Forgetting (we can forgive some things that are impossible to forget)
  • Without Consequence
  • Necessarily reconciliation or restored trust

Sharing the results of our small group discussion about the impact of trauma

We looked together at several Bible passages that discuss forgiveness, and the rich discusssion through our diverse cultural lenses converged on recognizing our natural resistence to forgiveness. When something bad happens to us or we are hurt, we not only have that pain to deal with, but often also resentment, anger, guilt, and bitterness. We look to God for the gift of being able to forgive (Matt. 6: 14-15), and choosing to forgive thwarts Satan’s plans to divide and corrupt us (2 Cor. 2: 10-11). One participant from India shared the quote “unforgiveness is a poisonous pill that we take hoping the other person will die.” Think about that – amazing how twisted our thinking can become and the negative impacts that we inflict on ourselves when we are not able to be free of unforgiveness. 

Trauma healing demonstration on forgiveness

Bob and another participant (face blurred to protect identity) demonstrate how hard
life can be when we are ‘tied’ to another person through unforgiveness

Just a few days after the seminar, I experienced the ‘poison’ that unforgiveness can be. We were travelling in the car, tired and getting on each others nerves. Bob said something that struck me wrong, and I retreated into silence and hurt, an angry and defensive argument raging in my head. While I prayed and deliberated how to share with Bob how I was feeling, the frustration and hurt continued to stew. Bob opted to take a nap while I drove, and normally when that happens my introverted self is more than happy to be quiet with my own thoughts. But this time I could not be at peace, and found the hurt and frustration to be rather unpleasant company. After Bob woke up, I finally pulled over, shared how I was feeling, and we apologized and forgave each other. The words “I forgive you” are not magic, but they symbolize that concious choice to release the hard feelings, the responsibility we place on the other person for our hurt and pain…and the emotional release is significant. I am grateful that in this example that I only struggled with that pain for a matter of minutes, and not days or years, as some people have to do!

We are excited to see how God has been using the healing and reconciliation seminars in Congo. We are hopeful that this seminar we attended on trauma healing will deepen the ways that we can engage with people in those seminars and also broaden how we can minister to people who have experienced trauma. Specifically, we hope that the caretakers in the Ditkemena (Hope) program for street children could be equipped further in how they minister to children who have all gone through painful experiences of abuse or rejection. Pray with us for wisdom and the right opportunities as we return to Congo in January.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Welcomed with Open Arms!

Since early July Kristi and I have been on the go!  We have visited 36 churches, 2 presbyteries, actively participated in 6 conferences, trainings and gatherings, travelled to 17 states and slept in 39 beds.  We have given our presentation 25 times, I have preached 13 times, and we have shared with all types of groups in various ways.  Not surprisingly perhaps, with all this activity, at times we have hit lows, feeling tired and wanting to be finished, yet we press on. 

Significantly, in the midst of this busy schedule of travel and speaking, Kristi and I have been blessed by the ways we have been received, welcomed, cared for and loved.  It often feels like we are stepping into holy ground as we stay with families and spend time with churches.  Just this last week we stayed with a family whose 96 year old matriarch, Dee, made sure we ate sliced apples in the afternoon and waited up for us like a mother goose when we were out at the movies.  On Hilton Head island, our hosts, Charlotte and Steve White, welcomed us into the life of their community as we enjoyed together live music and comfort food cooked for all on a gorgeous fall evening.  We also visited my friend Colin from High School whose family prepared a “Low Country Boil,” a fun/informal meal of shrimp/potatoes/corn and a few other things tossed in for good measure.  In Birmingham, Marty and Leland Keller treated us to dinner and the symphony with their close friends.  In Johnson City, Tennessee, we spent hours on an enclosed sun porch with Jerry and Sally Nagel in their home, sharing stories and enjoying good fellowship.  In Albany, Georgia, members of First Presbyterian treated us to the Waffle House where we enjoyed lighthearted conversation but also had meaningful dialogue around local issues tied to race and injustice.  In Beaufort, South Carolina, Corky cooked us delicious meals three times in the span of less than 24 hours, then he and his wife grabbed our hands and prayed deeply for us as we departed.

In Clover, SC, Pat and Marianne treat us to lunch in their 200+ year old
home, once belonging to their grandparents

The “Low Country Boil,” prepared by the Hawkins family
Hilton Head, SC

Dale and Lenora Williams welcome us again into their
peaceful, wonderful home in Gettysburg, PA

These are just a few snippets from our travels – many more stories could be told!  Indeed, we have been welcomed with open arms.  We have been fed well, our needs have been tended to (even laundry!), and we have felt the warmth of God’s people.  Not having a home here, these families visited have given us a temporary home, welcoming us into the family rooms and intimate places of their lives.  For that, we cannot adequately express our gratitude.  God has given us grace and strength for the journey, and He has done that through the hands and feet of His people.             

** Note to all who hosted us but who were not mentioned in this specific blog post, please know that we appreciate all you did for us!  We cannot and will not forget you.     

“On the road again…” we sing along with Willie Nelson -
c’est la vie!