Well, it has been almost a year since I last wrote you about Congo. Much has happened. In this letter, you will find some great stories that I hope will encourage you and expand your view of God and how He works.
A Quick Summary
- The 9th trip begins on January 25. We need your prayers.
- If you have old laptops or smartphones that still have some life, just reply to this email. Business laptops are great so you might inquire where you work.
- We will be taking more solar powered MP3 players with the Bible in French, Swahili and English. If you would like to “adopt” a Bible recipient by paying for a Bible, praying for the recipient or both, reply to this email or go to our Indiegogo site here. We will put your name on the Bible to let the recipient know that you care for them. (If you already signed up, no need to tell me again.)
- People needs (reply to this email for more details):
- We would like to take some school teachers and administrators on a future trip to explore developing relationships with people at Congolese schools.
- We would like someone to help with a web based strategy for continued training and encouragement of the Congolese entrepreneurs.
- We would like someone to browse the Web for video content that would be inspirational and educational. (If you want to see a great example that we use to inspire creativity and entrepreneurship, see here.)
The Next Trip – Leaving January 25
Ben Ryan, Mike Scheffelin and I will return to Bukavu, DR Congo for the 9th trip.
We will do something different on this trip. Two years ago, we teamed up with an overseer of pastors of Anglican churches. He wanted to put 250 solar powered Bible players in a couple of villages among all types of churches. In the past two years, we have given him 125 players. We will be visiting one village to talk with the pastors about how they have used the players.
On a side note, I always ask my local 24 year old “wise guy” if I can trust people. He said I could trust this man because he works with pastors of different tribes – meaning following Christ is more important to him that tribal affiliation. As usual, my “wise guy’s” wisdom far exceeds his years.
Last January we spent four days training 11 Congolese Young Life volunteer leaders to think differently about what it means to be created in God’s image and to subdue the earth. We showed them that God had designed them to create – and He just may have designed some of them to create businesses. We also taught them the fundamentals of thinking about business. Neither creativity nor business is valued highly in Congo, particularly in the Christian church. We aim to change those views.
During the past year, we had monthly phone calls with this group of leaders. We used these calls to test their commitment and to continue our training and encouragement. Many of them submitted business plans including a store with supplies for nursing mothers, raising pigs, and raising Tilapia.
On this trip, we will be working in small groups and one on one to perfect their plans and assess their commitment to running a business. We hope to coach the group to select 2-3 students to be the “first” entrepreneurs of the group of 11 – think of them as the “most likely to succeed.” Our intent at this point is to loan money to the group which will then loan money to the selected entrepreneurs to start their businesses. When the first entrepreneurs repay the loans to the group, the group will pick the next set of students to start their businesses. With this structure, we are trying to be shrewd. Specifically, we want to take advantage of the strong community orientation that is part of their culture and use the fact that their friends are waiting on loan repayments to start their businesses to create some urgency around sound money management principles and loan repayment (a foreign concept to the local culture). A local leader suggested this approach, but the idea was not warmly received. People in Congo like for everyone to have the same opportunity regardless of ability or commitment. I call it “extreme sharing.” Therefore, they would prefer for everyone to receive a loan to start a business at the same time. This approach does not reflect the reality that some people need more education and training before they can start a business. Unfortunately, the culture of extreme sharing also keeps business owners from repaying debt and saving money for expansion. Ultimately, this culture causes businesses to fail. Extreme sharing and a vibrant business community cannot coexist. (I am defining vibrant business community as a large group of God glorifying businesses that employee others, meet the needs of the community, and serve their customers well. Where would we be without businesses to supply what we want and need to live?)
Why I am Excited – Solomon
The 24 year old wise guy, whom I call Solomon, started two businesses this past year. Solomon serves as our translator and has heard our key messages many times. He may turn out to be our best student! God has given him a natural gift for languages. In the last year, he has started a translation business, complete with a webpage. Join us in praying that God will supply him with many clients. He received his first client two months ago.
Solomon also started a business buying and selling computers. He is not a tech savvy guy so I asked him why he wanted to start a computer business. He said he wanted to help support his family, pay for his education, and meet a need in the community. He also said that God had made him to create (Genesis 1). He developed a creative way to source computers and would sell them to fellow students. This business ran right into the dishonesty that is prevalent in the community. People would buy the computers and then return them a few weeks later because they didn’t work well. Usually that meant that his customers had changed out a good battery for a bad battery – selling the good battery. He told me that he had to take the computer back or people would call him a “robber.” His reputation as an honest man was more important to him than justice or money. I appreciate his desires to help people, to be trustworthy and to provide for his family. May God protect him from evil.
Josh Cox and Mike Scheffelin worked to create a video. You can hear Solomon describe why the work we do fits into what Congo needs. Go here for a one minute video. If you like what you see, you can see the 12 minute video here. (Josh went on our last trip and has spent many hours editing the video that he and Mike shot. Josh is starting his own video production business in Austin. If your company has any video needs, let me know and I will send you his contact information.)
Why I am Excited – Luke
At the end of the last trip, a friend I call Luke came to see us. He lives in a city about three hours away. We met him through a friend of a friend. We think it was arranged by God. He attended two previous trainings. On the June 2013 trip, he wanted us to fund the purchase of a van to begin a bus service. We told him no. With tears in his eyes, he told us that his contract job with an NGO would be up at the end of the month. He said he felt like when his job died, his family would die. He had been looking for another job and had not been able to find one. Our theme for that trip was Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” This verse occurs after a long passage on why Christians need not worry. The verse promises God’s provision of the basics of life for those who are seeking Him. We prayed this verse with Luke and continued to pray. I kept wondering, “But will God really provide for him. How can He do it in a place like Congo?” My faith was weak.
On this past trip, Luke returned with a story. Luke told us that he came to see us to tell us two things.
- You helped me understand that I could start a business. Previously, I never even knew that starting a business was something that I was capable of doing. I thought my only option was looking for a job and there are just not many jobs here.
- You helped me understand that a Christian could be a business owner. (In Congo, pastors do not think highly of business owners; they think of them as thieves.)
Luke is a great example of knowledge having power – especially when that knowledge originates in the Bible and refutes lies prevalent in the community. Luke has been set free from lies. Praise God!
Luke started two businesses. He bought two motorcycles for $3000 and rents them to drivers for $10 per day to use for taxis. He also started a home building business with some friends. Would you pray that Luke would be shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove?
Why I Get Discouraged
People in America ask us if we see progress. My answer: Yes, but you need a microscope to see it. For every Solomon and Luke moving in a positive direction, there are many more moving in a negative direction. People who do not have the courage to try something new. People who will not take God at His word.
And then there is the pace of change. It seems so slow. Agonizingly slow. I like fast. Americans like fast. But the God we serve does not seem to measure in days or weeks. Think of Moses spending 40 years tending sheep. Jesus waited 30 years to start His ministry.
Perhaps I am slow to change as well.
You might pray that the Congolese people would have the courage to take God at His word – that they would be courageous in their thoughts, words and actions.
Thanks for your help!
P.S. If you would ever like to travel with us on a trip, please let me know. Most people think we only take experts. That is not true. We only take people who want to go and see what God wants to do through them. Usually, it is not what they were expecting!