Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Day of Weeping and Mourning

*Note: although this event occurred nearly four months ago, it has taken time for us to digest it and find a way to respectfully share it with others. 

Our trips to Masisi are often some of the most intimate times with the local leaders and members of Global Outreach Foundation - Congo (GOF-C). We sleep in tents together (a complete culture shock for our Congolese comrades), we nestle near one another in sleeping bags, we cook together and literally dig our car out of the mud together. It makes for some great bonding time! Moses is a member of our team, who teaches guitar lessons at the Goma Community Center and is also the main worship leader for our ministry.

Clementine's grave marker at Goma Cemetery. 
Moses is also an engineer by trade. So, we decided to hire him as the foreman for the building project in Masisi.

He has taken multiple trips to Masisi with us and has worked hard to get the Masisi Community Center up. But our last trip with Moses to Masisi, is one that I can never quite forget.

The informal topic and/or joke of the trip was “Mapenzi yangu,” which can be translated as “My lover, my friend.” The Congolese decided to talk profusely about how Andrew and I call each other ‘love’ and ‘dove.’

“This is a good practice, I’m going to start doing that with my wife too.” Said, Marcellin, the Leadership Coordinator who was on the trip with us.

The subject went deeper between the married men that night. They talked for more than an hour about marriage and family life. I remember contently falling asleep while listening to the guys in my tent giggle and gloat about how much they loved their wives.

“She’s my best friend. I can talk to her about anything.” Moses told Marcellin.

They lived in a humble part of town called Ndosho, an area where police invade homes with guns to steal from the local population and where walking past 7 p.m. is a guaranteed way of getting held up and hijacked at gunpoint. They had three children and one adopted orphan. Moses' wife, Clementine was in her third trimester, pregnant with their fourth child.

If you understood African culture, you would understand how beautiful it is to hear men say this to each other openly. It was a moment where all the projects in the world couldn’t fill my heart as much as this. Deep. Genuine. Love. Between a man and a woman in the midst of a country where war, hate and violence has torn apart so many families. 

Senseless Death
Moses and members from the community at the burial.
After a long hard week in the villages, we all went home. Andrew and I went out for a date night in Kigali that weekend.

Moses came home to his wife’s delivery. It was late at night when she delivered and without proper transport and small means, they went to a small clinic down the street. Unfortunately, that clinic did not have the proper medical supplies. When she gave birth, she needed stitching. The clinic did not have the right equipment nor any IVs. So there they were, in a city of 1 million people unable to get to an adequate hospital. It took nearly two hours before they could find transport to a proper hospital—but by the time she arrived, it was too late. Clementine had already bled to death.

She left behind Moses, a beautiful baby girl and four other children.

Her last words to Moses were “go and do the work of the Lord,” when he called her earlier that day when she was having sporadic contractions.

 “Should I come home and let someone else lead worship at church?” he asked.

He thought that she might need to be admitted to the hospital soon. “Go and do the work of the Lord.” She said.

The Guitar
Moses (left) and Marcellin (right) the day
Moses got his brand new guitar!
Less than a year before Clementine's death, a short-term team member came to visit us in Goma. She felt that God told her to bring a guitar with her. Both she and her church raised a large amount of money to buy a good quality guitar.

She had no idea why. When she told us about her idea, we suggested to bless Moses with her guitar. He was a wonderful guitar player and worship leader—but he owned no guitar. She brought him a guitar not knowing what would happen in the future. Not knowing it would become one of the only things that would keep him sane through the pain he would endure in the coming year.

Congolese Culture and Mourning
The tribe that Moses comes from mourns similarly to the Jews. They are outward, open and raw about it. They don’t eat, don’t change clothes and roll on the floor and wail.

When a woman dies giving birth to a child who survives—the culture removes the child from all funeral practices. The child does not receive a name and the child remains with a distant family member away from the mourning parent and siblings for one week until the mourning is culturally finished.

The community comes to the home of the mourner for one straight week: cooking, giving donations to the funeral, organizing, praying and just being present for the mourners. Everyone contributes to tragedies like these. Everyone: neighbors, co-workers, family members, church members, friends and even friends of friends. As leaders of GOF-C, an organization that hired him as a builder and also friends of his family, we were also required to contribute. Our entire team sacrificed up to 30 percent of their monthly income from GOF-C to help Moses and his family.

We cancelled all programs for the week in order to help arrange the funeral, offer our vehicle, babysit the children and mourn alongside Moses.

It was a time that really affected Andrew and other members of our team with wives. We knew that this death could have been prevented if Clementine had only gone to a better hospital. Andrew and I felt particularly guilty for not being in the city when she was giving birth.

We could have easily picked Clementine up at night and brought her to a better hospital. It is a practice that we regularly do for friends and members of the Community Center: driving people to the hospital at night.

Andrew fell on the ground and cried with Moses for more than an hour in his house.

“Why did this happen, Andrew? I loved my wife so, so, so much.” He would say. “God has left me. And she has left me.”

Moses has turned repeatedly to his guitar and to worship through his sufferings this year. We have seen an amazing depth come out of his worship that we have never seen before. He has put together a humble choir at the community center and they have written a number of songs.

Moses spends most of his time finding work and serving God through leading worship at church and serving at the GOF-C Community Center. He is the foreman of our building in Masisi and a faithful and trustworthy friend to us.

His story is not rare. And that’s a travesty. Families lose their mamas all over Goma and all over the country. But never before had a statistic come some close to us. Never before have we found ourselves saying ‘if only I would’ve…’

We learned a lot through this death, about God, about community, about family, about culture, about each other and about worship. Some things that I can talk about publicly on a blog… others that I will not talk about.

But what I do know is that as members of the community here in Goma, we will continue to stand with the Congolese through their suffering. Although we can’t take away their pain, we can use the resources that God has given us to help them when it is possible. And in the times when it is not possible we can at least cry with them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ground Breaking

Moise ® staking and squaring the foundation.
We are excited to announce that we finally broke ground in Masisi! Getting these documents has exhausted nearly all of my patience but thankfully there is prayer and the Holy Spirit. Things in Congo often take a lot longer than anticipated and are progressive. Let me explain.

To get the building permit, we needed to get the land title in our name, to get the land in our name we needed to get our provincial non-government organization (NGO) documents completed and all of these steps take time, money and much patience. (Over a year and a half long process to be exact.) 

Other setbacks occurred as well, a few months ago when we were ready to start building, our building manager's wife died suddenly after giving birth but the baby lived. She was survived by her husband and now four kids. This was another huge set back. The timing of this was catastrophic, unforeseeable. We let him have a month to grieve and plan how to make arrangements for his family for when he will be occasionally gone to oversee building in Masisi.
Plotting the ground for the Masisi Training Center.

We are finally ready!

Finally last month Moise and I traveled to Masisi to check on the land, build the security wall, and to finish the final discussions about how to build with our "new" (to the Congolese) innovative method called earth sack building.

A bit about earth sack building. Have you sever seen a military base with all of those sand bags around the guard towers? Well picture that with smooth plastering over the walls and a proper tin roof, in a nutshell that is the basis to an earth sack building. Earth sack building is very inexpensive, uses local available materials, is resistant to bullets and grenade attacks, and overall is sustainable long-term. 

Foundation dug, and the dirt on the inside will be used
to fill the earth sacks.
Based on these criteria, we chose this method of building. 

It will be a small learning process for all of us but we believe that we will be able to build it quickly and hopefully in time before the worst of the rainy season. 

Pray that there won't be any hold ups and that all will go well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Graduation of Phase 1 Leaders

A picture of all of the graduates.
We graduated our third leadership training course from our Goma Community Center! Global Outreach Foundation - Congo (GOF-C) seeks to empower Congolese with leadership skills to make changes in themselves, family, community and wherever else they may be. One might say, it is too idealistic to believe that broad scale change can occur by reaching individuals. However, our testimonies would suggest otherwise.

"I was invited to South Africa for a leadership training course where I would've had to pay over $2,000 USD not including travel. But I can tell you the truth, the training that I received in this course is way better than what I could have received there!" said Jackson, a local community leader. 

"I want to thank the missionaries and GOF-C staff, opportunities like this don't occur often. We learned concepts that are applicable in our lives and really what kind of people offer this for free? To say truly, we learned how to apply the Bible conceptually and practically to make a change in our lives if not all of Congo." said Bertrand a youth leader in a local church.

Many people from all walks of life attended, this lady
attended pregnant the whole time and delivered just
a few days before the graduation ceremony.
Something was different about this course than the two other previous courses. It was nearly all Congolese facilitated with only small help from Amethyst and I (Andrew). We served as advisors to our Congolese course facilitators and their volunteers to help the trainings go well. 

Without hesitation the Congolese where eager to take ownership over the course and really went the extra mile to make sure these Phase 1 students really understood the materials. 

Marcellin, the leadership training facilitator commented, "GOF-C has helped me very much, let me say again TONS in my own life and I want to help others know this information. Congolese don't know these principles and when they do, together we will see change in Congo."

When we asked him over a year ago whether or not he wanted to teach Phase 1, he couldn't be any more excited. "YES, of course I want to teach this course!" So we took about six months to groom and train him to really know whether or not he knew the material. In fact, because he is a Congolese he knows the concepts so well that he elaborates or emphasizes certain points or concepts so that Congolese can make them applicable and truly understand.

The results speak for themselves and really we can't take any credit for the success as the Congo team are the ones to really praise. 

- The course started with 65 candidates and finished with 55. That is about an 85% retention rate, for a course that demands everyone to arrive on-time in a culture where tardiness isn't faux-paux. 

- Five Congolese who finished the previous Phase 1 volunteered their time and effort to help support and make the class go well.

- Amethyst and I only taught two times out of the 14-week course. This allowed us to sit and observe how things took place and to see how God used our volunteers.

Many gave testimonies about their experience.
The last surprise of the Congolese was that we had the celebration at our GOF-C Office HQ. It was a wonderful timed filled with testimonies, stories, memories and of course celebrating. Each graduate was allowed one guest to share in the celebration. Everyone loved it.

For more graduation photos visit the GOF-Congo Facebook Page.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Esther Project

Esther Project (EP) is a ministry that functions under the justice component of GOF-C. EP organizes dynamic, inter-generational women groups that have a Biblical understanding of personal inner healing, identity and independence. The groups are meant to provide:

  • A safe environment for inter-dependence, accountability and peer-to-peer counseling. 
  • Opportunities to advocate holistic solutions for women at a grassroots level.
  • Resources, strategy and structure for women to transform their own communities and beyond by offering theoretical teaching, practical training and social justice for oppressed members of the community.

Lady in Waiting
Lady in Waiting is a discipleship course that targets unmarried ladies and teaches about personal self-worth, identity and inner healing. The course addresses marginalization, stereotypes and unrealistic expectations that are placed on women by their communities. It provides a healthy and safe environment to express struggles and discuss productive solutions. The course explores historical, cultural, biblical and strategic perspectives on handling issues that women face in the society.
  • Femininity & Self Respect
  • Education 
  • Women’s Rights
  • Women’s Health
  • Sex Education
  • Marriage
  • Gender Roles 
Peacemaker Scholarship
A scholarship that selects vulnerable/at-risk girls between ages 12-18 in the community for higher education. Scholarship recipients are also assigned peer accountability groups with trained counselors that keep record of the girls' personal progress. This program aims to formulate women leaders in the community through:
  • Biblical deliverance and discipleship 
  • Education 
  • Healing through the arts and other recreational activities
Hand Work
This program teaches basic entrepreneurship principles and skills to generate micro-enterprise. All profits are redistributed into a small Esther Relief fund, which contributes to emergency situations women within the program face.

Esther Project trains and organizes women to work within other components of GOF-C to reach and rescue other vulnerable members of the society:
  • Prostitutes and victims of human trafficking 
  • Street children 
  • Women in prison

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Newsletter: What's Going On?

There’s always a time and place for deep long reflections of what is happening on the field, but today is not that day! Here is a quick overview of some programs that we have done in the past month. More to come soon!
Young Women   
We turned the GOF-C offices into a retreat venue for 45 women in Goma last month to launch project “Esther." This is a project that provides opportunities to vulnerable teenage girls within the community to heal, learn and be agents of change in their society. Congo is the second most dangerous country to be a women and Goma is on the top 5 worst cities to live in as a women.

We gathered young ladies from different churches and ministries to talk about their life during “such a time as this.” The retreat was three days long and it included a sleepover party at night. Ladies from ages 15-30 gathered and covered topics such as ‘women healing women,’ ‘excellence’, and discussed practical ways that women can influence the society—specifically a society where women are marginalized. We also provided opportunities for them to sign up for a leadership course for women as well as a practical skills course for income generating opportunities.

Kid's Field Day

We are building a Community Center in Masisi as neutral place where members of the community can gather, learn and participate in changing their community. We started in Masisi by launching the Peacemaker Program, which works to reintegrate children from the militia back into their communities, but it’s never good to focus on just one group of people when entering a community. This can cause jealousy and stigmatization.

So, we used the land to host a field day for young children in the village. This is a new concept for this area. It was quite an adventure to pull this off! Team members from Goma and Masisi gathered children at stations (according to their age) to play games and just be children.

Parents and members from the community gathered and cheered on (and I admit, sometimes cackled) at the event. Watching the children have something to do (even though it was a bit chaotic) brought a lot of life into the area.

The building of the Community Center is still in progress, but we are working to involve various members of the community into activities that GOF-C is doing. This serves as a way to sensitize the community to the idea of owning the Community Center and seeing it as a place that is not there to benefit just one tribe, marginalized group, church or organization—but as a place that is there for the community to engage in.

Peacemaker Program 
The children in our program have recently finished their final exams and we are analyzing their scores and talking to their headmasters about progress they have seen throughout the year. We are pleased to say that more than 10 percent of our children finished at the top of their class. But we are also measuring varying other factors in their journey to healing. More updates will come soon on this.

Andrew and I feel behind in communicating with many of our supporters and loved ones, but that’s mainly because we have really tried to prioritize our time together, time with our disciples and of course, time of personal alone time and reflection.

It’s easy to say, “I’m going to meditate and reflect,” and find that we are actually doing program planning instead. We have worked not to do this and to protect personal critical reflection and time to be with each other.

We have also seen the need to spend large amount of time with our core team. Listening to them, answering their questions and just facilitating time for them to reflect as a team. This is not easy as outsiders from another country. As North Americans, we have a natural tendency to bulldoze ideas and opinions in the way of our Congolese friends. In their humility, they will keep quiet and not say what they really feel or think and this can cause us (all of us, as a team) to lose an opportunity to minister to each other and the rest of the community in the most effective way possible.

We admit that we have been bogged down with a number of our projects. So much so that we have gotten behind on posting updates.

Stories happen. They come and go faster than we can take the time to reflect, write and share with others. Please know that we appreciate your love, your support and your prayers so much. We want to share these stories.

Be patient and we will begin posting soon!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Thank you!

Click to watch our thank you video!

Thank you.... 

We have just returned from a weeklong trip to Masisi, where we are building a Community Peace Center (formerly called a Training Center). We were able to mobilize a team of five disciples from the Goma Community Center (GCC) for the first time. Why? Because we had our new Toyota Land Cruiser 105 Series! 

We have worked for more than four years with members of the Goma Community Center. They have prayed and contributed to the work in Masisi with the reintegration of former child soldiers, pastoral trainings, leadership seminars and many other aspects of our work in Masisi, though never having set foot there. 

“When will we go there to meet these people that we have been praying for? When will we also sleep in tents, eat new foods and minister in the most vulnerable areas in our country?” said one member of the Goma Community Center. 

We got these questions nearly a year ago after an outreach in Kibati (another village near Goma that we work in) where they gave clothes to the community returning to rubble after serious clashes between the M23 rebel group and the Congolese National Army. 

But Masisi was a 4-6 hour drive (depending on the road conditions) through more volatile territories. We knew that bringing a team of Congolese to Masisi from the GCC was a logistical nightmare without another capable 4x4 vehicle. So, we continued occasionally taking one or two members of the GCC once a month just to get to know them and allow them to see what God is doing out in the most volatile areas. Those Congolese brought back stories that ignited a passion at the Goma Community Center. 

People want to be mobilized. 

They want to serve. 

“There are no jobs in Goma at this time. Employment is a very big issue. People are stagnant, depressed and angry,” said Julius Paluku, a member of the center, “but if we could just mobilize those people to do something with their time and try to be a part of changing that situation, it will open the their mind and also other doors of opportunity for them.”

We work with universities, single moms, high school students, the unemployed and many others who WANT to do something, but have simply lacked training or an opportunity. We put them through some basic training and provide opportunities for these people to be a part of changing their community in practical ways, by mobilizing them to less-reached areas outside of Goma and allowing them to volunteer within their communities or communities they’ve never set foot in before. 

This opportunity provides a sense of camaraderie, encouragement and professional experience that will build their experience-level and confidence to generate new ideas within their own spheres of influence. It also provides a network of other people from varying generations, tribes, socio-economic classes and denominations for members to have accountability and support. 

Now, with this newly purchased Land Cruiser, we will be able to take larger teams from the GCC, mobilizing them as volunteers and workers in the harvest within the three locations that we operate in. We are thankful for the generous donors who’ve sowed their prayers and finances into helping purchase this vehicle. You’ve sowed into more than just a vehicle; you’ve sowed into mobilizing a solid team of disciples bringing peace, development, innovation and long-term change within themselves and the communities in which we work. Again, thank you. We truly don’t know the impact made until together we see in eternity.

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