Two things right up front:
It’s been a very long time since I have written, but we have been working diligently since our last trip in January 2016 to love our neighbors in the city of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This email will update you on three important initiatives. If you read nothing else, read Solomon’s report on people’s response to the audio Bibles. What a fun and interesting read! The perspective is refreshing and a great reminder for us.
Mike Scheffelin and I were scheduled to be in Bukavu in October. Sadly, we had to cancel the trip due to the declining health of Pat’s mother. She passed away on October 18. She was a wonderful woman who epitomized grace.
Ivan Giraldo, Mike and I have rescheduled the trip for February 6 – 20, 2018.
Three Concentric Circles
When I think about how we engage in the Congo, I think of three concentric circles. Frankly, it is a model that we stole from Jesus.
The Broadest Circle. We cast vision to everyone we meet and every group to whom we speak. We speak of four principles from Genesis 1-3. We speak of Matthew 6:33. We encourage people to see Jesus as a personal and powerful provider for His people.
On this next trip, we will exhort people to be trustworthy using the Proverbs 3:5-6. The lack of trust in a society increases the cost and stress of living. Think about the stress of life if you could not trust most people that you encounter: neighbors, friends, government officials, doctors, police, lawyers, pastors, teachers, pharmacists, and merchants. When dealing with these people, you learn to expect that they will rip you off. Why? Because they are living in desperate situations. It probably wasn’t much different in the time when Jesus lived. That reality made Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” so radical. That commandment is just as radical in the Congo. Desperate circumstances make loving your neighbor appear impossible. It is only through faith in Jesus as a personal and powerful provider for His people that living in obedience to that commandment is possible.
The Middle Circle. We train people in business, in video storytelling, in leadership, and in using the Bible in ministry. The focus here is depth of understanding and in the “students” applying the principles that we teach.
During the February 2018 trip, we will train pastors in some outlying villages to use the solar powered MP3 players with the Bible in French, Swahili and English in their ministry. We want people listening to the Bible to understand that Jesus is a personal and powerful provider for His people and to understand the value of obedience.
The Inner Circle. We spend most of our time with a few people – people that we believe God has directed us to encourage in their areas of giftedness. See Personal Ministry below.
We pray that God will transform the people and the city of Bukavu and surrounding areas. With that goal in mind, we know that God works through people. Whereas our hope and prayers are large, our focus is small. We spend the most time with a handful of individuals – leaders of leaders. Our plan is simple: We love them. More specifically, we love them by:
- casting vision of Jesus as a personal and powerful provider for His people;
- encouraging them to lead in a way that is consistent with God’s design;
- exposing them to new possibilities and encouraging experimentation; and
- providing them with items that they cannot get easily in the Congo (e.g. books through a Kindle)
Solomon and I speak by Skype most Thursday mornings. God is working is Solomon’s life. It is exciting to watch. We met Solomon on our second trip and he serves as our translator and cultural adviser.
God uses us to encourage Solomon to greater faith and greater works. I think of Solomon as a freak. He is so different from the culture around him. He has a quiet strength. Solomon continues to blog to raise awareness of the nature of life in the Congo – particularly life for girls and women. Because of his blogging, his website, and his listing as a contractor on www.upwork.com, he has had several opportunities to work on a contract basis during the past year. We praise God for providing him with these opportunities. We hope and pray that he will be a model for others. Unlike many in the Congo, he is willing to share his experiences with others. He recognizes that the provision is from God; therefore, he knows that he does not need to hide his methods from others. (Many people in the Congo “hide” knowledge.)
Once I asked Solomon if he gets discouraged by life in the Congo (government issues, lack of infrastructure, corruption, lack of trust, etc.). If it were me, I would be frustrated and discouraged. Solomon told me that he does not get discouraged. When I asked why not, he told me:
- I read a lot. It helps me be optimistic.
- It helps to have you as a friend.
- I listen to the Bible and take time to pray.
- I watch the way my mom works, and it gives me hope. My mom is my role model; I want to work as hard as she does.
Paul is another leader of leaders. He started a church in Bukavu, and I speak every other Thursday about a broad range of subjects – including politics, church issues, the Bible, prayer, creating change, business consulting, and leadership principles. Paul has a passion for leadership. With our encouragement, Paul started a leadership development group in January 2016. We sponsored a retreat for the first group of leaders during that trip. Paul and we developed a one-year leadership curriculum. We provide Kindles loaded with books in French. Paul leads and trains the leaders. We pray that God would use these leaders to build His kingdom and make life in Bukavu a little more like life in heaven (Matthew 6:10)
In the US, business owners learn that most things in business take twice as long as expected. In the Congo, progress in business takes even longer even though the needs are more urgent. In the US, the extra time results from rigorous competition. In the Congo, the extra time results from the lack of dependable infrastructure (water, electricity, banking, and roads), the lack of trust in society, the lack of enforceable contracts, the lack of the rule of law, and government taxation (340% of pre-tax income – that is not a typo).
Moreover, we have discovered that most of the people that we train (the middle circle above) want to be business owners, but they do not want to work in their business. As you can imagine, an owner not wanting to work in a business that is just starting is a big problem.
As an American with a sense of urgency, I find the lack of progress extremely frustrating.
In our business training, we have shifted strategies. We started a private Facebook group called Africa Mupya (Swahili for a “new” Africa). Using Facebook, we advertise to young people living in or near Bukavu to join the group. We intend to use the group to cast vision (the broadest circle), assign “homework” and evaluate the ambitions of the members. We intend to train the people in business who prove faithful.
The Bible distribution effort has always been our greatest hope for change. To many, encouraging the very poor to listen to the Bible seems like a disconnect between the problem and a solution. Here’s the connection:
- John 10:10 says, “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy. I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
- John 8:31-32 says, “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’”
- Most Congolese people profess to be Christians, but they are not living the abundant life. Evidence abounds of the thief (Satan) stealing, killing and destroying.
- Satan is a deceiver; many Congolese people, because they do not know the truth, believe Satan’s lies. (Just to be clear, Americans believe lies also; many of the lies are different though.)
- The belief of those lies creates and extends poverty through both actions and inaction. (It’s not the only reason for the poverty, but it may be the dominant reason. How else can one explain why the Congo is simultaneously one of the richest (natural resources) and poorest (per capita income) countries in the world?)
- The Bible shines light on lies and deception and proclaims the truth. The Bible explains how life ought to be and how we ought to live.
There’s a lot of thought and theology in those few sentences. I suspect that some of you will find those ideas interesting and others will find them objectionable. Either way, if you would like to discuss further or reason together, please contact me.
Now for the fun part.
On our last trip, we took more Bibles (solar powered MP3 players with the Bible in French and Swahili) than we have ever taken – 500. Most of those Bibles went to a series of villages between Bukavu and Uvira, a city that has been in the news recently for the wrong reasons.
One of our friends, John, oversees Anglican churches in the area. He has good relationships with all of the churches.
Solomon and John visited the area to gather some information about their use and the impact they have had on people.
There was some bad news. Some of the players had “broken” because some people (family members) stole the MicroSD card from the players to erase and use in a cell phone. The cards are difficult to remove and they were removed in such a way to disguise the fact that they had been removed – making it look like the players had broken. We are working on a few strategies to minimize that issue in the future.
Now for the good news.
I asked Solomon to describe what he heard when he asked people about the Bibles. Here’s his report (unedited).
Report on the use of the bibles by Solomon
During our stay there, we visited three different villages where the bibles were distributed.
In all what we did, we invited God and really acted.
First, we worked in Luvungi. There we met two different groups. We gathered the first group at John’s house. That group was composed of 12 people among which three pastors, three evangelists and six Christians from different denominations.
We gathered also the second group in Luvungi in the chapel of militaries. This group was composed of 16 people whose 7 women and 9 men. Among the men, two are pastors, one is an evangelist and the rest are militaries. The 7 women are all the wives of militaries.
Among the 9 men, only one is not a military, all the rest are militaries including the two pastors.
We gathered the third group in Sange. The group was composed of 13 people whose 9 women and 4 boys. Among the boys there were one pastor and one evangelist.
We gathered the last group in Kiugama. The group was composed of more than 30 people. Among the 30 people there were three pastors, two evangelists, singers, children and other members of the church.
Questions we asked them:
1. How do you define the word of God?
Answers they gave:
- The word of God is a medicine for the hearts;
- The word of God is God among us;
- The word of God is a set of solutions for us as Christians, especially when we are going through terrible trials;
- The word of God is a comfort for us;
- The word of God is a wealth for us Christians.
2. Do people here listen to the word of God?
Answers they gave:
- Yes, people do listen to the word of God. People are happy with the bible player because it works even for people who cannot read, it works even when there is no light and it does not take our time because we can listen to it while working in the market, in the farm as well as at home.
3. If so, how is this word of God changing people lives here?
Answers they gave:
- It has changed me because now I take time to pray, a thing I used not to do before;
- I learned how to forgive. Before, I used to get one’s revenge;
- Now I preach to my neighbors so that they can get to know how big God is;
- My friend used to drink a lot of alcohol, but since he started to come at home to listen to the bible with me, he decided to stop drinking;
- A man in my village accepted Jesus thanks to that bible. After being baptized he decided to start his own church;
- A friend I listen to the bible to with has just accepted Jesus and he is now studying to become a pastor;
- Some people who listened to my bible decided to turn their back to drunkenness;
- It gathers families to pray together. When families are meeting to pray together they get reunited;
- So many families just used to pray without listening to the word of God, now, thanks to the bibles player, families are praying after listening to the word of God;
- It gathers people from different denominations to listen together;
- Some people who used not to go to church are now going;
- When you have started to listen you do not want to stop. It catches our attention;
- It is changing our behaviors. When neighbors realize that, they start to trust us;
- So many youth are now marrying only one wife instead of two or three;
- It brings peace between couples because they become faithful to each other;
- We take it to the militaries who cannot come to church because they are on duties. It is making them new people, meaning they do no longer smoke drug nor steal from people;
- It is helping couples to live longer faithfully;
- I am using it to preach Muslim militaries, especially Galatians 4;
- When we get sick, we no longer go to consult the witches, we just call God and he acts;
- Now I am closer to God because of listening to the bible;
- When a war arises and that we are sent to fight, we trust God and he protects us because so many friends always pass away in such times;
- We Christian militaries are different from other militaries who do not know God: we Christians have good relationships with our chiefs and our peers. This even causes other militaries to come to Jesus.
- We Christian soldiers are not as violent as Muslim soldiers;
4. How often do you listen to the bible? Is there a certain program you follow?
Answers they gave:
- We got a program according to which every three families should gather once a week to listen to the bible, we did it just once;
- We did it just once;
- My neighbor used to come at home to listen with me, now he stopped. I do not know what caused him to stop;
- I entrust it to my friends to take it home to listen to it with their families;
- I have a group of five people with whom I listen to the bible;
- I listen to the bible every morning and every evening because I pray at those times;
- I listen to the bible every day because I work in a place where there is no much noise;
- I listen to the bible every evening because at that time I am off work;
5. What book do you prefer to listen to and why?
Answers they gave:
- I prefer to listen to the book of Mathieu because it has much wisdom;
- I prefer to listen to John because it strengthen my face;
- I prefer to listen to Mathieu 6 because it brings comfort to me;
- I prefer to listen to Luke because he was a medical doctor like me;
- I prefer to listen to acts because there they talk much about how to receive the Holy Spirit;
- I prefer to listen to last chapters of Mathieu because they talk about the last times;
- I prefer to listen to Mathieu, Acts and Timothy. Mathieu 7 says: ask you will receive and seek you will find;
- I prefer to listen to Timothy 3 because it describes a good servant;
- I prefer to listen to the book of Luke 3:14 because it talks about militaries and I am a military;
6. Is there something that is not working as far as these bibles players are concerned?
Answers they gave:
- They are breaking down quickly;
- They have no verses;
- We would love hear a short bio of every author;
- When it is raining, there is no power to charge them;
- Easier to be stolen;
- There are no electrical chargers for them;
- The demand is higher but the bibles are not so many. We would like to have them in the restaurants, hospitals and taxi;
- There is no old testament;
- There is no lingala version for the militaries who cannot understand Swahili and french;
God is at work.
On this trip, we added the Old Testament in French and Swahili. We are also added the New Testament in Lingala. I am excited about members of the military hearing the Word of God in their language.
We are going to add some local repair capabilities so that we can get ones that break back to work.
In February, we will meet with the pastors who lead other pastors in those villages. We will work to brainstorm how to add more structure to the Bible listening program. We want to guide the readers in their Bible listening and attempt to ensure some shepherding of the listeners by the pastors. We have tried and failed in our previous efforts to provide structure. We hope to get these pastors to think strategically about how to use these players to grow their ministries and to bring hope and change to their communities. Frankly, getting them to design a program will be difficult given cultural and language differences as well as the history of Westerners imposing their will on Africans. Please pray that God would reveal a path forward to all of those participating.
If you would like to donate funds for the Bibles or the trip, you can write a check to Grace Covenant Church (write Congo on the memo line) or make a donation online at Generosity.com. The Bible players cost $30.
God is at work – in us and in our friend in Bukavu.
The progress is agonizingly slow. Apparently, my concept of time may need to change.
An African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” Being an American, I want both!
We have chosen to go with the Congolese people that God created to be leaders because we and they need to go far. May God continue to bless our efforts.
My goal in writing these emails is to allow you to learn as we learn. I hope you enjoy them.
In Christ and for the team,
P.S. I continue to pray that God would provide an American educator and a person with an interest in using social media for good. Frankly, a desire to learn is more important than raw expertise. The team and the people in Bukavu need you. If you sense God prompting you to find out more, please contact me.
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