It seems like I always start these emails with an apology for the delay in sending an update.
The good news is there are good things happening; the bad news is that I never tell anyone about them.
I want to share how God is using three Congolese people to make a difference in Bukavu – each in a way that shows how God uses each person’s unique gifts, passions and abilities to build His kingdom and to make earth a little more like heaven. Let’s pray that the God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly, beyond all that we ask or think will use these three men in mighty ways that demonstrate the goodness and power of God.
To be clear, the news is not all good, but I will save the disappointments for another email.
The Next Trip
I also want to let you know that the next trip is scheduled for February 18, 2020. It’s hard to believe it will be my 13th trip. Let me know if you want to join me. The requirements for going are pretty basic: willing to go and able to pray and open to a long-term mentoring relationship with a Congolese person, if the lord leads. Most people don’t believe those things are sufficient. But they are. We will take care of the small things to help you get ready. More importantly, our Lord will take care of the big things. Let me know if you want more information.
Our work in the Congo consists largely of four overlapping initiatives:
Encouraging leaders of leaders
Teaching business principles (including important Biblical truths) to people who can start businesses that can employ other people
Distributing Bibles in the form of solar powered MP3 players
Teaching video production and storytelling
In this email, my focus will be on encouraging leaders of leaders.
Encouraging Leaders of Leaders
Through the years, we have learned that American solutions to Congolese problems do not work. I kept thinking that there might be some exceptions – meaning I was a slow learner. There have been no exceptions.
Therefore, when we go to the Congo, we ask the Lord to introduce us to people who He is calling to be leaders of leaders. We want to encourage and equip local leaders who have been called by the Lord to lead their people.
We start slow with people we meet. We want to get a sense of how they relate to Christ and what He is calling them to do. We want to get a sense as to whether their faith is in Christ or American money. We want to understand their gifts, abilities and work ethic.
From a cultural perspective, leadership is not something that people seek. Leaders become a focal point for extended family and friends. It is assumed that the leader can and should meet everyone’s needs – especially financial needs. That kind of pressure causes people not to want to be seen as leaders.
Without leaders, problems do not get solved and there are no initiatives to improve a community.
Leaders take people places that they cannot get on their own. Without leaders, people are stuck.
This lack of leadership is on vivid display in Bukavu. You see it in the roads – potholes that are five feet wide and more than a foot deep. You see it in the water situation – the water may be on for a couple of hours each day. You see it with electricity – it may be on for a few hours several times per week, or maybe not available for weeks at a time. Keep in mind, these issues occur in a country with incredible wealth in natural resources. I am oversimplifying, but the problem is not a lack of money, it is a lack of servant leadership.
On this last trip, the main road was so bad that the cars would drive on the sidewalk. We asked one friend whether people have ever tried “adopting” the road in front of their store or house. He said that one pastor tried that approach near his church. The church would fill the potholes with gravel. The local government told him to stop or they would arrest him. He was told it was not his responsibility; it was the government’s responsibility. The government leaders needed for the problem to be bad so that some entity would give them money to fix the problem. Naturally, not all of the money for the fix would be used for repairing the road.
So when the Lord answers our prayer and we meet faithful leaders of leaders, we take note. They are rare. We want to spend time with them. We want to encourage them to persevere in the face of tremendous difficulty. That’s an important reason for Americans to go on these trips – to love your neighbor, who just happens to live on the other side of the world. Sound burdensome? It’s not. The Lord will use it to enrich your life – if it’s a work that He has planned beforehand so that you would walk in it.
Three Leaders of Leaders Living the Dream
Paul is one of those leaders. A mutual friend introduced us eight years ago. In Paul, we discovered a man full of faith, willing to live in obedience to Christ’s calling. We see God working in him and we see a man growing in Christlikeness. Paul is well educated, highly intelligent, hard-working, and multi-lingual. He could live and prosper virtually anywhere in the world. However, he sensed God calling him home to Bukavu to plant a church and lead change in the community – his works which God prepared beforehand that he should walk in them.
Paul planted a church that emphasized lay leadership and ministry – unusual for eastern Congo. Paul has a passion for building local leaders. We provide fuel for that passion by providing friendship, ideas and resources that he uses to build leaders.
Paul has organized an intensive, year-long, leadership development program, called The Nehemiah Program. He wants to help emerging leaders to live, think and lead like Nehemiah. The program is in its fifth year. There are 12 people in the program each year. They read 12 books during the year and meet monthly for discussion. They are expected to apply what they learn – exercising leadership in the community. We host an annual retreat to get to know some of these young leaders. These programs are normal in the States, but not in eastern Congo.
About four months ago, Ebola spread to the province where Paul lives. In had been present in a neighboring province for more than a year. Paul recognized the need for strong action and leadership to ensure that Ebola did not stay in his province. He organized a series of meetings with other leaders which culminated with a meeting of 80 people including leaders from government, non-governmental organizations (e.g., Doctors without Borders), the United Nations, churches, and tribes. He moderated the meeting to make sure the different constituencies understood each other’s concerns. They also discussed the learnings from the outbreak in the neighboring province.
In the US, we expect the government to mobilize the response. That is not what happens in the Congo. I was pleased that Paul saw the need to provide servant leadership and the need to bring together leaders from different segments of the community to work toward a common understanding and set of actions. Ebola is no longer present in the province.
Paul was accepted into a PhD program in leadership at a Bible college in the US. He resides on campus two weeks per year and participates online between the campus visits. No doubt, Paul will learn many things in the program, but the credentials will also give him more credibility in the Congo.
Solomon is another leader of leaders. Solomon knows the power of ideas. We met him more than 10 years ago when he was 18. He has served as our interpreter and cultural guide for many years. During those years, he learned and watched us apply Biblical truths in a variety of situations. He adopted some of those truths as his own. He saw the power of those truths to change the reality of life in Bukavu.
His dreams and work began bearing fruit two years ago when he started a business making charcoal out of agricultural waste (e.g. corn husks). He was and is an innovator in Bukavu. With his charcoal product, he simultaneously cleaned up the city, reduced deforestation and cut the cost of cooking in half. (Cutting the cost of cooking in half means that a family can send two more kids to school.) Then, he started a business installing and maintaining vertical gardens – gardens using plastic containers attached to a wall to grow food.
Because of his work, he was invited to the Paris Peace Forum a year ago – all expenses paid – to show people innovation in the Congo. The Congo is known as a hopeless place. Europeans are eager to honor Congolese people who are bringing hope to their people. He has become a local hero.
Remember Solomon’s love of ideas and understanding of the power of ideas? He uses his platform to promote innovative thinking and working in agriculture to young people. Working in agriculture is not seen as a place for educated people. Because of that view, eastern Congo imports much of its food despite being one of the most fertile places in the world.
A few months ago, he hosted more than 1000 local school children to show them his vertical garden and to cast vision. May God bless and multiply his efforts.
Philip is living his dream. He runs what he calls a cultural center. He provides foreign language instruction in a small group setting. His company also provides document translation services and interpreters. We have used his interpreters for several years. We first met Philip when we needed another interpreter. Solomon found him and introduced us.
We have worked with him for about five years. As he served as our interpreter, he learned the Biblical truths that we teach. He learned our approach to business. He learned to depend on God for provision.
He thought that he could not open his cultural center and hire other people without getting a financial grant from someone. Naturally, he turned to us. We encouraged him to pray and ask God for His blessing and help. We encouraged him to start small and reinvest his profits to grow the business. Normally, people would seek to start a “project” with funding from a US or European charity. That approach is rarely sustainable and usually fails quickly. Money doesn’t buy the resiliency, creativity and determination to survive required in a city where it seems that people want you to fail.
His business has grown significantly over the last two years. On our last trip, he thoroughly enjoyed showing us his office and introducing us to his employees. Like Paul and Solomon, he is living his dream.
Do you see the theme?
Each of these people had a vision or a dream. They were working to achieve that dream. We don’t find many people who have a dream and are willing to work diligently, in the face of many obstacles and cultural barriers, to pursue that dream.
Do you see the role that the Americans going on these trips to Congo has played?
We are a catalyst. You may remember studying catalysts in chemistry. A catalyst doesn’t create a reaction; it accelerates a reaction. All the elements were there. The chemical reaction was already occurring slowly. The introduction of a catalyst increased the rate of the chemical reaction.
In our role as a catalyst, we introduce Biblical truth, practical ideas and encouragement to persevere. We are their friends. We walk with them. The Congolese people who have dreams and are willing to work to achieve those dreams need people to tell them that they are not “crazy.” Their culture tells them that they are crazy. They want help resisting the culture.
Why doesn’t God act as a catalyst without us?
That is a very good question. In some cases, He does. But in large measure, He has chosen to work through ordinary people like us.
What do we need (or perhaps “want” would be a better word)?
First, we want to find more Congolese people who have dreams and the work ethic to bring those dreams into reality. Why? Because for eastern Congo to change, there needs to be more people working toward a common vision of a society where the Judeo-Christian ethic is the norm.
We are working a highly scalable strategy using Facebook and email to cast vision and find people who have dreams and are working to pursue them. This email is already long so I will save a description of that strategy for another email.
Second, we want more Americans to go on trips in order to become an ongoing catalyst (otherwise known as friends!) with Congolese people. It’s difficult work because the path often seems unclear. It’s abstract, not concrete like building hospitals or houses. We don’t start new not-for-profit organizations. But we get to depend on God and we have a front row seat to watch how God is working in and using people like Paul, Solomon and Philip. That is a great reward.
That brings us back to where we started. Is God calling you to go on the trip in February? Let me know if you would like to discuss it further.
P.S. Kids are special in the Congo. I always enjoy taking a few pictures. I will leave you with this one that I took as we were walking around the city.