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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day in the Life

Amethyst Roth

It hurts when I breathe in deeply, because there's so much dust that filled my lungs today. I just washed a mud-like substance out of my hair accompanied by at least three unidentifiable insects that fell out in the muck. I thought I had a tan, until I washed myself and realized it was dust plastered over pretty much every centimeter of my body. I passed two UN contingents carrying seemingly enough arms to blow up the whole forest. I passed a squabble between two soldiers and civilians. I also passed a group of soldiers beating the hell out of another soldier, whose gun was thrown on the ground in front of our vehicle. I drove over it as fast as I could, trying to avoid hitting some other soldiers involved in the rough-housing. All while Andrew and the rest of the Congolese were yelling, "Drive! Drive! Drive!" at me (as if I'm seriously going to stop and stare at a bunch of angry soldiers fighting with loaded weapons?) Halos flew over our vehicle more often than usual and our return home was met with news that only 30 km from the villages that we work in, another armed group abducted scores of children who were on the way to their final exams. I say all this to say that through a seemingly chaotic day (which is actually just a normal day for us)—we had so much laughter, so many smiles and I have so much appreciation for the villages that we work in, the people we work with, the boys (even though some of them can act like punks) we work with and wouldn’t trade this job for the world.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bring Our Boys Home

Some of our Peacemakers who are in secondary school.
Congolese young people all over the country are scrambling to collect their final payments for school fees, prepare for exams and make it through the last part of the school year.

This marks the end of the first year that we officially started the Peacemaker Program, a program that brings children past the demobilization and rehabilitation process and into reintegration. This is so key for villages and micro-communities who need their young people more than ever to thrive in the face of an ongoing war.

We put our boys into school as an approach to bringing stability, hope and vision into their lives. The vast majority of them passed and thirty percent of them are at the top 10 percent of their class. 

But the Peacemaker Program has never only been about school and academics. Our vision for these boys runs much deeper. We want to bring them home to the Father.

The idea of art healing in the program was formulated because we believe that artistic expression is a pathway to encountering God.

I (Amethyst) would have never met God if someone wouldn’t have told me to dance, even if it meant looking like a heathen at times—if someone hadn’t told me to write, even if it meant writing like a heathen, or to play the piano even if the songs were only an expression of the darkness inside of me. 

Andrew and his Land Rover Discovery XD, his first
introduction to technical off-roading: a skill he now
uses on a weekly basis here in eastern DRC.
Andrew would have never met God they way he did, if it weren’t for a Land Rover. He would have never even considered world missions, if it weren’t for his obsession with 4x4 technical off-roading. He would have never been trained with Overland Missions if he hadn’t known that the guy who was training him was the coach of the top team of the most popular technical off-road completion of its time: Camel Trophy. (Camel—yup like the cigarettes.)

Sounds pretty carnal, doesn’t it? God took those things that seemed….                              
Well, off the point and hit us point blank with destiny.

I can’t say that either of us would be here if we were expected to hear the Gospel at an open air meeting, repented, went to church, sought discipleship and so on. Not that I’m diminishing the importance of doing any of those things.

One of our Peacemakers drawing about a bad memory he
experienced during one exercise. This was followed
by him drawing a picture of a good memory. 
We tested the waters last year of what art therapy with kids in this situation looked like by going to see other programs who work in similar ways, we tried implementing a simplified version of the Hero Book, we spent time with the boys learning about what they LIKE to do: soccer, cards, dancing, singing, farming and drawing. We learned about their home situations directly and indirectly. Now we’ve got a foundation to work with. We have an idea and now understand where they are spiritually, mentally and physically.

The boys formed a relationship with their counselors and have established mutual trust and respect for them. We are now working with Congolese from the Goma Community Center to create a youth friendly curriculum that goes through the same principles of Phase 1 in a more simplified way. The curriculum is meant to take complex foundational principles like forgiveness, reconciliation, identity, self-discipline etc… and break them into 1-2 hour meetings that they have weekly with their counselors. The meetings entail games, traditional African proverbs and group projects.

The Arts Component 
After a group has thoroughly learned a concept, for example reconciliation, identity, forgiveness or justice--- we assign the group a project that has to do with using creativity to illustrate the concept in that they have learned. This can be through a skit, song, dance, painting/or drawing or any other method of expression. Local Congolese artists from the community center volunteer their time to teach them the basics about their particular art and offer a foundation for each group of boys to work with and  we give them the proper supplies. The boys are loosely guided by us, the artists and their caretakers to create and illustrate what they are learning.

Sharing with the Community
The groups are able to present their work and/or performances in a safe environment to their family and friends when we hold a special party/presentation get-together. We invite leaders of the community, family members and even visitors from Goma to come to see the boy’s presentations. We allow the boys to explain their presentations to the people after they finish. Our counsellors and coordinators work hard to make sure the boys have a good grasp on the concept and help them to formulate ways to explain why they drew, sang, painted or moved the way that they chose to.

This reinforces the concept that they have been studying with their counsellor. They learn it, they interpret it and they explain it back.

We don't force any of the boys to participate in the performance, they can choose to, if they want. But most are eager to try something new.

We are still in the process of formulating this program by organizing the curriculum, training the counsellors, partnering with local Congolese artists and finding locations for their performance for the community. It's no small task.

This is not the only way to bring these boys home. But we believe that it's one way.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Vehicle Update: The Last Push

Andrew's Vehicle Update:

This past week was a bit of a scramble as I (Andrew) was getting very creative with trying to get enough funds over to Congo for a United Nations vehicle auction this weekend. Unfortunately the vehicles of interest to me went for more than what everyone expected and one slightly more than we could afford (around $28,000 considering documents, duty, taxes and repairs.) I reneged on an $18,000 bid after calculating and being somehow explained the vague import and duty taxes that I would be assessed (making it $28,000) and as a result lost the $1,000 refundable entry fee as a penalty. It was a great opportunity to get a vehicle but it wasn't to be. (This is very disappointing to me and I want to be as transparent as possible with all that has transpired.)

In our quest to be strategic, good stewards and do the most amount of good with the finances we've been given, we've come to several ideas. (UN auction not being one of them any more.) 

We had an AWESOME response to our appeal for a vehicle last Christmas and since then, some other donors have made large contributions! Whether it be $20 or $2,000 or larger we are so happy that our supporters have really caught the vision for this need! It’s never easy to put out a plea like this one!

But, even with everyone’s support and generosity-- our goal of $45,000 is a large number!

Our Options:

So after giving it much thought and prayer, our team found another solution for transporting supplies from Goma to the village, which was one of the key MAIN reasons that we needed such a robust vehicle. After reevaluating, it seems that we can save money, by doing the following:

A. Fixing our current vehicle very well and lifting it 2.5” to handle the terrain better


B. Buying a similar vehicle to our current one (Only getting an 8 seat, manual diesel version instead.) People in the U.S. know this vehicle as a Toyota 4Runner.

C. Buying a Yamaha dirt bike to go through the areas where the vehicle cannot make it.

This would cut our expenditure for vehicles down from $45,000 to about $35,000 and most importantly, it would allow our team to work in multiple locations simultaneously, which is a big deal. This is a strategic move because we work in multiple sites that have vast distances in between them.

This means that we need about $10,000 more to hit our goal…

We know that many of you have given faithfully and have contributed to this vehicle fund. But if you haven’t we really encourage you to contribute.

We know it’s hard for our friends abroad to comprehend our need for these vehicles…  But if you are a doubter, please invest your money in a plane ticket and pay us a visit in Masisi. You will quickly understand the urgency!

This month is a huge infrastructure building and logistic planning month for us as we are about to receive short-term visitors in June, July and August. In addition, we are ramping up our Women’s Program and Peacemaker Program. In having multiple vehicles that can be in multiple locations, we are able to double our work, involve more personnel, making a greater impact.

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