Wow, it’s been about two years since I wrote to you about Congo. Yes, I still have Congo on my mind. And thankfully, the Lord is still leading me. Because of our relationships and reputation there (and Jesus’ provision), we can accomplish much remotely – more on that in a minute.
By the time we post this, we will be on our way. We left April 26 and will return May 9. Our last trip was more than three years ago. We returned in early March 2020, just a few weeks before COVID shut things down. Wow. That was a little closer call than I expected.
We have a team of five: Mike Burns and Rigo Zevada are going for the first time. Mike Scheffelin, Pat and I are going as well. It will be my 14th trip. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, speaks of a “long obedience in the same direction.” That is the essence of the story of our involvement in the Congo. It is sweet to see what the Lord has done during that time. To be clear, the progress is far less than I want, but I do not doubt Jesus’ leading, provision, and fruit.
COVID was like a tidal wave in the USA. In eastern Congo, it was more like a medium-sized wave on a Texas beach. There was illness and death there, but there is always illness and death in the house of a Congolese person. Infant mortality is very high; maternal mortality is very high; and life expectancy is very low. The people are resilient – it’s one of the benefits of being fatalistic. (Fatalism says there is nothing that I can do about my circumstances; therefore, why should I try to change things.)
Since I believe Jesus is a personal and powerful provider for His people, I must proclaim that message and other related truths. How else will the Congolese people be able to change their culture and reality? How will they experience the abundant life? That is why we continue to go. That is why we nurture relationships with Congolese people between our trips. We want the physical and spiritual reality of the Congolese people to change. Frankly, it is a compulsion.
What will we do?
This trip is designed to be focused on going deeper with some of our existing relationships.
For the last 2+ years, we have been working with 6-10 people to help them earn money on www.Upwork.com – a gig economy platform. We have about six regulars.
I am praying that there would be 100 people earning at least $2000 per year by 2031. We want a community to develop. We want to be catalysts, not leaders of that community. In general, sub-Saharan Africans share money, but not knowledge. We are working to inspire knowledge-sharing through the creation of this community.
We will meet with the core group on Tuesday. We call them pioneers because they are leading the way for others. I think they are proud of their role – a good thing. We want them to earn even more than they have earned. We will be working with them to brainstorm ways to build more skills and have more business. We will also be looking for things that impede their progress (e.g. unreliable electricity, slow internet access, etc.) Ultimately, we also want them to depend on Jesus’ personal and powerful provision for His people.
The core people have invited friends and acquaintances to a training on Wednesday. We will cover the basics of getting started on Upwork and help them identify the skills that they have that are most likely to be monetized. Please pray for us. That may not sound like a tough challenge, but it is. Think about an environment where you learn to use Microsoft Excel by having someone write the menus on a chalkboard in a room without electricity. (That is a true story from several years ago; things may have changed somewhat since then.) We are praying that God would bring us the people that He knows are ready and up to the challenge.
In America, we live in a society where we expect instant gratification. That expectation creates a short-term focus. In Congo, they live in a society where the goal for many is finding enough food for today. Planning ahead is not normal; it can’t be in a culture focused on survival.
On Monday, we will spend the day with Murhula, the young man whom I met on my 2nd trip in 2009. I have written a lot over the years about the uniqueness of Murhula. He was 18 when I met him and told me he wanted to study philosophy. I don’t meet many people like that. He has served as our translator and cultural guide for many years. He has become a great friend.
I never saw him as an entrepreneur, but he has started three businesses in the last five or so years. He makes charcoal briquettes out of agricultural waste (e.g. corn husks) – a first for Bukavu. He raises soldier flies which produce larvae that eat food waste and wet organic matter. The larva are rich in protein. He boils the larva to kill them and they become chicken and pig feed. Finally, he started a landscape installation and service business. For the business people reading, a company in Congo needs to be vertically integrated to be successful because there is not much in the way of a supply chain. Murhula grows the plants that he uses in the landscape installations. This business is another first in Bukavu. Note that much of the landscaping is also food-producing. Murhula faces many challenges in growing his businesses. We will talk about those challenges with him.
On Saturday, April 29, we will meet with Ngoy to review his translation business. He also wants to open a bilingual university. We have been discussing those plans with him for the last 9 months. We will continue those discussions. (I know an individual opening a university doesn’t compute. But in Congo, one can get started by buying a license for something like $5,000.)
On Saturday, May 6, Mike Burns and Rigo will be speaking to the 8th cohort of the Congo Leadership Institute. That program is a one-year program that Nicolas (a pastor in a church in Bukavu) started with our encouragement. We provide Kindle Fires to the 24 participants so that they can read books together. We also sponsor the weekend retreat where Mike and Rigo will be speaking.
Most of the leaders in Congo are exploitative or power-based leaders. Nicolas wants people to learn how to be servant leaders. Mike and Rigo will be speaking about the great leader, Nehemiah. They will be encouraging the participants to “be like Nehemiah.” Would you pray with us to that end, please?
We are taking about 200 solar-powered MP3 players with the Bible in multiple languages. We want people to hear the truths about Jesus, His promises, and life on earth. Would you pray that Jesus would provide some additional distribution partners? Some of you may want to “adopt a Bible” – really adopting a group of people who will be listening to that Bible. You can adopt a Bible by praying for those people or by paying for a Bible ($35) or both. You can donate online here. Use the drop-down box to indicate your donation is for Congo.
Mike Scheffelin will meet with people he has been training and mentoring in the art and technology of storytelling through video. He will also be doing some video interviews of the pioneers so that we can spread the vision of Upwork and business formation through social media.
If this note raises any questions, please be sure to email me. I am happy to answer questions in future emails.
By the way, one of the first questions I often get from people is, “What organization are you going with?” The answer is simple. Jesus is the organization. We are merely loving our neighbors. With technology, our neighbors can be on the other side of the world and speak a different language. Fortunately, my church, Grace Covenant Church in Austin, encourages that sort of ministry and is a big support for us.
For the team,
P.S. If you will pray for us and the people we will meet, will you just hit reply and say “praying” please? As my Congolese friend, Iragi, says, “The devil is jealous. We must pray so that great things will happen.”
Here are some more details to guide your prayers:
Prayers for Leadership Development:
- Direct Nicolas in growing the Leadership Academy. Pray that the new leaders would learn to walk closely with Jesus and be courageous like Nehemiah.
- Pray for Murhula and Ngoy as they grow their businesses and set an example for others. Shrewd / Innocent / Resourceful / Innovative / Jesus Pleaser
Prayers for Bible Distribution:
- Help us grow our network of faithful people to distribute Bibles and follow up with the people who receive them to help them lead listening groups.
- That the recipients would share the Word with many others. That they would listen to God’s Word together, grow together and lead together.
Prayers for Upwork.com Initiative:
- Divine appointments – that God would bring the people with whom He wants us to encourage / train.
- That God would give us a clear vision for the type of “gig” work that each person can do to earn income.
Prayers for Video Production:
- Help Mike S. see who is faithful, teachable, and talented. Help Mike see how to nurture these people.
Prayers for the Trip:
- That the Holy Spirit will give us great discernment as to the spiritual battles around us.
- Protect us from any unnecessary health and safety issues before we leave and during our trip.
- Give each member of our team a new or re-energized vision of how He wants us to help accomplish His will for the people of the Congo.
- Give us the words and materials to present challenging new ideas to the young leaders and business owners of the Congo.
- Prepare the hearts of those He will bring to us while we are there and show us whom we should mentor.
- Pray for unity on the team.