In my last email, I discussed how God is using three particular Congolese people to make a difference in Bukavu, and how we travel there on a regular basis to find, encourage, and equip local leaders like them who have been called by the Lord to lead their people.
It seems like it would be tricky to find and develop individuals with leadership potential, but we just pray and God provides. We are on His agenda, not ours.
One of the criticisms I have heard about short term missions trips is that it is not worth the time and money.
You may have seen some of the same articles I have seen over the years. Certain especially vocal critics of “voluntourism” are angry. Some might even say bitter. They point fingers and write op-eds.
“How dare you! What do you know?”
“You just swoop in for a few days, and then you leave!”
I share those criticisms not to invalidate them – it is entirely possible that some short term missions efforts merit some criticism – that said, I do want to illustrate a few of the ways our work in Bukavu differs.
First, we are fully aware that “we don’t know.”
We approach this work from a place of humility and we pray for grace along the way. Do you remember how I mentioned in my last email how we have learned that American solutions to Congolese problems do not work? There is a real learning curve here, and it is not helpful to make a habit of assuming that we know “better” than our brothers and sisters in Christ there in Bukavu.
Next, we certainly do not “just swoop in for a few days” and then disappear.
Our approach is intentionally collaborative with the people who live and work in Eastern Congo. As you read in my last email, we maintain years-long friendships with our Congolese neighbors. We return to the same city, the same region, the same people. We focus our efforts here because a scattershot approach would be far less effective.
And our goal is never to “swoop in” with a “quick fix” for any given issue. We bring powerful and transformative ideas. They are not our ideas; they are God’s ideas that we found in the Bible. But most Christians that we meet in Congo haven’t heard these ideas. So we share truth in the context of a relationship.
Our mission is to help further catalyze a movement that is already in motion.
Many of the individuals we meet on our trips are actively working to improve their communities, or at least dreaming of doing so. Often, they are already spreading the teachings of Christ. Much of the time, we are simply entering into partnership and friendship with these individuals, encouraging them to continue working toward their goals, and sharing those powerful, Biblical truths.
It might sound like an overly simple task, but it is profound.
These truths confirm the hope in a person’s heart when that person is in a desperate situation: that things can be different. Circumstances can change. Conditions are not permanent. And God is watching over it all. Even more, God wants it to change, often by using Congolese people walking with Him.
Although there is no substitute for going to Bukavu in person, I mentioned in my last email that we have been working on a strategy for using email and Facebook to cast vision at scale.
Initially, we formed a small Facebook group to keep in touch with the participants of a workshop we held on business formation two years ago. We had a handful of members at first, and we only used the group for the occasional announcement.
In the past year, we have grown the group to over 700 members from Bukavu and the surrounding area, and we regularly hold discussions in the Facebook group about God, Biblical truth, and business. We run locally targeted Facebook ad campaigns to raise awareness and cast vision. We also encourage members to invite their local friends and family who might be interested.
Some of the members are quiet and rarely interact, but Facebook gives us data on how many people are reading the posts in the group. During any given week, hundreds of “active members” click through the group to look at the messages shared there.
Leadership is a ripple.
After several months of observing and participating in the conversation in the group, one of the members decided to form his own online community for sharing uplifting messages.
I was overjoyed the first time I realized what had happened. He has several hundred people following his page after a few short months, and I think he may be a successful local business consultant, leadership coach, or inspirational speaker someday. He is intelligent and enthusiastic; he knows social media; he is learning more and more about business every day; and he has a deep love for God and his fellow man.
In that same vein of inspiration, another of our members has been inspired by Solomon’s story, which I mentioned in my last email. This individual proudly shared an announcement with the group about her own charcoal briquette company. She sees herself as playing an active role in the fight against deforestation and pollution.
She rarely posts, but I am willing to bet that she is one of the hundreds of “active members” who mostly observe the conversations in the group.
Yet another of our members is a talented photographer and an aspiring documentarian who is passionate about technology and telling stories. He regularly shares images and messages of hope with the group, profiling farmers and other local business owners.
His role as a photographer and reporter is to amplify the work of others. He is drawing attention to the good work and change that is happening there in Bukavu and the surrounding area, and his work causes the “leadership ripple” to reach even further.
One person sparks another person’s actions, slowly but surely.
Through God’s providence and human efforts, we expect to see cultural change. To God be the glory.
Bible study is also transformative.
Another tool we have developed is Bible study, delivered via email. We have created a series of email-based lessons, along with accompanying quizzes and activities, that take members through a study of the concepts of faith and trust in the Bible. We created this study because we find faith in God as a provider to be lacking in the region. We also see low levels of trust among the people.
The person does not even need to own a Bible to participate. All scripture is included there in the email. All they need is a way to access the internet.
This tool is truly scalable – participants go through the study all on their own, and the email software automatically sends out each subsequent lesson after the participant finishes with the activity and quiz.
During the study, participants receive an email prompt to join the group so that they can discuss what they are learning with like-minded people, and so that they can receive a certificate and a celebration post in the Facebook group upon completion of the study. It makes me smile every time we post one of those certificates, because the members of the group all cheer each other on. There is a lively spirit of healthy competition and camaraderie on those days.
This email is getting long, so I will wrap up with a reminder about the next trip.
It is scheduled for February 18, 2020.
If you do decide to go, you should know that you will not be going with “a bunch of newbies.” As I mentioned in my last email, this is my 13th trip. You should also know that you will not be spending all of your time with “complete strangers,” even after we arrive in Eastern Congo. It might seem obvious from this email and the last, but it is worth restating that we are actively building community with people in the city of Bukavu.
So 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, or if you would like to have a conversation about it.