We finished the first day of the business seminar yesterday. We tried to create an atmosphere that invited dialogue and the exchange of thoughts – all as we were teaching material to them that was completely foreign (in more ways than one – pun fully intended). The dialogue was fascinating. In part, it exposed a mutual distrust between business owners and pastors. The pastors view business owners as less important to God’s kingdom and dishonest. The business owners view the pastors as greedy – only interested in money. No doubt that 1 Timothy 6:10 (“For the love of money …) was intended for this place (as well as America).
It’s hard to describe the feelings of helplessness that have run through my mind this week. The spiritual needs are overwhelming. Physical needs are never far away. We don’t speak French or Swahili. Communication through a translator is difficult. Most everyone in the churches are looking for a handout – from a ballpoint pen to a Bible to money – nothing seems to be enough. Yet we share a common faith in a common Savior. Living, listening and teaching in this environment certainly has expanded my appreciation for the patience, vastness and power of God. I do wonder why He chose people to do the work of building His kingdom.
It’s hard to describe how messed up this place. I say that well aware of my “America is best” bias. It is troubled on so many levels and in such a complex fashion. Take the language. The country has 400 languages, including five official languages. One of the official languages is Swahili. However, in Bukavu, the Swahili is a mixture of French and Swahili. Therefore, there were many times when our Kenyan team member needed help translating things from his “normal” Swahili to the messed up Congolese Swahili. Ugh! No wonder I struggled so much prior to the trip figuring out into what language the material should be translated.
Here’s another example. There are no property leases here. A landlord can kick you out or raise your rent any time. In fact if you choose to improve your rented house or business property too much, the landlord will just raise your rent or kick you out – even though you paid for the improvements. At the end of the day, there is just no rule of law.
On the positive side, I have seen greater development in Bukavu from year to year. The economy seems more vibrant. The country’s potential is huge. There are vast deposits of gold and strategic metals. It would be a great place for tourism. The climate is like California and the beauty is phenomenal. Kenna, one of the members of the team commented today that God has indeed blessed Congo in a physical sense. She is right. It’s beyond sad that the physical blessing hasn’t made a difference in the physical lives of the people.
Despite all of the problems and feelings of hopelessness, I think we are on the right track. We have adopted a “three concentric circle” approach:
- the smallest circle includes a few key individuals – men of peace – we are trying to pour time, energy and resources into these relationships. These people seem to be faithful, available and teachable. We gave one 20 year old student is wise beyond his years a netbook computer. He wanted one to be able to write. I hope to post some of his writing on the blog in the coming year. This young man is of slight build and soft speech, but his words show the great courage of youth and can cut you in two – because they are truth. This man has the potential to be a great leader here. Please pray for him. Interestingly, he is a born again Catholic who was raised in a protestant home.
- the second circle is the two groups that attended the seminars – we taught them to study God’s Word and live it.
- the third circle is the larger groups of people – we spoke in a Bible school last week and will lead a group of pastors in brainstorming this coming Thursday. We are trying to cast a vision of an almighty God who will provide all they need should they surrender to Him and seek Him.
All in all, I believe we have provided encouragement and valuable teaching to some people here. In addition, God has used many experiences to stretch our faith. How often do you get the opportunity to pray that God will control your bowels because bathroom options don’t exist. (Fortunately, three of us were only sick for about 36 hours and it wasn’t too bad. Kenna, the lone woman on the team, proved to be the toughest among us as she did not get sick.)
Please pray that God would cause the seeds that we are scattering, almost blindly, to sprout and grow deep roots.