Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spiritual Direction through Art Therapy


That fateful Monday after Thanksgiving we learned about the possibility of not being able to return to Congo.  It was a heart wrenching day.  Thankfully God provided us the cushion and the blessing of being with friends that day and the days following.  Todd and Michelle Olson have been close friends for more than 20 years.  Todd and I have been prayer partners and friends since the late 1990s.  We continue to Skype each other on a regular basis and hold each other up in prayer.  Todd stood alongside me as the best man in our wedding.  I cannot imagine life without Todd.  Like myself, Michelle has travelled the long road of ordination preparation in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  She leads a vibrant ministry despite health challenges.  She serves as a spiritual director and a retreat guide, and her life is marked by deep and abiding faith.

From a kingdom of God perspective,  it was no coincidence that we were at the home of Todd and Michelle and their children when this hard news hit us.  God met us in our time of need and uncertainty.  Each morning we did spiritual readings and spent time together in prayer.  Late that week Michelle led us in spiritual direction through art therapy.  She instructed us to prayerfully look through magazines and find clipping that resonated with our spirits. She gave us free reign to color and draw and create something that reflected the deep things happening in our hearts.  In this blog post I will share with you what came forth for me. 
Using the template of the prayer of examen, I organized my collage into a section on desolation and a section on consolation.  I felt inspired to add a third section which painted a hoped for and hopeful future.  (see collage below)


Full page, reflection


Desolation

IMG_3459 - Copy

In the desolation section (see photo above), anger at what had happened to us came to the fore.  As my anger burned hot, I noted Psalm 137 which is a psalm of retribution, which is how I felt.  I noted the sense of being in the desert, feeling unclear about our future.  Another dimension was the pain and disappointment we have felt over the last several years at not having children. While we haven’t shared this widely, a major reason for coming to the US early last year was to pursue fertility treatment, which sadly failed.   

Consolation

Second section, reflection

In the consolation section I felt led to reference the need to just “be” during this season.  Moreover I felt an admonition from the psalms, the familiar scripture passage which reads “Be still and know that I am God.”  I also sensed the importance that “it is not up to us” to chart the course of our future, that we can “take it slow,” relaxing in the strong and loving arms of our savior.  I found a special photo of a baby elephant at the foot of his mother, this photo speaking volumes about my relationship with God, remaining in this “One State” of abiding in the His presence.  In God we find our “liberation.” 

A hoped for and hopeful future

Third sectio

The last section depicts a future filled with hope, a “journey of discovery” whereby we would “fall into our next adventure.”  It is a “divine” adventure, a future which includes ‘'God’s mission in Africa,” continued learning, places of rest and reflection, advocacy for those in need, and participation in God’s transforming work in the world. 

This collage has been a guiding map for me over the last three months.  I even brought it with us to California to help me continue to make sense of this time of transition, this time of grieving and loss, this time of waiting on God for guidance.  Today I praise God for Todd and Michelle, good friends who met us in our time of need.  I praise God for giving us peace in the midst of this storm.  I praise God for opening up a new path of life and ministry out of the crucible of pain and loss. I am thankful for spiritual direction through art therapy, a tool which has helped me navigate this season of transition and uncertainty.  God is so good! 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Praying for Congo

We continue to ask for prayers for peace in Congo. DRC is a lush green land with so many hard-working, loving people –why in so many places is an already very difficult life made more vulnerable by conflict and fear? Here are just a few highlights, if you have been wondering about the situation:

1. On February 1, Etienne Tshisekedi, the primary opposition leader, died in Paris. The Congolese government did not want to allow his body to be brought back to DRC to be buried, because of how that might stir up his supporters. They have finally accepted, and his body is due to be brought back on March 11 (see here for more details). There is still controversey, however, and this could potentially stir up political tensions again. Please pray for a peaceful buriel, Kasai is his home region, so the people there are very concerned about this.

2. At the end of December, a peace agreement was signed between the goverment and an opposition coalition. One of the primary stipulations was that presidential elections would be held by the end of 2017. The government finance minister recently said that elections may be too expensive to hold, which throws some doubt on whether the government will respect the agreement. Pray that there would be willpower and cooperation in the government to hold fair elections this year, and that a good leader would be elected.

3. There has been a tribal militia group active in Kasai since September 2016 (see our blog post from that time for more details). We thought that it had fizzled out, but recently learned that they have actually gained steam and recruited many local youth to join them in opposing the government. They control a few vilages surrounding Tshikaji (near Kananga), and the schools there have been closed since December. The government army has been actively fighting this militia (referred to as the Kamuina Nsapu militia), and a few weeks ago there was a clash in a village market, killing more than 40 women.

There was also an attack (we think by this same group) last week on a Catholic seminary in Kananga and the surrounding neighborhood. The kids in the Ditekemena program, which now includes some refugee children from the village where the militia originates, were once more forced to move from their Center and relocate to the homes of caretakers because they are in the same neighborhood as the Catholic Seminary that was attacked. Please pray for resolution to this conflict in Kasai, that kids in Tshikaji would be able to resume school, and for protection on the Ditekemena kids and all the innocent people in this region.

Thank you for your prayers. We join with our struggling brothers and sisters in Congo to pray for peace and a positive way forward for their country. “In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.” (Ephesians 6:18 from The Message)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Celebrating and transitions

February 19th is the seventh anniversary of when we left the U.S. to move to DR Congo. In 2010, we landed in Kananga, a place we had never been, where we did not yet know anyone, and where we did not speak any of the local language. It took awhile, but Kananga became home, a place with friends, colleagues, our work, our routines, and where we finally felt comfortable with the language. Just this week we learned that we will not be able to return to Kananga to live and work. We grieve over this unexpected change of plans, but are at peace because it has become clear that it is the right decision. Before we look forward to whatever God wants to take us next, we celebrate some of our favorite thing about life in Kananga (in random order).

1. Eagerness and excitement evident on people’s faces when they could buy their own Bible.

2. Immediate, generous hospitality that we received again and again in people’s homes, whether our arrival was anticipated or not.

3. The faith and talent of our drivers on long trips, who would navigate through deep mud or precipitous holes, where I was sure the vehicle would tip over or get stuck.

4. Exuberance and pure joy on the faces of the children in the Ditekemena program, feeling loved and safe and valued.

Dancing at Ditekemena

5. Sunsets with rich colors and the outlines of palm trees.

6. Some of our friends who would show up at our door at random times, and say something like “I haven’t seen you for a few days. I had to come see how you were doing!”

7. Mangoes coming into season in November, and using them as many ways as we could – mango jam, mango cobbler, mangoes chutney, mangoes.

8. The palpable sense of God’s presence during the cross workshop portion of the healing and reconciliation seminar as people gave their pain to Christ and found freedom and forgiveness through the cross.

Mweka seminar - woman nailing to cross2

9. Making pancakes over the charcoal fire on our balcony on Saturday mornings. True comfort food!

10. Navigating the steep narrow paths down into the valleys where some of the poorest people live, often for a cell group meeting or to visit someone – lush vegetation but also plenty of mosquitos there!

11. Seeing the women in the savings groups showing the discipline to bring their savings and work together to make decisions, support each other, and resolve issues.

12. The satisfaction on people’s faces and sense of connection when a stranger learned that we lived in Kananga and spoke Tshiluba, and immediately started quizzing us on which local foods we eat “Do you eat bidia? And matamba? And buse? What did you eat yesterday?”

I could keep going – there are so many things we are grateful for during our time in Kananga. Of course, as with any place, there are also things we will NOT miss, but for now we celebrate the positives.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Simple Living


Some will know that Kristi and I have been in a “holding pattern” for several weeks, waiting word regarding our future and whether we can return to our home and ministry in Congo.  Deciding that we wanted to flee the cold of central Illinois and go somewhere warmer for a spell, we decided to come out to California.   

Last Thursday I arrived in Pasadena.  Kristi follows, arriving tomorrow after a week with friends in Orlando.  During our time in CA we will not have a car.  We are also doing the Daniel Fast for the month of February, eating only vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and only drinking water and herbal tea.  I have found both measures tiresome and labor-intensive, but also enjoyable and opening me up to God in new ways.  Our goal during this fast is to seek God’s direction for our lives since things feel somewhat uncertain at the moment.  Going shopping at Ralph’s last week was a surreal experience.  I had my list of brown rice, black beans, peppers, celery, oranges and apples and bananas and a few other odds and ends.  Walking down the aisles with all the other food items screaming for my attention made me realize the gravity of our choice.  Over the last week I have been able to eat nutritious and tasty meals.  It has been a soulful experience, and I do see and feel God speaking to me and ministering His comfort to me. 

Not having a car has been a blessing also.  The first day in Pasadena I walked to find somewhere to eat dinner and do some initial shopping.  On my way, I met Jinoshia, or Jino for short.  I met him atop the Metro stop above the 210 freeway.  He was reading a book which looked like the Bible.  I asked him what he was reading.  Slowly peering up at me, he showed me the cover.  “The Koran?”  I asked. He nodded.  “Being a Muslim is a good thing,” he told me.  I responded by telling him that I was a Christian.  He asked me what it meant to be a Christian.  I told him that being a Christian means following Jesus.  Sensing his trepidation, I assured him that I had no intention to argue, but to listen and understand.  We had a nice conversation about our need for God’s help and grace in our lives.  I met Jino two other times last week in the same place.  Our faith conversations continued.  At one point during one of our conversations he looked at me and said, “Now I know what it means to be a Christian.”  Looking into Jino’s eyes, I see love and humility.  I see a man who is gentle and kind.  I am thankful for my new friend, and hope to see him again.   

I am thankful to God for this season of living simply, no car, no meat, no unhealthy foods, no caffeine, no beer or wine.  It is a season of consecrating ourselves to God in a specific way for a specific purpose.  Pray with us that we will see God’s image in others in a deeper and more profound way, and that we will hear God’s voice in the simple moments of everyday living.  Living in an age and culture of decadence and self-gratification and rampant consumerism, I find it so refreshing to live simply and to forsake the many things we often clamor for. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Healing from Trauma in Eastern Congo

Congo image with Kivu highlightedThe Eastern part of Congo is a volatile and dangerous place. Dozens of militia groups vie for control of mines or areas rich in natural resources, plundering, raping, and decimating villages to exert control. This has gone on for near 20 years, resulting in more than 60 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs)– those who flee their villages when they are repeatedly attacked. Today more than 1 million people live in IDP camps in the the two provinces of North and South Kivu in the Eastern part of Congo (the dark blue area in the map to the right). Even in the camps, life is dangerous – women are often raped when they try to go fetch water, men have to walk long, dangerous distances trying to find work, there is no place to farm, and children are often not able to go to school. This part of Congo is the part that makes the news – a very different environment than the relative security and peace that we have experienced in Kasai.

Last August, in this midst of this chaos and trauma in Eastern Congo, several churches came together to learn how to find healing from the trauma they have experienced, and specifically how to help children who have lived through traumatic experiences to find healing. The Trauma Healing Institute, formed through the cooperation and support of several Christian organizations, developed a Biblically based curriculum. Participants look to the Bible and share together why, if God loves us, suffering still exists, and how we can find healing and freedom from suffering that has affected us. Through the power and sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can find forgiveness, and also the power to forgive those who have hurt us. We were able to attend this same training in October in the United States.  The training conducted in Eastern Congo has a particular focus on ministering to children by creating what they are calling Healing Heart Clubs.

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The adults trained in August in Eastern Congo were each commissioned to minister to groups of children – in schools, in IDP camps, and in churches. Some of the children had seen their parents brutally killed, some had been sexually assaulted, and others had been separated from their families in the fighting. In these groups, they finally felt they had a safe space to open up, share what they had experienced, and be honest with God about their grief and anger.

image

Dylpai is an 11-year old boy who comes from the city of Beni. That region has experienced many attacks, and he has seen people hacked with machetes, including his uncle. Dylpai began having nightmares and was struggling in school as a result of the trauma he had experienced. When he joined the Healing Hearts club, he was very quiet and closed at first. After a few days, when they got to the lesson about forgiving people, he was able to open up, share his fears, his experience, and also welcome Jesus as a friend and express the desire to forgive the men who had committed atrocities in his environment.

We are hopeful that a follow-up training can be held this summer, which would further equip those who have been trained and qualify them to be ‘master trainers’. Once they have been qualified, they would be able to go and train others, which would spread this important resource to more children throughout Congo who have experienced trauma. We are hopeful that it might even spread to Kasai! We are praying that people eager to support this effort would step up to given financial and prayer support for this follow-up training. If you would like more information, please contact us – either through e-mail or a comment on this page. You can also read more testimonies and progress on this initiative in the newsletter of our colleague, Christi Boyd. And if you want to contribute financially to this program, you can do so through the account for the work of the ECC (Protestant Church Council in Congo), with the designation “Healing Hearts”.