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.

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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”.

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!