Saturday, April 19, 2014

Congolese are Like Onions: They Have Layers

Meeting with the North Kivu Director of the Province.
Congo is a Francophone country, which means that French is the primary means of professional communication here. Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo and Tshiluba are also considered official languages. However, when stepping into a government office, we are expected to know French.

Congo also uses the French legal system, which we know as Civil Law. Anglophone (English speaking) countries like the United States do not operate on Civil Law; instead we operate on Common Law.

The Francophone influence in Congo presents a host of challenges for us, primarily because we face layers of cultural differences.

The Bantu Layer
The first and most obvious layer is that Congolese are Bantu people, which means they are indigenous to Africa. Here are some Bantu ideologies that we can find throughout all of Africa. There are of course, some exceptions to this, I’m not an anthropologist, but here’s a general idea:

1.) LIFE – The most valuable thing in the Bantu culture is the human life and fertility. The idea of abortion or suicide is completely foreign to this culture. It’s really tough for them to wrap their minds around why anyone would even think of either of these things.

2.) Fate – Typically, Bantus see fate as predetermined and don’t believe that they could influence it on their own accounts. As a result, they except death without as many questions that a typical foreigner would have. They also see circumstances in life to be a reflection of blessing or punishment from some higher power. As a result, if a person is going through hard times, the community can infer that this person did something to deserve those hard times.

Specific to only North Kivu, Congo (DRC) the chukudu
can carry an immense amount of weight (over 500lbs).
This is a statue of a chukudu where symbolically this
"third-world" tool is actually carrying the whole world.
3.) Solidarity – Success is not considered success until it benefits the whole group, clan or village. One person being an achiever is not appreciated unless that person is doing something for the group to achieve. A man or a woman’s worth is determined by the amount of people who are with him through good times and bad times.

The Francophone Layer
This is a layer that I’m truly still really confused about. The French culture is incredibly different from culture in the U.S. and I can understand why Francophones and Anglophones typically don’t associate with one another. Here are some cultural layers that we’ve had to navigate through.

1.) Position and Title – Position and title are held at a higher esteem than US culture. Title and position separate you from others and it’s culturally accepted and esteemed to keep a gap between the titleholder and others. For instance, it is not legally possible to hold a director position, without having a certain salary to reflect that position.

2.) Justice system (Civil Law) – Civil Law determines the source of law through academic scholars, theorists and university professors. Conclusions are drawn in court by considering the point in abstract theory. The theory and the practice never really mesh and they are not meant to. Common Law, which is what we use in the United States, finds its source determined by the judges and practitioners. Common Law uses facts to draw the conclusion.

3.) Rational thought vs. religion: in contrary to Bantu culture, the Francophone culture believes that the individual primarily determines the future—people are either good or evil. Good vs. evil can be easily hand-in-hand with rational thought vs. religion. Good, being rational thought and bad being religion.

This may sound like intellectual gibberish, but it’s not. The Gospel is simple, but people are not. This creates a really big barrier in teaching concepts that defy rational thought such as: dying to self or taking your thoughts captive and even the French Bible fails to translate these thoughts properly. 

Francophone Africa (such as Congo, Burundi and much of West Africa) has a history uniquely different from Anglophone (Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Sudan, Tanzania and much of East and Southern Africa). The way colonization and independence occurred were particularly different. The effects are increasingly apparent today.
Not only do we deal with Francophone and Bantu cultures,
we often have meetings and interaction with those
a part of the United Nations. Contingents come from all
over the world including India, Pakistan, Uruguay,
 South Africa, and other nations.

Navigating through a hybrid culture of Bantu and Francophone language and culture requires a thorough analysis of the texts that we teach and how we teach them. It requires knowing the law or having a trustworthy person frequently on hand who can navigate through legal documents and protect us from lawsuits. It requires not just knowing the grammatical mechanics of the language but to know HOW TO use the language as a means to draw LIFE out of every individual that we speak with.

This is something that people who speak only one language and have never left their home country still struggle with.

Explaining the Bantu-Francophone layers only scratch the surface of  numerous other cultural barriers determined by socio-economic class as well as 400 different tribal groups each with their own customs. Moreover, we work in many sectors of the society: religious, economic, education, arts, culture and law-- each having it's own sub-culture to it, so-to-speak.

God calls us to embrace the differences and find His heart in the midst of every culture. I can certainly understand why wars happen and why people don't trust each other in our world. I'm still trying to figure out how to sit with French colleagues (because there are many of them working here) and make it through a conversation without insulting or feeling insulted. But I'm convinced that this is the beauty of the Kingdom.

God didn't create cultures so radically different from our own so that we could nitpick at them. He created them to remove the plank out of our eyes. He created them so that we could see better.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Transformative Leadership

Amethyst emphasizing a point in one of our
Masisi Phase 1 meetings.
We market Phase 1 as a Biblical-based leadership training course to bring development and change to war-affected communities of Congo (DRC). But it is much more than leadership training. It teaches healing and forgiveness, identity, time management, laws of leadership and how to create vision.

Phase 1 is an overview course that takes four months to complete. The commitment is high and the attrition rate corresponds (over 40% don't complete it) but the faithful that remain are truly transformed holistically in spirit, mind and body.

Long ago are the days when we used to spend the week before a teaching: typing the material, translating to French and printing all the copies. We used to run around mad! But we have evolved. Today, we have a dedicated team of Congolese to administer and teach Phase 1. They are revising the French translation and have even translated it into Swahili.

Orientation for Phase 1 Goma.
Over 55 arrived by personal invite only.
When we started the course in 2012, it felt barely possible to teach one class at a time. But now, we are launching three simultaneous courses of Phase 1. One taught in Goma appealing to the more educated Francophone population and two in the village of Masisi where our Peacemaker (former child soldier) Program is. The two in Masisi are taught in Swahili: one catering to counsellors in the Peacemaker Program and the other towards pastors and church leaders within the area.

Phase 1 means a lot to us as a GOF-Congo team. Our sweat, tears and literally even some blood has gone into making this course a success. 

Marcellin teaching Phase 1 in Masisi to our caretakers.
We are proud to say that this year is the first time the Congolese team is responsible for full oversight and facilitation. We told them, we are available for questions or hurdles but as far as the preparations, teaching, facilitation, protocol and everything else is on them. Our Congolese team knows the importance of this course to them, to us and to those taking it. The team couldn't be more anxious to take the reigns and run with it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Story Behind Phase 1

There once was a rebellious teenage girl who really believed that God was real. She felt His touch in Mexico and again when she went to a church camp in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.

Marcellin is the main instructor for the course in Congo. He is
reviewing the attendance and course materials at the GOF-C
main office.
She entered into a discipleship program at her church. A youth pastor and and high school English teacher  who worked at a local church created the program. This English teacher happened to be the same person who invited her to the church in the first place.

The English teacher spoke about God in a way that she remembered hearing years before, during a time when her family seemed more serious about God. It seemed that somewhere in that Book, he had found every answer to life’s question. Between the pages of every literary art, the screen write for every movie, he was able to draw out the heart of all of mankind and God’s redemptive message. This teacher couldn’t separate God from history, world politics, economics, and social issues. To him, it all was intricately intertwined and he captivated the minds and attention of the nearly all of his students. He took English beyond a book… it was a bit bone-chilling.

On the left is "the English school teacher"
and on the right is the youth pastor.
When the rebellious teenager went to her first youth service in the hall of the humble church, she saw the English school teacher was the preacher. There was a fire in his eyes. And in the most appropriate way possible, he cried out ‘my beloved’ and it seemed as if every word that left his mouth was specifically for her.

Months later she was finally ready to commit…

She walked into an orientation that was meant to discourage her away from taking the course. “The cost of discipleship,” is what they talked about. They said that she should count the cost and then stop counting… because if she continued to count all the things that she would give up, she’d eventually grow faint and quit.

And so after counting the cost, she entered a course that would become four of the most formative years of her life. The course would take her deep into the Amazon rainforest, where she swam in the vast river only meters away from pink dolphins. It would take her across the Atlantic into the African wilderness, where elephants caused traffic jams and babies cried at the site of white skin.

The course forced her to reconcile the reality of being as shrewd as a serpent while also keeping the gentility of a dove. She would have to figure out who she really was and be confident enough to stand alone on that truth.
 The discipleship training course was called the Climb. I started in this
program about ten years ago. This is part of the original group that I
studied the course with.

When she finished the course and said goodbye to her mentors, she took what she learned across the state and later on across the world where she would teach it with as much fervor and passion as when she was first taught it.

She would recreate the course with her new husband, adding elements of his church planting degree, his college campus ministry curriculum and eventually her principles of development and justice from her graduate school.

Together they would gather a team of committed friends and disciples from across the globe who would teach and reteach this curriculum to leaders across one of the most desolate nations in the world. The team would spend hours translating the course to French and then Swahili.

We 150 Congolese enrolled in three different Phase 1
classes at this time. One in French and the other two in
Swahili. The course is completely led and
initiated by local leaders.
They would see people whose families were slaughtered, whose wives, sisters and daughters were raped, bend there knees in reverence after counting the cost of forgiveness and saying, “I choose to forgive.” 

Phase 1 is not a topical study of biblical principles; it is a foundation and gateway for finding faithful, available and teachable individuals throughout the communities that we work in. It spans three spiritual generations. It crosses cultural barriers. It builds community and encourages transparency and vulnerability. The course is not just about a curriculum; it is about impartation, intensity and above else love and pursuit. When we brought Phase 1 to Goma our intention wasn’t to make another Bible institute. Our goal was to pursue the Congolese.

The rebellious teenaged girl was me. The course was called the Climb and it was an intensive discipleship program that was created by seemingly simple people whose faithfulness has reached far beyond their limits. Special thanks to those men and women who created the course.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Newsletter: Faces of the Nation

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Progress Amidst War

One of the counselors receiving his wages.
We listened to Marcellin speak to the group of counsellors and caretakers from the Peacemaker Program. It was probably one of the most fulfilling things we could ever see or hear as missionaries!

"It’s like I’m hearing myself talk, only he's doing better,” Andrew said, turning my way.
“My goodness!” I replied.

It was a moment, where we saw the true fruit of everything that we have been teaching over the past three years. Marcellin got it! And he was contextualizing everything that he had learned to meet the ears of people from the village.

We brought Marcellin, our Leadership and Discipleship Coordinator to Masisi just after rebels finished looting a number of the villages that we work in. This includes the Mukohwa, the village where the Center is being built.

Both the children in our Peacemaker Program and the counselors who work with them ran for the bush. They had just returned a few days before we arrived.

The good news is that everyone one is accounted for. The bad news is that rebels burnt one village, Bukombo, completely to the ground. Bukombo is home to Matata, one of the counselors in our program and twelve of the children in the Peacemaker Program. The rebels burnt the little that they had down, including the school. 

Marcellin doing the introduction to the pilot Phase 1
leadership-training that is launches in Masisi this month.
While rebels continued fighting only seven miles down the road, we talked to the caretakers, met with local church leadership and collected soil samples from our land.

After collecting our children's' report cards, we found that 98 percent of them passed. Just over 25 percent are scoring a B or higher. This was encouraging.

Our counselors requested additional curriculum to go through with the children during their weekly meetings.

“We sometimes read the Bible with them and discuss it, other times we take them out and kick a soccer ball around, other times we discuss issues that they face at home,” said Aime, one of the counselors. But the counselors definitely requested a formal manual that they can go over with their assigned particular group of Peacemakers.

We have known these counselors for nearly two years and walking with them through child protection training, the Empower Program and setting the foundation for the Peacemaker Program--- we have noticed an area that we want to focus on in more depth: their personal lives.

Marcellin taking soil samples to test the soil composition.
This helps determine the best crops for the area. 
It’s one thing to have a program that does A, B and C. It’s another thing to see everyone that is a part of that program living a victorious and sanctified life. We want that for the counselors in Masisi. We know that if they are seeing victory in their personal lives, they will be able to help these children reintegrate better than we could ever.

Starting next month we are doing a pilot Phase 1 leadership-training with the counselors in our program administered primarily by leaders from the Goma Training Center who we have been working with for 3+ years. They have worked tirelessly to reformat the training for illiterate populations and for people who are in the village while also keeping the key principles and concepts.

Mom teaching a card trick to local children in Mukohwa
The leadership training will be integrated with an agricultural project that will help with food sustenance for both the counselors, their families and the children in our program. The agricultural program will be lead by Gisele, our Development Coordinator, who will work hand in hand with Marcellin.

"Our philosophy of change depends on the character of the inner man. Our vision is multidimensional and for this reason, we expect our results to be multidimensional. For this reason, we choose to invest the majority of our time investing in you!"

I remember saying that at our most recent staff training. I'm humbled to see that they are not only walking this out in their own lives, but also bringing it to the war zones.

We were happy to have Mom visit us for two
weeks in Congo. She accompanied us to
Masisi during this trip. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What is an Iceberg?

We have just over 70 active members in the Goma Community Center, 100 children in the Peacemaker Program, 50 young girls in the Kibati women’s program and about 20 leaders in Masisi that are already involved in the Masisi Community Center (which is an ongoing building project at this point).

We made a large color coordinated calendar for the whole
year, incorporating all aspects of each training center
location: Goma, Kibati and Masisi.
We have 10 people who are in very serious positions of leadership who we personally disciple on a one-on-one basis (only by God’s grace). These ten people are the people who oversee and lead all of the people and projects that are mentioned above. They are a diverse group that represent 8 different tribes, multiple walks of life and various talents and giftings.

Our leadership team is the lifeline behind all of our work in Congo. This team goes above and beyond what we could ever do in reaching the darkest areas in this region and lifting some of the most oppressed people of this world out of the ashes.

They are our best friends. They are our disciples. Truly, there isn’t even words to describe what our leadership team means to us.

We spent 3-4 days doing training and planning with GOF-C leadership last week. It was a time of intense vision casting, capacity building and team building.

One point that we discussed extensively with our leadership was something that we described as "THE ICEBERG CHALLENGE".

First, we had to describe what an iceberg was and illustrated its power by watching a movie clip from James Cameron's film Titanic.

Amethyst sitting with Claude "Tawi", to create
benchmarks and timelines for the Peacemaker
An iceberg is a large piece of ice that broke off of a glacier. It is more than what meets the eye. An iceberg’s tremendous power to stop ships lies beneath the surface of the water— 90 percent of it is hidden. This means that only 10 percent can be seen above the water!

We used the iceberg as a way to describe our model of development as individuals and as a team. Ninety percent of what we do goes on beneath the surface: in our prayer lives, in our homes, in our character and how we interact as a team.

We talked about what a culture of trust and honor was in an organization and why it is necessary to keep this at the forefront of the ministry. Andrew spoke about our multi-dimensional goal of bringing people to Jesus and seeing them barring fruit in their lives—whoever they are or wherever they are at in life.

The thing about working in an area that has been a state of an emergency for more than 20 years, is that ‘relief’ becomes a way of life for the people. Relief is not true development--- it is a means to saving lives, but it is not sustainable. It is ultimately a band-aid.

What happens when you put a band-aid over a serious wound for 20 years?

The affect is very destructive to the society as a whole.

Our leadership team is surrounded by humanitarian relief organizations, many of which are not Christian at all. This can be very difficult on them. It’s a bit intimidating to sit in meetings with larger organizations with huge budgets that boast statistics and metrics and sneer at faith-based initiatives. 

“We have to know our identity, culture and values and stand in unity to accomplish what God has called us to do.” Andrew reinforced in one the teachings.

We ended our sessions with creating a calendar for the entire year that included all of our programs, timelines, benchmarks and tangible, measurable goals for every aspect of our organization: prayer, evangelism, discipleship, development and justice.

It was a time of laughter and unity. It was a time that reminded me why I do what I do. These leaders, are truly where my heart is. If we could empower them to change the darkest arenas of this country, then we wouldn’t need another adventure in the world to go on.

Until then, we will embark on these adventures alongside them.

Explaining 'The Iceberg Challenge' that our team faces, which
involves building healthy internal values and culture as a
necessary infrastructure for long-term work. 

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