“Follow Me”

The Congo portion of our trip ended early Friday morning as we said “Goodbye” to Moses and Samuel, two people that we love.

In this email, I want to talk about how thankful I am for what God has done.

Before I do that, let me talk about our last two days.

For the first time, we added a recreational element to the trip as we spent Friday night at a game lodge.  We had a great time together as we marveled at God’s creativity.  We toured the game park by Land Cruiser on Saturday for six hours.  We saw zebras, giraffes, water buffalo, topi, impala, water buck, hippopotami, crocodiles and many species of birds – all in a beautiful grassland valley dotted with lakes.  What a treat!  There are some pictures at the end of the email.  In the team picture, look for the giraffes in the background.

After the tour and trip back to Kigali, Rwanda, we departed for home Saturday night.

During this trip, my fifth to Congo in four years, I marveled at just how God has orchestrated the work over the last four years in ways that I never could have imagined or planned.

Here’s an example:  On the second trip, Mike Werle and I met a young man, Solomon, at Panzi Hospital.  It was a “coincidence.”  One of the good things about not knowing the language is that people have to know English to speak with me.  That brutal fact means that I don’t have to spend a lot of time determining the people with whom I should develop a relationship.  Solomon was one of those people.

I don’t even remember how we started talking.  Then, another coincidence:  I wanted to give two Bibles to two of the rape victims at Panzi.  I couldn’t do it myself without creating a riot of other rape victims who would want a Bible.  I asked Solomon if he would wait until I left and give the Bibles to the two women.  He agreed.  Then, another coincidence:  I passed him as I was leaving, sitting on a bench with the two Bibles, waiting for us to leave.  (The fact that he would really do what I asked instead of selling the Bibles for money already set him apart from the culture.)  As I was climbing into the truck, I hesitated and felt like God was telling me to ask him to meet Mike and me the next day.  It seemed really awkward to do such a thing, but I did it anyway.  That was not something that I would normally do.  He agreed and we met the next day.

On a side note, William Temple, a bishop in England long ago said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t pray, they don’t.”  I enjoy that quote and have found it to be quite true.  Now, for the rest of the story …

Little did I know at the time, but Solomon probably had to walk 1.5 hours each way to get to that meeting.  We met and began one of many discussions of Jesus, faith, people and the Congolese culture.  We continued to develop our relationship through email and on subsequent trips.

I think everyone on all the trips would describe conversing with Solomon as one of the highlights of the trips.  It sure is for me.  This trip was no different.

On our last trip, I told Solomon that I wanted to hire him as an interpreter for Trip 5.  He agreed.  Just days before this trip, I asked him if he wanted to stay with us at the hotel.  He agreed – a fact that shows his curiosity and courage – he had never stayed in a hotel or eaten in a restaurant.  One of the highlights of this trip for me was share the word of God together on two mornings.

Solomon went from a mere “circumstantial” encounter to valuable team member.  Now, he is also going to help us make sure that the business people to whom we loan money do what they have agreed to do.  I think God knew that we would need someone who is selfless, wise, courageous and humble to give us cultural advice and to be our eyes and ears in Bukavu.

I could go on and on about how unique Solmon is, but let me leave you with one more story.

Mike Scheffelin was teaching people from the business seminar how to form listening groups – groups that would listen to the New Testament on the solar powered MP3 players.  Mike was speaking about loving your neighbor and someone asked him a question about sharing with neighbors in need.

Now sharing is a big deal in Congo.  It is such a big deal that I am not sure I would even call it sharing – it’s probably more appropriately labeled “taking.”  In Congo, people ask others for things all the time.  Culturally, there is an obligation to give (i.e. let them take) whatever is requested.  This cultural practice extends even to giving things that are not yours to give.  Picture yourself as treasurer of the school PTA.  If your unemployed, drug addicted, brother asked for money, you would be culturally obligated to give him money.  If you had no money, then you would be culturally obligated to give him money from the PTA bank accounts that you manage.

Please!  Be culturally tolerant here.  Embezzlement and stealing are such ugly words.  J

Mike suggested that giving to a brother who was a “slacker” might not be the loving thing to do.  In fact, he might be “robbing” his own family of the financial support that they need.  He told them that the habitual slacker needed to look for work to support his family.

After the seminar, Solomon told me that Mike was a very wise man.  He explained that it was very important for the Congolese to hear people explain truth that way.

That’s just one example of what a jewel Solomon is.  By the way, if Solomon could talk with you, he would thank you for playing a role in bringing wisdom to the people of Congo.

I hope that one day God will provide a way for Solomon to study in the States so that he will have more resources to develop his mind.  Through generous friends, we have given him a netbook and a Kindle.  He likes ideas and philosophy and enjoys reading and writing.  He is working on a book now.  You might pray that God will direct his efforts.

I could tell similar stories of other ways that God has provided, but I will save those for another time.  So what do these stories mean?

Well, I think God is answering some prayers of the people in Congo.  This team and the previous teams were a part of His answer to those prayers.  I am pleased that He chose to use us.  What a thrill!

In my life, I think Jesus is working to show me the methods and the rewards of quite simply answering His call, “Follow Me.”  Frankly, up to this point, I have preferred planning and control.  The idea of “just” following Christ seemed pretty unsophisticated and inadqueate.  While control may provide the appearance of reducing uncertainty, I believe it increases stress and reduces the quantity and quality of the results.

In Congo, I have no option but to follow Him.  I am pretty useless there from the world’s perspective.  But 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that power is perfected in weakness and that Jesus’ grace is sufficient.  I am here to testify to the truth of that verse.  I was weak and He was strong.  His work in Congo continues and I am pleased to be playing a part.

As always and on behalf of the team, I want to thank you for your prayers.  Your prayers make sure that there is no shortage of God’s grace in Congo among those who are answering the call, “Follow Me.”