In this email, I want to share some of the ideas that God continues to reveal, request a little help, and share some stories and pictures from our last trip – including some fabulous pictures of our close encounter with gorillas.
We could use a little help.
I have come to believe that good theology makes for good living. It is one of the thoughts that I bring home from my trips to Congo. Let me demonstrate.
Trip 9 continued to show the value of proclaiming truth to the Christians with whom we meet. We follow Jesus’ example in John 8:31-32: “Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, ‘If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” Once upon a time, the University of Texas thought that quote was so significant and applicable to life that it engraved it in stone on the UT Tower. It is there even today.
Jesus goes on to say that the people are enslaved to sin, but that He provides a way out – a freedom from the mastery of sin. In other words, He came to set people free from their slavery to sin. In commenting on these verses, D.A. Carson says, “For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who made us. The despotic master is not Caesar [the ruler during that time], but shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”
Before I tie these verses to what I observe in the Congo, let me mention one other passage that is quite vivid in the Congo.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” The context of this verse is a long passage where Jesus uses a metaphor comparing His role to the role of a shepherd with his sheep. The shepherd cares for his sheep and makes sacrifices for his sheep. The shepherd’s focus is the wellbeing of the sheep. In the same way, Jesus is focused on caring for His followers – not just spiritually, but also physically. (Matthew 6:33).
In the Congo, I see clearly a slavery to sin. I see the shameful self-centeredness. I see people trying to get all they can while they have the power to do so. I see people attempting to survive by any means possible. I see people living corrupt lives because there appears to be no other choice. Live in the corrupt way dictated by the culture … or die. Often literally.
In the Congo, I see many people whose faith in Jesus has never entered the realm of life today. I suspect they are ignorant. No one has told them about a different way to live. Access to the Bible is poor. Just staying alive consumes an enormous amount of energy and time. But their faith in a distant Jesus, a solely “spiritual” Jesus, is a punishing faith and a very difficult way to live.
In addition to the slavery to sin that is so deeply embedded in the Congo, I find other lies embedded in the culture. I do not know the origin of these lies, but they also have serious consequences that are similar to the consequences of the slavery to sin. I suspect the origin of both are related.
Here are two lies:
I have always placed a high value on truth. However, it was very difficult for me to think that truth had an important role, even a primary role, to play in a place with great physical poverty like the Congo. But it does. One could even say that the lack of truth in the culture is one of the primary causes of physical poverty. You will not find that statement in many newspapers.
So I have been pondering the subject of truth a lot lately. More on that pondering in a minute.
To fight the lies that we have observed, we proclaim four truths from Genesis 1-3 to everyone who will listen:
We have seen people set free because of these truths. On this last trip, Peter, a leader of leaders that we met on Trip 2, asked us to proclaim these truths to 30 pastors. Unbeknownst to us, he had applied and proclaimed these truths in his work with an NGO. He had great results. He was amazed; his boss valued the results. He has more job security because of these truths.
In a previous email, I spoke about Thomas, a musician in the music production business. These truths set him free as well. He know he no longer feels guilty charging customers for his services.
Now back to my pondering of truth.
I have a very high regard for the Bible. I consider it to be the Word of God recorded by men under the direction of the Holy Spirit. I spend a lot of time reading and studying the Word of God. I use it to look for direction for living and for the work we do in the Congo.
Here is an important distinction. As I pondered these truths that we proclaim, I realized these truths were true before they were recorded in the Bible. They are in the Bible because they are true; they are not true just because they are in the Bible. God, in His love, wanted us to know these truths because these truths are essential to living well. God knows what we need because He designed us and He designed us in His image. To say that we know better is to ignore the existence of our Designer.
Truth is an important issue for us in America to ponder as people increasingly want to come to their own conclusions as to what is true and right and real. I’ll save that discussion for another day. However, if you want to see the impact of living in a culture that embraces lies, you can go to the Congo with me. It is not a pretty picture.
So we continue to proclaim truth, distribute Bibles and teach people how to start businesses that are capable of employing other people. We want people to know the truth so that they can be set free – set free from the lies, set free from the mastery of sin. We want people to know Jesus – a personal and powerful provider for His people. We want people to know Jesus so well that they see His provision for them as far greater than any needs related to their current circumstances.
Trip 9 Updates and Pictures
Co-Laboring with Congolese Leaders of Leaders
I suspect it will seem subtle to you, but “co-laboring” with Congolese leaders of leaders represents a very significant shift. On this trip, they set the agenda. And that is a very good thing; it means:
Ultimately, if change is going to come to the Congo, it is going to come through Congolese leaders, not westerners.
Through “divine appointments,” we have built relationships with seven Congolese leaders of leaders. We had none of these relationships when we started. I will tell you more about them in a future email.
We encourage these leaders in their areas of leadership; equip them with some material resources like Kindles, laptops and MP3 players with the Bible; and provide perspective on what is going on in the world outside of the Congo (e.g. TED talks, proliferation of tablets, internet on cell phones, credit cards, etc.).
Phone Charging – 3 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back
The idea of helping people start phone charging businesses as “starter” businesses was a bust. We have now broadened our focus to a battery charging business that will enable people in rural areas to have a source of electricity. Solar with a battery backup is an obvious solution. However, like most things in the Congo, there are a few challenges. One challenge is developing a “business model” that is sustainable, profitable, scalable and affordable. Being able to provide some type of financing is essential to address the affordability issue. However, in the Congo, many people choose not to repay their obligations. Another challenge to solar is the rainy season. We keep praying, brainstorming, and experimenting.
The electricity issue is not just about cost — $23 to charge a cell phone each year in the Congo vs. $0.13 in the US. The lack of electricity also has an adverse impact on productivity and educational progress (i.e. you cannot read in the dark).
Keep praying for us as we seek to be creative – just as God designed us.
YoungLife Leaders Starting Businesses:
We spent a lot of time with the Congolese volunteer YoungLife leaders that we trained on Trip 8. Two of these leaders, Jerome and Franck, are close to launching their businesses. Jerome wants to start a pig farm and Franck wants to raise Tilapia.
Below is a picture of Jerome (in the red) at the future location of his pig farm. Jerome will pay the people in the picture to tend the pigs. Jerome will focus on the business aspects of the pig farm.
I am confident that there will be many ups and downs. Please pray for their perseverance in the face of likely setbacks.
Several years ago, I decided I would not make overseas trips without spending at least one day to relax and enjoy God’s creation – a Sabbath rest so to speak. (Going to church in DR Congo is never a relaxing experience for us.) Spending time in Genesis chapter 1 has only increased my desire to enjoy what God created. On this trip, we went to Kahuzi Biega National Park to see a family of eastern lowland gorillas. We walked through a jungle for about 45 minutes to reach the gorillas. We had two men “creating” the trail by hacking plants with a machete. It never felt like we were walking on solid ground. Instead, it was a bit like walking on a trampoline. In this case, the mat was a dense mix of dead and live plants. We spent an hour with the gorilla family. At one point, we were five feet away from the father of the family – a male silverback gorilla. What an experience! Here are my favorite pictures:
With each trip, we see a little more clearly. God has brought us a long way in our understanding of the problems and the solutions. We praise Him for disclosing those truths to us and in helping us communicate creatively. As an American, I wish He would speed things up. But with every trip to Congo, I see some of the pitfalls of the speed obsession of American culture (and me).
When I look back at the last 9 trips, I can see God working month by month and trip by trip. I can see patterns and direction. When I look forward, things look unclear, even uncertain. But we will continue to implement two very simple concepts from the Bible – the same commands that we have been obeying since the beginning:
All of the work in the Congo and in the lives of the Americans going can be summed up in those two commands. We follow Jesus and as we go, we love our neighbors. With the help of technology, the definition of neighbor is now much broader.
Thanks for reading and praying,
For the team:
I will leave you with another of my favorite pictures from this trip. We are staying at a hotel in Uvira, on the north end of Lake Tanganyika, the second largest freshwater lake in the world. Congo is truly a beautiful place. If only life in Congo were beautiful. May God in His grace make it so.