Friday, September 27, 2013

Celebrating history

Bob grew up in California and I in the Midwest, where something that was built or happened 100 years ago seems like nearly-ancient history. This month we have been traveling in the Eastern part of the U.S., and have been amazed at the long and rich history that we have encountered through some of the churches we have visited. It has been a fun season to learn more about the history of our country and celebrate how God has been at work here.
We visited Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Church in Gettysburg, PA – one of the first early churches that we had encountered. The church was founded in 1748, their sanctuary was built in 1790, and the church continues to be a thriving witness to Christ in the community. We were also blessed to have a member of the church give us a guided tour of the Gettysburg battlefields…more extensive and well-marked than I expected!
P1200653Sanctuary of the Lower Marsh Creek Pres. Church, built in 1790
Gettysburg Battlefield with LindaOn the Gettysburg Battlefield with our guide, Linda
A few days later, we were in Lewes, DE, where the church has existed since at least 1692. The church building seems nestled into its graveyard that surrounds it, with some marked graves of soldiers from the Revolutionary War.
Lewes De lighthouse
We spent a few days in Washington, DC visiting people as well as a few of the memorials and museums. It was my first time to visit any of the museums in DC as an adult, and we realized we were barely able to scratch the surface of taking in the rich history that is there to learn. We went through the Holocaust museum – which is a powerful and sobering experience. Then, we went to the American History Museum, and discovered that with only a few hours you have to choose just a few sections of the many exhibits they have on American History! We enjoyed seeing some of the monuments at night …a really different perspective than seeing them during the day! In keeping with our savoring of historical things, we went to eat at “Gadsby’s Tavern” in Alexandria, VA, purportedly one of George Washington’s favorite places.
FDR memorial bread line
Remembering the bread-lines of the Great Depression at the FDR memorial
We have now worked our way south through Virginia and North Carolina, noticing Civil War battlefields and other historical sights along the way. Bob has been collecting recommendations of books about the Civil War, and enjoyed learning from some of the enthusiasts we’ve met. We made a stop in Hampton, VA to see a small museum that contains cultural artifacts from Kasai in the 19th century, collected by William Shepherd. We are currently in Montreat, NC, and have enjoyed seeing elements of the history of the Presbyterian Church in Congo, and spending time with missionaries who served there and remember the rocky days of Congo’s shift to independence.
Montreat Heritage Center sep 2013
Visiting the Montreat Heritage Center with our colleague from Congo, Pastor Mboyamba.
We met there former missionaries Hugh and Ellen Ferrier and Tom McCrutchen

Remembering and celebrating both American and African history seems to help give us perspective as we get grounded in Congo. The events of the past and God's faithfulness through the ages reminds us that God IS at work in Congo and that there is hope for the future!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sabbath Economics

“So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  (Luke 16: 11)

Two weeks ago Kristi and I attended the Oikocredit USA summit in Washington, D.C. Oikocredit describes itself as a “worldwide cooperative and social investor, providing funding to the microfinance sector, fair trade organizations, cooperatives and small to medium enterprises.”  In our desire to become socially responsible investors, Kristi and I began investing in Oikocredit a few years ago, trying to use our dollars to give a “hand-up” to the poor in the majority world.  This conference made us feel incredibly excited about our investment with Oikocredit!

Divine Chocolate photo (for blog)
These women and men work with Divine Chocolate
a fair trade organization and partner of Oikocredit  
(photo taken from Oikocredit website)

Ched Myers spoke at the summit on a principle which he calls “Sabbath Economics.”  He taught from Exodus 16, when Israel first receives manna from heaven.  Ched shared with us three lessons learned during this wilderness experience as chronicled by Moses.  All three lessons deal with economic principles that can be instructive for our communities today.  First, the people are to gather enough for that day, and that everyone should have enough.  Second, the manna should not be stored up and accumulated.  Lastly, keeping Sabbath is central.  Sabbath is about self-limitation.   

Ched described how we have more than our share in our dominant culture.  We, in the United States, are caught in a dominant economic cycle whereby capital has replaced community as the center of our economic story.  Myers quotes Ferdinand Tönnies, a German philosopher and sociologist, who elaborated on this principle.  Myers argues that there is the need to advocate for community over capital.  He argues that the inequality created by a largely capitalistic culture is unjust.  He stresses the need to connect our faith with our money. 

How do we connect our faith with our money?  The answer, according to Myers, is to advocate for community over capital.  To make his point, Myers cites a seemingly obscure story of Jesus recorded by Luke (16: 1 – 13).  In short, this story describes a money manager who is in the process of losing his position from the rich man whom he serves.  After a period of self reflection, the manager realizes that his only option is to associate himself with the debtor class so that when he loses his job, he will be welcomed into their homes.  Thus, while still retaining his position, he shrewdly reduces the debts of the debtor class, helping them and thereby endearing himself to their cause.  In the end, the rich man commends this manager for his shrewdness.

How does this story connect with us?  Myers suggests that the “mammon” (money) system of the world is unsustainable.  Too often it destroys community because of its impersonal nature.  For instance, how many of us have IRA accounts and stock portfolios which invest in companies with whom we feel no kinship and don’t have a clue about their business practices and social dealings?  I, for one, stand guilty as charged.  Some Christian financial advisors even advise investors not to concern themselves with the social implications of their investments.  Thus, we Christians often find ourselves part of a larger global system which, by definition, marginalizes the poor. 

Myers says that Sabbath Economics is essentially the struggle between manna and ‘mammon’.  The real issue, he contends, is “where do we place our trust?”  Do we place our trust in capital or in community.  These are significant questions which require some soulful wrestling.  However there is a warning to be heeded.  If we don’t seek to remove the gulf that exists between the rich and the poor, we may find ourselves on the wrong side of a chasm that can never be removed (see Luke 16: 19 – 31).

Thankfully our money can be used as an instrument of social relationship and social good.  As we think about what our investment capital is doing, may we consider the human element, seeking to identify with the debtor class and the economically marginalized.  Kristi and I feel that the “compound interest” of investing in people through Oikocredit is greater than any hot interest rates we will ever receive from stock portfolios which in most cases widen the chasm between the rich and the poor. 

Lord, please help us to learn more about how we can honor you with what we have…

Lord, help us to be faithful in advocating for community over capital. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


We are celebrating two big answers to prayer this month. So many individuals and churches came together in different ways to meet these needs, and we are amazed and encouraged. We want you to celebrate with us, and hopefully there will be more updates in the future when we return to Congo.

…Drumroll, please! The first answer to prayer is the completion of the needed funding to purchase a new Land Cruiser. The Department of Evangelism’s current Land Cruiser, affectionately called “Tshikunda” (older woman), has a strong engine but is not so reliable these days. Bob has spent countless hours sitting at the mechanics shop while it was worked on to prepare for rural travel. We have numerous stories about breakdowns – like driving without breaks, using soapy water to sub for clutch fluid, and being delayed 3 days for a rural presbytery meeting because we could not get parts. We realized that when we were spending more time and money repairing the vehicle than we were actually traveling in it, it was time to get a new one.

Caught in a hole made by rain in the middle of the road. The basket on the back of the Land Cruiser holds some of Pastor Mboyamba's chickens.

This year, as we visited churches and described the work of the CPC in Congo, one need that we emphasized was the need for a new vehicle. Churches and individuals from all over – Myrtle Beach, SC to Menlo Park, CA contributed generously to this need, including two people who encouraged others by offering a significant matching gift. The First Presbyterian Church of Wellsboro, PA rallied together to finish off the final third of this need just last month. Praise the Lord! We are now in process of getting the quotes and logistics for purchasing the Land Cruiser and getting it to Congo.

The second reason to celebrate is that we received word a few weeks ago that Presbyterian Women has awarded a grant to Ditekemena (Project Hope), a ministry of restoring children on the streets into families. Churches in the Kananga area will be trained and equipped to care for children who have been on the streets, and the children will be fed, loved, and given a new chance at life. Bob wrote about this project and its visionary leader, Pastor Manyayi, in our February Newsletter. The CPC leadership hopes that this project will get started in January of next year.

We praise God for his provision, and express our gratitude to the many people who participated in these events in various ways. We celebrate this good news, and look forward to seeing the work of the church in Congo grow in new ways as a result of each of these initiatives!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Stranger Among Us

"Don't abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt” (Exodus 22: 21, Message)

The last weekend of August found Kristi and I worshipping with recent Congolese immigrants and political refugees.  It was a highlight of our time in the United States.  Our worship together was powerful and full of God’s Spirit. The desperation, hope, faith, and confidence-in-God of these recent arrivals was palpable.  We were blessed and encouraged to visit First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of Champaign, Illinois, a church which has created a home for these Congolese families.  Members of FPC Champaign have gone to great lengths to help these “strangers,” these Congolese foreigners find their footing in a new country.  Members have extended their love by teaching them English, driving them to and from church, finding them furniture, helping them learn to drive, amongst manifold other services and acts of love and hospitality.  Bob and Claudia Kirby, two recent retirees, spend countless hours each week helping these families.  Kristi and I found ourselves inspired by the Kirbys and other members of FPC Champaign who are welcoming the ‘stranger’ in their midst.  The Congolese families are now joining the church and are changing the ethos of the congregation in a very positive way.  We praise God for this tangible example of welcoming the ‘stranger’ and caring for his/her needs. 


The following week we visited college friends of Kristi’s who live in West Chicago.  Matthew serves as Director of Puente de Pueblo, “Bridge of  the People,” a ministry to Hispanic families and Iraqi refugees sponsored by Wheaton Bible Church.  This ministry provides case management for families struggling as they adjust to living in a new place.  It also provides after-school programs for children, along with English and Spanish language learning opportunities for adults.  Matthew and his wife Catherine shared with us the multitudinous challenges the Hispanic families face.  Matthew plainly shared how many families he works with are headed by undocumented workers.  He shared the unfathomable injustices these men and women regularly confront.  While the United States may be sending the message that we want their presence in our country because we value their economic contribution, at the same time our country does not provide a clear path towards citizenship and does not protect their rights.  For instance, if a worker is hurt on a job, he/she will not receive any form of disability.  Also, these workers pay into Social Security but will never see that money.  The system seems altogether murky and polluted with political and economic self-interest.  What I took away from this conversation isn’t altogether surprising, but nonetheless heartbreaking.  Our nation is taking advantage of the ‘stranger’ in our midst, undocumented workers who are often publicly and privately maligned, but economically welcomed and exploited.       

While questions of immigration reverberating in our coffee shops and halls of Congress often focus on politics and economics and can at times feel entirely xenophobic, I suppose Christians may want to inquire regarding what God says about these issues.  First and foremost, there is the biblical injunction to not abuse or take advantage of the strangers among you (Ex 22: 21).  This message was for the people of Israel, and indeed can be extrapolated for today.  The psalmist writes how God watches over the alien (Psalm 146).  Jesus talks about being a stranger and being invited in (Matthew 25).  As Christians, we are called to be the salt and light of our culture.  This would include advocating for the stranger in our midst, especially as they are being mistreated.  I realize that this is a very touchy issue, but I am incredibly thankful for the example set by the Kirbys, FPC Champaign, and for Matthew and Catherine.  May we, God’s people, find tangible ways to  advocate and care for refugees, immigrants, and even undocumented workers.