We are surrounded by very real physical needs. There are often people who come to us asking for help – sometimes people we know, sometimes people we don’t know. We do want to interact with individuals and show compassion, but we realize that sometimes our attempts to help could be harmful – to the person we are trying to help, and/or ourselves. Here are a few testimonies of people who we are trying to help in constructive ways.
Tatu Mbuta showed up at our door one day asking for help. He looked extremely thin and obviously poor. He said that he attended the same local parish we do, but we did not know him. We helped him once with a little food, but knew that was not the answer. After he had showed up several times, we started asking about his family and asked for verification from a trusted source who knew his family. His mother is a widow, and neither he nor his mother are physically able to do much manual labor, so they struggle to put food on the table. They do attend our local parish, and she receives a tiny amount of support from the church along with some of the other widows there.
One of the elders we consulted suggested we give Mbuta some occasional work to do as a constructive way to help them. So…we gave him an empty plastic bottle that had been used for cleaning powder, and a sample pastoral collar. He very successfully cut up the bottle to make 4 white strips that could be used for pastoral collars. Lots of times, we have heard pastors request help in getting “vestments” (pastoral shirts, collars, robes, etc.) These are not so commonly used in the U.S. anymore, but they are still seen as important to church life in Congo. We have wanted to find a way to locally produce the collars (pastoral shirts and robes can hopefully be made locally too!). So – he helps us to meet a need for supplies for pastors, and we help him and his mother meet the need to eat.
Tatu Muanda works in our home – doing laundry (by hand!), mopping floors, and doing a little cooking. He has been a quiet, hard-working, and trustworthy presence in our home for almost 2 years. One of the things we appreciate about him is that he never complains and rarely asks for anything beyond his normal salary. His wife, however, who returned from her home village last year, is a little more outspoken. When we see her, she always mentions the old roof sheeting on their house that is full of holes. She animatedly exclaims “Is this a house? No! It is as if we are sleeping outside! When it rains, we don’t sleep; we get wet!”
We mulled around what to do. We did not feel right purchasing a new roof for him outright, but we know that his meager salary coupled with limited financial tools for the poor make saving for a large purchase nearly impossible. In mid-October, we proposed to him that if he felt getting a new roof was a priority, we were willing to help him save by deducting a small amount of his salary each month. Then, we would “match” whatever he had saved toward the purchase of new roof sheets a few months from now. He was appreciative of the idea, and said he wanted to start the next month. At the end of October, I paid him his salary. He carefully counted out 10,000 Congolese francs and handed it back to me. “Getting a new roof is a good idea. I want to start this month!” So – we’ll see what the outcome is – but we are grateful to have the hope of a better home for him.
Kristi stands with Monique, Tatu Muanda’s daughter, in front of his home.
André, her oldest son standing in front of her, died a few weeks ago.
The needs around us far outstrip our creativity and resources. However, seek to empower the church in their efforts to help the poor, and also be sensitive to God’s spirit and available to try to engage with individuals ourselves in constructive ways.