Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Stuff

In the midst of our multiple recent moves and transitions I’ve been thinking a lot about possessions. After more than a year in the U.S., we packed up to return to Africa. I struggle every time we go “across the pond” with the tension of wanting to ‘pack light’ and not have too much stuff, versus wanting to have some of those things that will make life easier or which we can not get in Africa—like a bar of chocolate, a fun movie, or enough vitamin C. Most of our possessions had been left in our apartment in Kananga, because we anticipated returning there to continue working. In the process of moving to South Sudan, we anticipated returning to Kananga to say good-bye and collect some of our things. But because of current insecurity around Kananga, we had to plan for the contingency that we might have to cancel those plans at the last minute. Packing felt particularly challenging to me, wanting to bring enough to ‘survive’ if we could not go to Kananga, but also not bringing much since we anticipated getting most of our clothes, books, and other things from Kananga to take to South Sudan.

In the midst of our preparations, we heard from a few colleagues who had been evacuated from South Sudan during times of insecurity wihtin the last 5 years or so…at least two of those colleagues lost everything in the upheaval. They left their homes with a backpack and never returned. One warned us not to take anything to South Sudan that we did not want to lose. But, at the same time, we want to feel ‘at home’ in Juba and settle in there. So how to pack??

Just before we left the U.S. in April, I started reading the book Missions and Money, which explores the issue of ‘affluence’ in the Western missionary movement. Our Western culture is significantly more affluent than the countries we are sent to, especially those that Bob and I have found ourselves in. I am challenged and convicted by reflections from both westerners and Africans about the gulf that can exist between us because of our western sense of self-sufficiency, the value we place on privacy and private ownership, and our abundance of ‘stuff’ that we are so attached to. How can we preach Jesus’ gospel - ‘good news for the poor’—if we are clinging to our Western comforts? And truly, in our personal experience, one of the hardest aspects of living in a country like Congo is being confronted with the struggles of poverty in the people we relate to on a daily basis.

We gave our map of the tribes of Congo (a treasured
posession!) to Pastor Mboyamba’s family

When we arrived in Kananga, I was grateful to see everything in our apartment still there, safe and sound. We collected books – some that have been so useful or insightful to us that they feel like old friends. But at the same time we realized that most of what we found in our house, we could live without, or we could buy another in Juba. We started making piles of clothes, books, kitchen supplies, linens, and other things to give away. We had joked before that our apartment was almost like a museum of local paintings and carved figures—so we picked just a few pieces as momentos and piled up the rest to let our friends choose from. As Bob described in his post about Kananga, whenever friends came to see us and say good-bye, we invited them to take something. Some would ask for something specific – a basin, a radio, a skirt, or a picture of us. It was a little scary for me at first, inviting people to take whatever they wanted, but also very liberating. One friend in Kananga joked that you never realize how much stuff you have until you have to move! We gave away nearly half of our clothes and books, and even with the remaining, it felt like we had too much. Finally, we squeezed our stuff into five suitcases – two of them just for books—and took off from Kananga.

Donating some books to UPRECO, the seminary in Kananga

Our baggage as we leave Kinshasa for Juba

We landed in Juba last week with 6 suitcases, and found two there which had been brought previously by our very kind colleagues. A lot of stuff can fit into 8 suitcases! We unpacked, and are settling in to our very nice and modern furnished apartment here in Juba. And now I find myself constantly adding to a mental list of things we need – a frying pan, bowls, tupperware…and of course shelves and baskets to put all the stuff into! I’m trying hard to take it slow and try to get by with less, even if it means washing dishes after every meal or not having exactly the right utinsel. But mostly, I am grateful for this upheaval and long period of transition that has helped me realize how little is really essential, and the value of focusing on relationships and memories that last forever.

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:34)

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Returning Home and Saying Farewell


For the last seven years Kristi and I have made our home in the city of Kananga in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  For the last seven days we have been in Kananga, spending almost every waking hour either sitting with people we have grown to love or stripping down everything in our apartment that has made it our home.  Today our bodies and our emotions are weary.

On our first full day back we went to visit the grave site of Rev. Dr. Mulumba Musumba Mukundi, who served as the General Secretary of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) for the past twenty plus years.  Standing over his grave and praying felt like the end of an era.  Mixed with the morose feeling of loss and death were feelings of excitement and new life as we saw one of the graduates of the Ditekemena program for street children who came to greet us at Dr. Mulumba’s grave.  He and his sister are living with their grandmother in a new house built by the program and are worshipping regularly at a local church.  Because Dr. Mulumba has been buried at Ndesha Mission where he served as rector of the University of Sheppards and Lapsley (UPRECO), we were able to give away some books to the school and in doing so were able to spend some time with first year theology students, representatives of the future of the church in Congo.  It was a gift to sit with them, to see their bright faces and to hear briefly about their lives.   


At Dr. Mulumba’s grave with Pastor Tshipamba

When we arrived in Kananga we promptly informed friends and former colleagues of our presence.  While we only had time to visit a few friends in their homes, most of our time was spend hosting people in our home as we made coffee/tea and made regular runs to buy bottled water, peanuts and bananas to host our guests.  People came in and out of our home during the morning hours or in the afternoon.  We made spending time with people a priority, using hours in the evening and when we had a break during the day to pack up.  Kristi and I guessed the other day that probably an average of 30 people came to see us on most days.  While having so many guests could have been simply overwhelming, somehow God gave us the energy and ability to sit and visit with so many folks who have built rooms in our hearts over the last seven years.  In Kasaian culture, people often ask for something to remember you by when you part ways, so we invited everyone who came to see us to choose something from our house to take as a momento. After watching several people walk out with sacks full of stuff, I commented that perhaps this is how the Egyptians felt, being plundered before the exodus of the Hebrews.  We allowed ourselves to be pillaged in the Name of Jesus!    

DSCN0868
Visiting the family of Pastor Mboyamba

DSCN0831
We enjoyed hosting waves of visitors almost every day

The general response from most was excitement and surprise to see us, but then shock and dismay to learn that we would be leaving them.  While we have had time to process this change over the last few months, for most of our Congolese friends it was something new.  One pastor in Kananga had heard through their sister church in the US the news that we would not be returning to live and serve in Congo.  When I called him and told him that we were in Kananga, he was ecstatic.  I remember seeing his face light up across the room when I saw him in our home.  When we then explained to him and others the news that we would be leaving, his enthusiasm faded.  However, being a wise and discerning man, he and I then had a fruitful and affirming conversation about our life of discipleship and how God often takes us down paths unexpected but necessary. 


Tatu Willy and Mamu Monica and their three young children

DSCN0875
Kristi with Luse Kristi, her “shakena” or namesake, daughter of
Pastor Manyayi and Mamu Biabanya

A couple of conversations and meetings were particularly rough.  One such conversation was with Tatu Sammy, a retired driver for CPC with whom Kristi and I have developed a close bond over the years, travelling all over the Kasai region together.  Sammy sat alone with me in our living room thunderstruck, as if his whole world had been turned upside down.  His tears and lament were palpable; all I could do was sit silently with him in his pain and consternation.  Later that day he came by again and he couldn’t even bear to come inside. Sammy joined a few others who made the final trip to the airport with us yesterday, a ride drenched with immediacy and poignancy.

As we shared our news, we also listened to the news of our friends.  The major theme of what we heard was the insecurity and destruction of human life in Kananga and in the Kasai region.  One whole section of the city has become a ghost town, save the presence of soldiers.  This commune, called Nganza, is wedged between Kananga and the village of Tshikaji.  Government soldiers have sought out militia members in this area, but according to everyone we spoke with, they have killed indiscriminately, taking the lives of innocent men, women and children.  The grisly descriptions we heard were traumatizing.  Other sections of Kananga have been hard hit as well.  Our friend Pastor Manyayi and his family have taken in three extra children in their small home.  The parents of these children are missing.  The story is that the parents fled into the forest, but I wonder if the sad reality is that they will never be returning.  Pastor Mukendi and Mamu Helen, two close friends, have welcomed many into their home which has become like a refugee camp.  Young people are being targeted as members of the growing militia.  People fear for the lives of their children.  The government is showing no quarter.  During most nights during our visit we heard gunshots.  We also heard stories the following morning.  The day we left we saw four huge trucks filled with government soldiers driving into town, a foreboding image of what may lie ahead for those we love in Kananga.  I felt so grieved and angry watching the soldiers in these trucks arrogantly parading power and veiled terror, wanting to do something but feeling paralyzed and helpless.          

We knew that our time in Kananga would be good for us and those we saw, but also difficult.  It has given us and our friends and former colleagues the chance to saw “farewell for now.”  It has allowed us to share the depth of feeling we have for each other.  It has allowed us to pray together, break bread together, laugh, cry and fellowship together.  It has reminded us that life can feel capricious and uncertain, yet our faith buoys us as we have the hope of Christ in us, a hope which sustains us and gives us assurance that our our partings are truly only a ‘farewell for now’, that we will see each other again someday, either in this world or in the world to come.  Thanks be to God. 

Lord, bless and protect our dear friends in Kananga.     

Friday, April 28, 2017

Refreshed

We just completed a truly amazing week in Rwanda, and feel refreshed, encouraged, and excited for our next steps. Nearly 50 other mission-coworkers serving in Africa gathered in Rwanda for this conference, along with several of our mission leadership staff based in the US. As you can imagine, the fellowship of people with similar experiences and passions is particularly sweet – and throw in the Holy Spirit and our connection as God’s children, and that made for a uniquely powerful time together.

Kibuye breakfast
Breakfast with colleague, overlooking Lake Kvu

The conference happened to be in Kibuye, a town in Rwanda that is right on Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu is dramatically beautiful, with hills along the shore, islands dotting the horizon, and a lush green landscape where bright flowers and birds are plentiful. Fishermen in large dugout canoes sing together as they head out onto the lake at night. In 2003, Bob and I first met at another gathering on Lake Kivu, so it was particularly meaningful to return after so many years.

Loving the view of Lake Kivu!

The week started by visiting the genocide memorial in Kigali, which walked us through the tragic and horrible cataclysm that was the genocide in Rwanda. Each day after that, we heard from a Rwandan church leader about their process of healing and recovering from the genocide, starting with the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda’s confession in 1996 of their failure to be a prophetic voice speaking out against injustice and genocide ideology. One of the most tragic aspects of the geneocide was that massacres happened in the very places where people expected to find sanctuary – in churches, schools, and stadiums. You can imagine how hard it would be for someone whose family members were killed in a church to return to the church to worship, with all of the memories and trauma that experience includes. This is why one of the msot poignant moments in the week was hearing from a few members of a reconciliation group called Umucyo (light). Pastor Jerome was sent to Zambia to be trained in reconcilliation and conflict resolution. He returned to Rwanda, and realized the deep trauma and fear that many members of his congregation were experiencing. Many had lost spouses, children, parents, or close friends, and their homes and livelihoods had been destroyed. At the same time, around 2008, people who were in prison for participating in the genocide were going through a community judicial process – those who confessed their crimes were allowed to return home to their communities. Pastor Jerome gathered both survivors and perpetrators together, and helped them to gradually find healing, forgive, and be willing to pursue reconciliation. We heard from one woman, whose husband and 5 children were killed in the genocide. She shared how traumatized and immobilized she was for years after the genocide. Yet becaue of her participation in the light group, she has been able to forgive individuals who killed people during the genocide, to the point that she can socialize and appreciate other members of the group who were perpetrators. Seeing the evidence of that before our very eyes was powerful – a true miracle.

Testimonies in rwanda - AnastasieAnastasie shares her testimony

We also spent time getting to know our new colleagues who are based in South Sudan. We have a lot of respect for these fellow-mission co-workers who have walked with the South Sudanese in spite of long years of instability and conflict there. Most of them have been evacuated at some point from their homes in South Sudan because of conflict in recent years. Yet, they return and continue to be present and continue in partnership with the church in South Sudan. Over meals, we talked and laughed and continued to anticipate jumping into life in Juba in a few weeks and building relationships with our new South Sudanese collleagues.

After this week of refreshment and inspiration in Rwanda, we continue our journey of transition by going to Kananga. We look forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues – important links in the chain of our life and experience on this amazing continent of Africa.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Wilderness Within


I entered this essay on wilderness into a contest for the Christian Century two months ago.  Some of the images and metaphors are inspired by the late poet and philosopher John O’Donahue in his seminal work, Anam Cara.  

We hadn’t planned to do such a long hike. We were just excited to be in the wilderness of Yosemite for a couple of days in November. Yet when I overheard the Park Ranger describe to a couple of chaps the fourteen mile hike up Vernal Falls, and then up Nevada Falls, then hiking above and crossing over on the Panorama Trail, marching up to Glacier Point, and then blazing down to the valley floor on the Four Mile Trail, my curiosity was piqued. We approached the elder statesman of our national parks, and, with a twinkle in his eye, he gave us the same recommendation. He sized us up, “Yah, you’ll make it, but you sure as hell will be tired and sore afterwards. This is the type of hike you want to go and discuss doing over pizza n’ beer. If you do it, it’ll remain in the family annals forever.” My wife Kristi and I went outside and sat under the glare of the mid-day sun. “So, what do ya think?” we asked each other. It certainly wasn’t the relaxed jaunt we anticipated, but there was something captivating about the ranger’s recommendation. We felt we could do it, but we also knew it would be a stretch. The decision was made.

The following morning we arose before sunrise. It was thirty five degrees out, so we outfitted ourselves with long underwear, jackets and stocking caps. Along with our lunch, we packed lighter clothes, knowing that the temperatures would climb into the seventies. Crossing a river, we headed up towards the falls. Like a giant monolith, Glacier Point towered above us. I crooked my neck to see the top of the precipice. The trail going up and up and up was heavy underfoot with large stones. The morning was gray and bleak and cold. The silence and grandeur were palpable. Our bodies were miniature in scale compared to the vastness of the wilderness surrounding us. It felt like we were the protagonists in a Lord of the Rings movie, moving towards some enchanted land. The undulating, sometimes unsure path maneuvered us hither and to, across rivers and up waterfalls. Finally we reached a high haven where the glory of Half Dome spoke majesty to us. The trail delivered us over and down, across, and, was it true? Up another mountain? Yes, it was true! We soldiered on, walking like persons half dead, drinking in the beauty, begging our bodies forward to the pinnacle of the day’s adventure. Finally, atop Glacier Point, our beat-up bodies radiated sheer glory. We found rest in this holy habitation, looking down on all that we had covered, enjoying a moment of sublime ecstasy. After a fine rest, we sallied gaily down the mountain. After an eternity of switch backs, we returned to the valley floor, where, returning to our digs, we did enjoy a pizza and a beer. We did it, and yes we were tired and sore.

Often, wilderness takes us “out there.” We take a hike. We sit on a rock. We backpack through wild and uninhabited regions. We breathe in the thin, untainted air. We sit under a two hundred year old tree. We feel small, yet alive, broadened. These are the hallmarks of the external journey. But another wilderness journey beckons us. It is far more grueling, demanding so much more. Feeling unforgiving and inhospitable at times, this journey delivers us home. It is the journey to the wilderness within, filled with rocky crags of hurt and disappointment, with giant monoliths of pain, but also covered with cool streams and green pastures of hope and healing. This journey is not one of bagging or conquering. It is subtle, disarming, beckoning us to come and look, as the flaming bush brought exiled Moses to I AM. Actually, this journey requires patience with self, a touch of gentle, loving care. Strength is found through solitude, in the wilderness within, in this journey home. It is the journey of the soul, and it is the journey we do well to take. In our nurtured souls we find shelter, as we take the time to be, as we become acquainted with our true selves. Inside of us resides a world unknown. Looking into the eyes of a stranger, a friend, or a loved one, we look into a world we cannot fathom. Often, we are a stranger even to ourselves. Our fragmented lives bury shards of pain unuttered, memories unspoken, incidents of shame, relationships distressed, and a weightiness of heart which overwhelms. There appears no path home. There is no peace. Joy is ever elusive.

Our Yosemite adventure last year was sandwiched by two heart-wrenching blows. Before, was a failed and final fertility attempt. “Why, O God, do you stand so far off? Why are we left out, while others are brought in?” The sharp daggers of disappointment dug deep. After, and most recent, we found ourselves on an island of uncertainty, standing before a closed door. Stripped of agency, we could only pray and wait.  I found myself puzzled and panged, which is why I packed my bag and took the hike into the wilderness within, the wilderness of the soul. On this solitary journey I found mountains and crooky crags, longings unfilled and hopes dashed, but I also found the sweetness of silver streams of grace mingled with golden, glorious rest. Reflection, solitude, diving deep within, here is where I make a friend with myself again. Here is where the Holy One sets out the linen, prepares the table. I just stop, sit, and listen. At the end of the day, it is the wilderness within, the journey I take in, back, to my Faithful Friend. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Last Hurrah

One of our favorite things is getting out into nature, and if it happens to be at one of the iconic natural wonders in our national parks, well, that is an opportunity not to be missed! For that reason, when we recently had to travel from California to Illinois, we opted to go by train and stop off in the Grand Canyon on the way. We made our plans and reservations with just two weeks notice (not recommended during spring break season!), and were grateful for God’s provision of this refreshing and inspiring experience soaking in the beauty of God’s creation before our 3 weeks of flurried preparations to move to South Sudan!

We got off the Amtrak train (at about 4AM) in Williams, AZ, and took the historic Grand Canyon Railway up to the Grand Canyon. We wandered along the rim at sunset, marveling at the variety of colors of the rocks and the way that each new spot presented a different landscape and a new persepctive on the spires, canyons, and cliffs within the vast space that is the Grand canyon. We had not realized that the canyon is more than 250 miles long, 10 miles across, and 1 mile deep—that’s big!

06-IMG_3523

On our second day, we took a hike down into the canyon on the South Kaibob trail. We met a couple of men on the shuttle who were backpacking – taking the South Kaibob trail all the way across to the North Rim (over 2 days), and then coming back again. We were inspired, and set the goal of someday hiking all the way across ourselves. One of these backpackers told us his favorite view of the canyon is from the bottom – and truly you can see more depth and appreciate the vastness of it from down inside it. But not this time! Just a couple miles down for us, and then we turned around the start the endless climb back up to the rim.

18-DSCN064319-DSCN0648

 

22-DSCN066123-DSCN0664

Pictures from the hike – on the lower right photo, do you see the people? There are switchbacks all the way up the cliff, and you can see people on the path on almost every level if you look close!

Our final day at the canyon, we had the privilege of watching some Native Americans performing traditional dances and singing songs in their language. This happened to be the first weekend of the year that they were doing it! A real highlight, especially right at the edge of the Grand Canyon, which has been such a significant historical place for some of these tribes.

30-DSCN0715

And then we got back on the train, to return to Williams, and then rejoin the Amtrak at four o’clock in the morning again as it headed east. We did not have a sleeper car, but the coach seats work OK for us as long as you are only on the train for one night at a time. The seats are wider than airline seats, with more legroom (and therefore the seats can recline more) and there is a leg-rest that extends the seat—so it is rather comortable. We also spent lots of time in the lounge car, enjoying the big overhead windows and interaction with other people. We even got some work done and figured out how to create a hotspot with our phone!

Bob in lounge car

A great trip – so nice to have that time on the train to slowly transition back to Illinois and the busy pace of our preparations to leave. We are becoming big fans of train travel – if you are planning to try it and want any tips, let us know!

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.

image

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”.

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