Again, let me thank you for your prayers.
We made it home last Wednesday at midnight. It was a good trip. Mike and I worked hard to listen to God and begin relationships with people in a difficult environment. We were up early and went to bed late. We are feeling a good, satisfied kind of exhaustion. We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
As you may have guessed from the last email, I was surprised by the depth and breadth of man’s corruption in Congo. It was depressing and discouraging. At the mid way point of our trip, it seemed like there were few answers as to what God would have us do. Prior to our departure, several people encouraged me to look for “men of peace” just as Jesus told “the seventy” that He sent out to minister (Luke 10). Men of peace were people who were open to the message of God’s kingdom on earth. The places where Jesus sent the seventy were corrupt just like Congo.
We thank God for arranging meetings with these men of peace in Congo. In this email, I’ll update you on some of these meetings. In a few weeks, I will send one more email that will summarize next steps.
The Bibles and MP3 players were a big hit. Mike and I thoroughly enjoyed watching people who had never owned a Bible receive one. One new friend, Moses, was going to give the MP3 player to his mother who can no longer see well enough to read. Years ago, his mother committed her life to Christ. The transformation that Moses saw in his mother was a significant influence in his acceptance of Christ as his Lord and Savior. Now, he can return the favor. By the way, Moses speaks English well, operates a cyber café, and teaches at a local university. (We found that people in Congo have to piece together multiple jobs in order to live above a mere subsistence level of existence.) He has a remarkable story of courage and faith and God’s provision. I’ll save that story for another day. Mike and I want to build on the relationship that we started with him. He is resourceful and yet lives in dependence on God.
We gave another Bible to an employee of the guest house where we stayed. When he received the Bible, he hugged it. As we distributed Bibles and spoke to people, we learned something interesting. There were many people who were willing to pay for them. We believe that the problem with Bibles in the Congo is as much a supply chain issue (getting Bibles printed and into the country to someone who will sell them) as a poverty issue. Based on what we saw, there is no doubt that Bukavu (the city where we stayed) needs the Word of God.
We had another divine appointment with a young man, Solomon. He speaks English fairly well. We spoke with him about his faith, his family and his country. We asked him about the biggest problems that Congo faces. Solomon answered decisively – polygamy and the desire for revenge for war related atrocities – interesting insight from someone who is about 20 years old. His father married another woman so he knows about polygamy first hand. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he feels abandoned. We gave Solomon a Swahili Bible and an English Bible (to practice his English). He emailed me after we left; here’s what he said, “Thank you for the bibles. My family is so happy and when I am with my mother she tells me to read a verse and we make the sharing and she is so happy. When I am myself I use the english bible which you gave me but if there is a word which I don’t understand I use the Swahili bible. My mother told me to say thank you for the Swahili bible which you gave me.” Solomon is wise beyond his years. He wants to continue his education but probably lacks the funds to do so. Pray that God will use him in a mighty way.
Mike and the team from Southland Church did a VBS style program for kids on Friday. Mike said they were supposed to have about 70 kids and ended up with 200+ participating with another couple of hundred watching from a distance. Kids surrounded us everywhere we went outside the city; they were everywhere. Many of the Africans we met had more than five kids. They say that they believe that kids are a blessing from God and that the mortality rate in kids is high so they need to compensate by having more of them. I am not sure that I believe that explanation – I think the birth rate may reflect a dislike for certain contraception methods. It is hard to see how Africa can ever overcome its poverty with such birth rates.
We met with two groups of five pastors. We wanted to begin developing relationships with a group of pastors and discern how God might be leading us in discipleship and leadership development. We also wanted to gain an understanding of the issues faced by their congregations. The short answer is that there is a great need for discipleship materials and training, leadership development and Bible study methods. There is also a need for teaching people how to operate their businesses wisely. The pastor who translated our conversations between English and Swahili also owns a cyber café, is the president of an association of 40 churches, teaches in a Bible school and has a small non-governmental organization (NGO) that he runs. Toward the end of the meeting, he said that the two groups liked what we had to say and that they wanted to form a team with us and follow our lead. We explained to them that they didn’t need us because they have God to lead them and provide for them. We said that we want to encourage them and work with them, but we want God to lead them. We hope and pray that they understand that God is sufficient to provide for them. We also pray that our relationships with these pastors will grow.
The person who assembled these groups of pastors is Israel, an evangelist that I met on my last trip. He works for Food for the Hungry. He lives in the “suburbs” of Bukavu. He wanted to introduce us to his family. It was quite an adventure to get to his house. Like most houses in Bukavu, this house is hanging on the side of a steep hill. He and his wife have 11 kids and a 12th on the way. Because Israel works for a US organization, he is relatively prosperous. His family lives in a 3 room house (~400 square feet) that is literally falling apart. There’s an interesting contrast inside the house – the house has a dirt floor, but holds a small refrigerator and stove. There was one light bulb in the room where we visited.
Finally, as reminder that corruption in Congo is never far away, I want to tell my experience with corruption. While I was exploring the city, four men approached me speaking French. They were dressed in casual clothes and seemed nice. When they didn’t get anywhere with French, they changed to broken English. They said that they were intelligence officers. They wanted to see my permit for having a camera and taking pictures. I had been warned not to take any pictures of military, police, critical buildings and infrastructure but told that taking street pictures was fine. What to do? I had no idea whether these guys were real. They had no uniforms and no identification. I concluded that they were just hassling me so I politely put my camera in my backpack and walked on. They followed me. Now what? I had met a Christian woman who ran a café that was about a mile away. I kept walking and praying that they would lose interest. They didn’t. They continued to follow me and then they started calling me and asking me to stop. I kept walking. I got to the café and asked my friend if there was such a thing as plain clothes intelligence officers. Her response was disappointing. She said absolutely; they are all over. She also said she knew people who had their cameras seized and paid fines for taking pictures. Oops. After awhile, they came in the café. My friend spoke to them. They wanted me to come to their office. She suggested they sit down and talk. They did – for one and a half hours. My friend was quite animated with them. After I paid a fine, they left. Among the Congolese, there was much debate after they left as to whether one needed a permit to have a camera on the street. I am convinced that no one knows. In reality, it does not even matter. In Congo, the law is what someone with power says it is; facts don’t matter.
So, we try to forget about the evil and corruption and try to focus on the men of peace. We can’t transform the evil, but we can encourage the men of peace to persevere and seek God.
As I said before, Mike and I really appreciate your prayers. It was a great joy to be able to have 50 yard line seats to watch what God is doing with people in Congo. He answered the prayers that you and we prayed beyond anything that we expected. Let’s pray that He will lead many more Congolese to become men of peace in that dark land.