Monday, October 24, 2011

South Congo Recon

This October two friends (Derek and Jake) and I ventured into the Democratic Republic of Congo to form relationships and scout spots for Overland Missions to work in the future. The trip offered abundant blessing, surprise, and connections with great potential to bear fruit in the future.

In all our research and asking advice for this trip we were consistently warned about the aggressive corruption in the Congo, and the potential for plans to go awry amidst a frenzied and unpredictable environment. In fact, all this is true. But even more amazing than the corruption and the aggressive nature of the Congolese was to see God’s divine favor move three naive, language challenged missionaries through every situation with a provision and favor that was nothing less than divine. Every opportunity for things to go wrong- from border crossings, to police check points, to relationship building in the villages, and local transport- proved smooth and enjoyable against all odds. Yes, plans were broken. Yes, most situations were unpredictable, but it seemed that doors opened for us that we neither had to strive for nor could we have planned better.

In total we spent 11 days in the Congo. Seven of those days we spent in Pande village. We entered through the Kasumbalesa border, headed 95 kms to the big city Lumbumbashi, another 100 or so to Likasi, caught another transport to Lwambo and then traveled a short distance to Pande.

We began by greeting the Chief of the Basanga tribe in Lwambo. We met his gregarious wife and family and told them of our plans to work in Pande village. We received their blessing and they allowed us to stay the night on the palace grounds and fed us. Our first ministry opportunity came that afternoon after a soccer game with the local kids. We preached a short message and prayed for anyone who wanted it.

Early the next morning we bargained for a taxi to drop us off in Pande. Through the broken windshield of the taxi we passed green forests and rattled over decently grated red dirt road. We later found out that the road was the main route to Bukavu in the East. Throughout the week we saw truck loads of soldiers careening down the road, armed and lively.

We sat down with the chief in Pande and explained our purpose and vision for being there. Initially, we were told that the village elders were asking that we pay a ‘hospitality’ fee for our stay. We addressed that right away and said that our purpose was to build into the community and develop leaders, and that we only wanted to work in places that sincerely desired the Gospel more than material gain. We could head down the road if they just wanted money. To start off the week like that would set a bad precedent. We didn’t want to become walking village ATMs. They were receptive of the idea and that initial stance to place the Gospel first set the tone for the rest of our time in Pande.

Our first home was an abandoned school house. A thousand kids filled the window frames and packed into the house to see the curious ‘Mzungus’ as we set up camp kits. The pack of kids walked with us past the central market towards the soccer field as we tried to recruit the local guys for an afternoon pick up game. To our astonishment, we found out later that our warm reception of the kids proved a powerful witness. Simply holding hands and smiling at the kids showed the people our intent more than anything we could have preached from the very beginning. Normally, whites and other foreigners just beat the kids and yell at them to back away. The kids met you with a stand-offish air complete with squinted eyes and scowls. Their veneer of skepticism and subtle hostility quickly broke by a simple smile and wave. Big white grins accompanied that uniquely African outpouring of genuine joy and hospitality.

Our first soccer game also proved key in relationship building. That afternoon we joined the local team, JSC (Jeunnesse Sportive pour Cabundo), and over the course of the next three days played three full length games with them and practiced with them every day until we left. It’s amazing how team competition brings people together so quickly. Even though we didn’t speak the same language we worked together with hand motions and basic words. By the end of it we were flowing and covering pretty well as a unit. I fell into my natural defensive-mid role. Jake and Derek played up front. Through the soccer team we were able to meet the police force for the village and a lot of the business men who managed the team. We even had our first cold coke in the team president’s house after a big win against the neighboring village.

Our days fell into routine: mornings were usually low key, playing a lot of ‘square soccer’. Afternoons and evenings were packed. After lunch we held open air meetings where we preached in the center of the village. During those times we had people commit their lives to the Lord. We each felt a burden to simply show Jesus to them through the scriptures. As Paul said, we didn’t come with clever words but simply gave room for the Holy Spirit to move as we shared scripture with them with the intent to glorify God.

After the open air ministry times we trained with the soccer team. After practice we began our night meetings with the pastors. I would say those meetings, more than anything, proved the most fruitful part of our time. Our first Sunday in Pande we split up to go to three different churches. This enabled us to meet many different pastors and see the different churches. From there we spread word that we were going to hold pastors and leaders meetings to learn about the village. In our first meeting 15 different churches attended (Pande is an area of approximately 14,000 people, these churches serving them).

The pastors openly discussed their experiences and struggles, displaying a genuine desire to see the peace of God translated into the hearts of their people. We packed 25 men into a small, hot, muggy sitting room. Through the early evening darkness we explored the scriptures to discuss unity, development, and our primary role as Christians- ministry unto the Lord. Night after night attendance increased and for the first time leaders from different denominations sat together and discussed how best to reach Pande despite theological differences. By the fourth day pastors split into groups of three and four and went hut by hut to minister and pray with families. That was the first time they had ever done something like that.

By the end of our time we helped the pastors to form schedule time of meeting together to share the Word and to do out reach in Pande. There aren’t many places in the world I know of where pastors from every denomination purposefully meet together every week and look for ways to grow the church as a whole, as opposed to expanding their own reputations and weekly attendance. These men in this small village in the south of Congo have that vision and will exalt Christ’s name in their nation.

We ended our time by renting local motor taxis and heading east down Bukavu road for the day. We went 90 kms before one of our little 100cc Bajaj bikes gave out. Discovering that there wasn’t oil in either bike we sent one ahead to the next town to buy oil and hopefully make it back. Jake and I sat silently on the side of the bush road for an hour with our shirts over our head as the Maponey flies and horse flies flew in our ears, eyes, and nostrils and bit every area of exposed skin. It was maddening. I don’t know how early African explorers stayed sane. But it made the day memorable. We drove through forest and flood plains all through lush, green rolling hills. The DR Congo is a beautiful country. We sat in the midst of villagers as they scattered when a truck full of soldiers began fighting (once again I thanked God for the United States and that I grew up in a place where I didn’t have to fear the very people trained to protect me). We swam in a small river with local kids and were told by a man lurking in the shadows that he could show us the “minerals” if we were interested. No thank you sir.

What an amazing trip! Even the smallest details, that we had no hope of planning, worked in our favor. God’s goodness guided us through a place known most for its misery and hopelessness. With God all things are possible. Jesus is the hope of the Congo.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There's Grace Enough

Two months have flown by in a flurry of customs and registration documents. More often than not, I’ve found myself sitting for quiet hours in humid, stale office chairs hoping for miracles. Details and deadlines are the parents of innovation. In this unique time, amazing things have happened. We were able to bring in equipment to drill boreholes for clean water in the villages. In the areas where Overland works villagers have to spend half of their day just to collect water, and at times that comes from contaminated sources. I stood around a muddy hole, pockmarked with hoof prints from cattle, as the local headman showed me where his community retrieved their water for drinking and washing. My time in Africa has made me skeptical of large scale donor funded development, but I’ll toss my full support behind clean water projects. In Burundi I lived in an apartment without electricity, and I couldn’t cook or keep food. I was able to find ways around those issues, but when the water was cut things got desperate quickly. It’s encouraging to know that this technology will offer a measure of reprieve on the harsh living conditions that rural villagers face on a daily basis.

From Caprivi to the Skeleton Coast

To get the drilling equipment my friends Pete, Joe and I embarked on a 3400 kilometer (2100 mile) road trip from Livingstone to Walvis Bay, Namibia and back. Don’t feel too bad for us. Namibia is a diverse and beautiful country. They say when you enter Namibia you leave Africa. This is true if only for the road conditions: flat, straight, and good.
We drove in our 5 ton DAF truck. Due to fuel issues we averaged a stop every 75 kms or so to clean a filter or line. This, as you can imagine, wasn’t ideal. But it added to the trip’s nostalgia. Our drive took us through the famous Caprivi Game Reserve. Herds of elephants and giraffe roam this narrow stretch of Namibia that cuts into Angola from the North and Botswana from the South. It’s true African bush country- sparsely populated and homogenous with its bushes and trees.
From the Caprivi we pressed through small, well kept towns into a more hilly and mountainous area. We were blessed to stay on a 100,000 acre game farm with Pete’s friend Stephan and Anja. Amazing German hospitality afforded us 5 star dinners and breakfasts with hot coffee.
Namibia’s dominant feature is the Namib desert. We drove past (and climbed) the world’s highest sand dunes all the way to the Atlantic coast, my first glimpse of the west coast of Africa. They call this part of Africa 'the Skeleton Coast' for all the ships that have wrecked off it's shores (check wikipedia on that). Surprisingly, temperatures dropped from the 80s and 90s to the 50s and 60s once we arrived on the coast. The coast stays cool and foggy year round. Walvis Bay is the largest port in Namibia because of it’s naturally protected harbor. Just before Walvis Bay we passed through a town straight from the coast of Maine called Swakopmund. Apparently it has the world’s best oysters and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie visit there every year. There you go.
In Walvis, we loaded our equipment after two days and retraced our steps back to Livingstone. On the return trip we had to sleep in our truck at times on the side of the road. I spent a night sleeping on the metal bed of our truck under the tow hitch of a two ton compressor with Joe suspended in a hammock above. TIA.
Through thousands of miles of road and African red tape we arrived back in Livingstone. The process to register the equipment is on going but drilling should commence just days from the time I write this.
Thanks for all the prayers and encouragement these last two months. They’ve been long and trying, but rewarding.
Keep well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Further To

We continue to slug away at this vegetable cooperative here in Zambia. As difficult as it is to accomplish what would be basic tasks in the West, opportunities continue to present themselves that make us press on. I can’t tell you how exciting it is when we look at what can be: a sustainable business venture that offers consistent cash flow for our farmers and their families, advanced Ag training that increases efficiency-allowing them to wholly steward their land, and a culture of servant leadership perpetuated by a hunger for God’s Word.

Every Thursday we meet with our “zone coordinators”. These are the guys who have shown amazing initiative and performed the monumental feat of gathering rural farmers from all over the show and disseminating all things necessary for this business to run. Last Thursday we found out that these four zone coordinators take what they learn from our training sessions and pass it on to 65 other farmers between them all. That’s the Ag training and Bible studies. From this small group of four guys we are able to influence a total of 70 men and women who already hold positions of leadership in their community.

It’s this type of multiplier effect that Jesus had in mind when he poured his time and energy into 12 rag tag youths. He spoke to crowds and spent time with strangers, but he entrusted his disciples with the most important task in human history: to spread the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus himself. And it worked. The core group of disciples that Jesus spent more time with than any other group established the Church. What other body of people has had greater influence in human history? And it all started with a few key individuals and a lot of faith.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us to make “disciples” of all nations. Discipleship is about relationship, and that takes time, patience, and courage. And faith above all else- faith in the power of grace and redemption found in Jesus to transform anyone into a person that loves people like God himself.
So get to it!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Business, Widows, and King Joseph

So, it's winter in Zambia (yes Africa has winter!). The sun is still strong and the days warm up, but by night we huddle around fires with hot tea and try to burrow under wool blankets and sleeping bags in our tents to stay warm. It's great!

May brought two worthwhile stories to share. One is about business. The other is about King Joseph.

Throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks
I've jumped head first into starting a small scale farmers cooperative ( My time in Africa has shown me that long lasting impact comes from local ownership of projects and ideas. The most practical outlet I see for that is in small entrepreneurial initiatives utilizing local resources and local talent. There are a thousand problems and mistakes you'll make but in the end you just have to 'throw something at the wall and see what sticks'.
In our case we started working with vegetable producers because farming is the primary (read only) source of enterprise in rural Africa. Two weeks ago we had a success story.
We drove out for our weekly vegetable pickup from our farmers. As the morning wore on with weighing and writing receipts and negotiations I noticed a quiet woman waiting patiently with her produce. After her veg was weighed she came up to me with her receipt in hand for payment. It wasn't a large amount but it was something. I asked her to sign her copy of the receipt but she just stared back at me. The guy next to her told me that she could not read or write. So she just signed an X on the line. Then it hit me. Here was an illiterate woman coming by herself to sell her produce. That day all of the farmers were male except for her. It turns out that she was a widow and had children to support. So here was a woman who had little or no means of supporting herself or her family but found an opportunity with this cooperative!
It was a highlight. We've worked hand in hand with our Zambian farmers and management staff to create something that is giving previously non existent opportunities to rural villagers. We haven't relied on handouts, but through persistent collaboration have started a momentum for something that will last far longer than we'll be around.
And working in this cooperative is an open door into these farmers lives. They've never had anyone come out and take such vested interest in the things that are so close to their survival. Through these relationships (it's all about relationship everywhere, not just Africa) we've been able to share practical farming knowledge and impress on them that spiritual enrichment is infinitely more important than enriching their bank account. We share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them and pray for them and their families.
I came to Africa for this reason. There is nothing more exciting than working with people from another culture and language to create positive lasting change.

Wisdom from Abe

The last two weeks of May I taught a course on Christian character development to our AMT class. My favorite verse we looked at in the course was from the story of Joseph in Genesis 45:7-8: And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
In this scene, Joseph is speaking to his brothers who have traveled from their homeland because of a great famine. His brothers sold him into slavery 13 years prior. In that time Joseph endured incredible misery as a slave and prisoner but ultimately rose to the highest position in Egypt, the most powerful empire on earth at that time. His brothers are literally kneeling before him in a position of great weakness and vulnerability.
But what did Joseph do? Did he use his great power and authority to take vengeance? Just the opposite. He acknowledges God's gracious and loving hand on his life. Even through such great trials he knew God was with him for a specific purpose. So, he uses his authority to help them and then rebuilds the severed relationship in the family.
This is what Jesus did! He had all the power and authority in the universe but used that position to serve and love others instead of demanding what was rightfully his. The Kingdom of Heaven is upside down and reverse like that. It says that the greater the level of influence and authority the greater the responsibility to serve and sacrifice.
Abraham Lincoln said that most men can endure adversity but if you want to see his character give him power. Jesus set the example for us all to follow.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Love Doesn't Quit

Back in Zambia! Check out this radical story from the villages!

We traveled to a womens bible study in a far corner of Mukuni Chiefdom. An old Mango tree offered shade on the banks of a lazy stream as the small group of women slowly arrived with their children. We discussed the topic Christy prepared to share: a simple message of God’s love and affection for us. The meeting opened with the women sharing stories of God’s hand in their lives over the rainy season. As the women’s stories filtered through our translator one woman in particular shared a story that humbled us all.

She said that she had been through a divorce and in the ensuing arguments the husband forcibly took their daughter with him to live in town. The mother searched and inquired after the daughter. After the mother located the girl in town the father moved the child again, this time dropping the daughter off in a strange village a three hour drive from Livingstone. He left the girl with these strangers by telling them that her mother was dead.

Months passed and the Mother did not give up searching for her little girl. She asked local neighbors and walked hours into Livingstone to pin down any information about where her daughter might be. Finally she found her. Without money for bus fare or any means of transportation the mom walked four days in one direction and found the village where her daughter was abandoned. Mom found her little girl abused, weak, and scared, but she brought her back home.

And as the mom sat next to her little treasure, her girl, telling this story it was such a perfect picture of the Father’s heart for us; love at all costs, sacrifice for relationship, a desire to rescue from danger and heal all hurts. In the Gospels Jesus shares a parable of a shepherd leaving his flock and searching for his one lost sheep. Jesus did that for us on the cross. He gave the ultimate sacrifice to be in relationship with us like the mom sacrificed to be with her daughter. His love doesn’t stop searching for you no matter where you are in life or what situation you find yourself in. He wants to save you and love you and heal you.

The picture is of the girl while her mom was telling the story.