Tuesday, October 29, 2013

By the Numbers - “take two!”

We just finished our final “swing” of church visits for our PC(USA) Mission Interpretation Assignment.  Whew!  It has been a “full” seven months of being on the road in the United States.  We have lived out of our suitcases, and haven’t been in any one place more than two weeks, usually not more than a day or two.  Here it is by the numbers, “a countdown” of the things we have done and the places we have been since arriving in the U.S. in April.   


13, 718           Miles travelled by car

72            Beds slept in

       51            Churches visited

       47            Presentations given

       28            times preached by Bob 

FPC, Albany, GAFirst Presbyterian Church, Albany (GA), this old downtown church has recently
been renovated, and the congregation is experiencing wonderful revitalization    

Mboyamba, evangelism (CMN)Kristi helps Pastor Mboyamba present -   
Congo Mission Network (San Antonio, TX) 

Bob Rice-April 28 preaching hope in hopeless situationsBob preaches a message of hope,
South Highland Presbyterian (Birmingham, AL)

       25            States visited, plus the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.)

       14            Flights

       12            Museums, art exhibits, and arboretums visited



map of places visited, IA (2013) All the states where we visited churches as well as
family and friends are marked in green! 

Rice family, dinner (Whidbey, Wa)Rice family vacation, Whidbey Island (WA)


Rhododendrums - Birmingham gardensKristi enjoys the rhododendrons at the Birmingham Arboretum

P1180201Cody Ross of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship (PFF) treated us to a tour -  
the Civil Rights Museum (Birmingham, AL)


        9             Baseball games attended (Major League, Minor League, Frontier League, High School)

        7             Baseball stadiums visited (Major League, Minor League, Frontier League, Little League)

Busch Stadium, watching cardinals At Busch Stadium in St. Louis in August,
watching Cardinals beat the Pirates

P1200390Visited Williamsport (Pa),
home of the Little League World Series


        6             National Parks and Forests, State Parks, and Historical Sites visited

        5             Children’s Sermons given by Kristi

        4             Conferences attended

P1200133We were blessed to visit Yellowstone National Park
with Mom and Dad (Rice), a real highlight!

Kristi, Children's Sermon, FPC Normal (Oct 27, 2013)Kristi uses fall leaves to teach children about God’s grace,
First Presbyterian Church, Normal (IL)

Big Tent, new mission co-workers being commissionedBig Tent Conference -  
new PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers and their families being commissioned in Louisville (KY)


        3             Miles hiked on the popular Appalachian Trail (AT)

        2             Countries visited (U.S., Mexico)


P1180922 croppedHiking the AT, with brothers Josh and Jeff Bertolet,
and the incorrigible and highly intelligent “Oscar Savage” 

P1180725 Incredible views from the AT, Shenandoah Valley (VA)

Mark Adams and Miriam, Agua Prieta, MexicoWe visited Rev. Mark Adams and his wife Miriam Maldonado Escobar
and their family; they serve as Mission Co-Workers on the U.S./Mexico border

        1             Lost computer cord

        0             Car breakdowns, flat tires, and missed flights    


We keep praising the Lord for keeping us safe in all of our comings and goings!  We were also hosted to countless potlucks, and were blessed by McDonald’s and Panera Bread which we frequented for wireless computer access and mid-trip meals.  We have been blessed to visit so many places, to meet so many people, and to have so many wonderful experiences.  We will return “home” to Congo in January. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Café Justo

In the midst of our travels, we had the opportunity last week to visit fellow mission co-workers Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar and their family living on the U.S./Mexico border. It was so encouraging to be with them and learn more about the significant ministry they have in showing God’s love to people who are passing through that region.

One highlight of our time with Mark and Miriam was a visit to Café Justo, a coffee cooperative that has an office in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Five cooperatives of coffee farmers in the states of Chiapas and Nayarit have come together to form the organization Café Justo (Just Coffee). They harvest, clean, and dry the beans and then ship them up to their roasting and shipping facility in Agua Prieta.

Cafe Justo packing

Cafe Justo with Carmina

We talked with Carmina (second from right in the picture above), who shared her own story. Her father was a coffee farmer in Chiapas, but the income was insufficient to support his family. She came with him to Agua Prieta when she was 16 to find work in a factory. She worked long hours in a factory and she and her husband were able to make a meager income to raise their two children. She joined Café Justo a few years ago fulfilling orders from the Agua Prieta office. Her father has since been able to return to Chiapas and to coffee farming since the formation of the cooperative. She shared that through Café Justo, coffee farmers now have health insurance and pensions. Their children do not need to quit school and leave home to find work at age 16 like she did, because of the increased wages that they earn from their coffee. She got tears in her eyes as she reminisced about her childhood in the village in Chiapas and shared about how Café Justo makes coffee farming a viable occupation again.

Cafe Justo roasting

Pedro (above) demonstrated the roasting process for us. He pours in the beans and monitors the temperature while it roasts the beans and separates the hulls. It was fun to watch the beans transform as they bounced around in clothes-dryer like cycles.

Cafe Justo Daniel

Daniel Cifuentes (on right, in above picture) is the visionary and founder of Café Justo. He also was a farmer in Chiapas, who abandoned his farm for economic reasons. He said that the global price of coffee plunged in the 90’s, so the brokers that bought coffee from the farmers were not paying enough to make growing the coffee worthwhile. Several former coffee farmers from Chiapas were part of his church, and so discussions began with Frontiera de Christo how they could organize the cooperative along a fair trade model. Frontiera de Christo was able to help with a loan to purchase the first roaster and an office in Agua Prieta. When they started, the coffee brokers were paying about $35 for a 100-pound bag of green coffee beans, while the cooperative was able to pay the member-farmers $130. In 2002 when the cooperative formed, Café Justo had a goal of selling just one ton of coffee, but they surpassed four tons in that first year. They have since been able to buy a higher-capacity roaster and add more farmers to their cooperatives. Their goal is that sales will continue to increase so that all the coffee farmers in Chiapas will be able to be members. One of the distinctives of Café Justo in the midst of the fair trade coffee world is that the cooperative owns the whole process – from planting the seeds to the roasting. Incidentally, Daniel is an elder at his church and is currently involved in planting a new church in Agua Prieta!

Café Justo has been hailed as a creative and just solution to the problem of illegal immigration into the U.S. – by helping Mexicans have sustainable jobs in Mexico, they are not driven to emigrating to the U.S. out of desperation. We were inspired to see this example of lives being changed and God’s love being celebrated and shown by the church. Maybe someday something similar could happen in Congo?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Congo Mission Network (CMN)

This year’s Congo Mission Network (CMN) gathering was held in San Antonio (TX), from October 3 – 5th.  CMN is an annual meeting which brings together “Congophils,” those passionate and concerned about ‘all things Congo’.  Kristi and I attended CMN in Cincinnati in 2009 before going to Congo, and attended again this year.  In 2009 we met CMN members for the first time.  This year it felt like a special reunion when we arrived and saw so many familiar faces in the lobby of the Hyatt Place hotel.  Since 2009 we have interacted with many CMN folks via email and during their trips to Kananga and Kinshasa.  Truly, it has been a blessing to get to know CMN members who feel so passionate about this land of Congo which we are growing to love.    

The CMN delegates come from across the country, hailing from churches connected to church partners and ministries in Congo.  Some CMN delegates are former missionaries to Congo, and some are the children of former missionaries.  Other delegates are PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers serving in Congo and PC(USA) World Mission staff coming from Louisville.  Other CMN delegates are Congolese persons who have migrated to the US and are active serving their homeland.  
signage, outside Northwood church (CMN)Welcome sign, Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio (TX)

Bob with two CMN delegates
Bob pictured with two Congolese delegates  
now living in the United States  
What is the goal of CMN and the goal of delegates who attend?  To make a difference in Congo and to connect with each other as communities of mission practice, sharing wisdom, knowledge, and best practices for mission involvement.  This year’s gathering was convened by Mike Clement, a member of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte (NC).  It was hosted by Charles and Melissa Johnson and their church, Northwood Presbyterian of San Antonio.  Around seventy delegates met for two full days.  The featured speaker was Pastor Mboyamba, the Director of Evangelism of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) and the Legal Representative of the CPC for the West Kasai Province, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi.  For one hour Pastor Mboyamba gave a power-point presentation, sharing an overview of Congo and the work of the CPC.  Many delegates expressed appreciation for this overview; some were amazed at the breadth of ministry conducted by one of our Congolese partner churches, the CPC. 

Pastor Mboyamba, context (CMN)Pastor Mboyamba gives an overview to CMN participants 

Different delegates spoke regarding projects they have been involved with.  Charles Johnson shared about the process of creating a movement of compassion, responding to the need for mattresses in CPC hospitals.  Jan Sullivan described the “Technology of Participation” (TOPS) - helping our partners assess their strengths and plan strategically.  As she described the success of inaugurating an all girls school in Kananga, Fay Gratsy impressed upon us the need to keep returning to Congo and keep relationships alive.  Sharing about the value of partnership, Jeff Boyd asked the important question, “Can we hurt the dignity of others by primarily focusing on solving their problems?”  Ruth Brown shared from Mark chapter two, how we are like the four friends bringing the paralytic to Jesus as we come alongside our Congolese sisters and brothers.These are a sampling of voices heard this year at CMN.

Ruth Brown (CMN)Fellow PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker Ruth Brown
shares during one of our meals

While CMN represents a wide array of interests and passions, we are learning to listen to each other and help each other become more faithful and effective.  Too often we work in a vacuum, focusing only upon our area of interest to the exclusion of other ministry concerns.  Mike Clement exploded this fallacy, submitting that “Your ‘baby’ [pet project or passion] can be more powerful if you are more familiar with the whole.”  Regarding the ‘whole’, Pastor Mboyamba states that everything we do has the foundation in our faith in the risen Lord, and that evangelism and sharing the love of Christ should bind all aspects of our work together.  

Mboyamba, evangelism (CMN)Pastor Mboyamba speaks passionately about evangelism in Congo
(Kristi translates)
CMN is a great place to learn more about Congo, and to witness passionate people share passionately about their Congo experiences.  For those who pray for and support our ministry in Congo, we invite you to consider being part of the Congo Mission Network in the coming years.