Thursday, December 4, 2014

Signs of the Kingdom: Tesimonies in Congo

There are so many different situations and stories that happen to us in Congo on a day-to-day basis. It is difficult to keep up with them! A letter written by a friend and supporter who visited us in Congo this fall, really depicts small glimpses of life lived here.

Sam has been a faithful supporter and dear friend to the team 
in Congo. This was his second trip to see the progress of 
the ministry and also do some ministry too!

A Letter from Sam:
I had a set agenda for my time in the Congo. When I arrived, however, God began to redirect me. After being with my friends, Andrew and Amethyst for a few days, I began to understand that they were in need of much encouragement and refreshing despite the fact that their ministry is doing very well right now. It is not easy being a missionary at times. You often find yourself caught in between two worlds. You can’t quite relate to those in your home country, and you can’t quite relate to those in the country you live in either. It became clear to me that the main reason God had sent me there was to encourage my friends, and logically by touching the leaders of a ministry, you touch everyone underneath them as well.

Everywhere I went, there was ministry. Upon my arrival, we went to buy a SIM card for my cell phone. At the store, I saw a lame woman on the street. I wanted to pray for her. She let us pray, and as we did, more than twenty other people crowded around us! I wasn’t expecting this, but they wanted to see what these 'white men' wanted with a lame, beggar woman.

People from the crowd asked for prayer. One man asked us to visit his home and to pray for his wife to have a baby, which we did a couple days later. After praying, I knew it was time to preach the Gospel. I stood up on the curb and as Andrew translated for me, I shared about the love that God has for us despite our sinfulness. I was reminded of Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.”

On another day, I walked with Ibrahim, a member of the Community Center, to a school where he taught English (as a third or fourth language) to educated young adults and college students.  He invited me teach the class that day since I was visiting from U.S. and was a native English speaker. I spent time talking to the students after the class, telling them why I was in Congo: to share Christ with people.
The students appreciatively invited me back to class the next day. This time, they asked me to preach the Gospel to them, so the next day I came back and preached the Gospel to the entire class!

I planned to go to the Masisi Centre, where the Roths and their team started the Peacemaker Program, a ministry that helps transition children from the militia back into their community. This part of my trip was much shorter than anticipated, but still fruitful.

We met with several of the Peacemakers’ caretakers to encourage them. I brought my guitar and facilitated music for worship and prayer using some of the Swahili I had learned to worship God. We had a powerful time together!

Andrew, Claude (who oversees of the Peacemaker Program)
and I in Masisi. 
The next day was a training day for pastors. Again, I used my guitar to lead the people into a time of worship before the training. The training went very well. Afterward, I had the great privilege of meeting one of the Peacemakers in the program named Augustin. Holy Spirit guided me as I talked with him. I just loved him and shared things with him that the Lord had taught me that I thought would help him on his journey in life. I prayed over him and gave him a big hug before I left.

I was actually a little discouraged, because I only had a short time with him. But I decided to trust God ...and He didn’t disappoint.

I bought some souvenirs at a local shop before leaving Congo. One of them was a special wooden, carved mural with images reminding me of Goma, the city that I stayed in.

After returning to Andrew and Amethyst's house, I turned the carving over and the artist had carved his name on the back.

The name of the artist was Augustin, the same name as the Peacemaker that God had allowed me to minister to!

I knew right then that God was encouraging me, letting me know that my short time with Augustin was significant. I know one day that God is going to use him in great ways.

Wooden mural of Goma with “Augustin” carved in the back. 
The last part of my trip involved the Prayer House that is based out of the Community Center in Goma. I met with the prayer leaders one night to share with them my story and what the Lord has shown me about the powerful combination of prayer and worship. We took time to rest in God's presence and had an awesome time together.

On my last night, the Community hosted all-night prayer for different members and churches in the community. Throughout the night I taught on the seven lifestyle commitments designed to take those who are hungry for more of God to another level in their relationship with Him. It was the perfect setting for this kind of teaching.

The Father worked everything out just perfectly. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Boy. Soldier. Student. Leader-- Peacemaker.

**Note: names have been changed in this post in order to protect the safety and identity of minors.

“I woke up in the bush and felt like I had no hope or future,” said Julius. “I prayed to God and said either just let me die in the bush or let me escape.”

Julius wasn’t to die in the bush, in fact a small group of him and his friends escaped from the rebel militia and after traveling over 50 kilometers on foot they finally arrived back in his village just near Masisi Centre.

Julius taking notes studiously as The Congo Tree
facilitators teach about social action.
“When I arrived back my mother didn’t know what to do. She was so happy to see me and I was so happy to see her. But unfortunately my father died in the war.”

Though happy to be back, Julius found himself unable to handle life back at home. Yes his mother was happy he had returned but didn’t know what to do with him.

“I used to behave very badly, trying to steal and I was very angry.”

Peacemakers brain storming on how to be a positive
influence within their communities.
He entered into a program run by the Catholic development arm that takes the children from the mentality they had in the village and brings them through counseling and exercises to allow them the ability to transition back into life outside of the militia.

“CTO helped me a lot but I still found myself wondering-- what kind of future could I possibly have? I didn’t have school fees or anything to do. Thanks to GOF-C, I am able to go to school. The teachings I get through GOF-C have helped me a lot.”

To help build upon the foundation we’ve already laid, every so often GOF-C has the ability to partner with other likeminded organizations. Recently we held a three-day Young Leaders Training (YLT) seminar with our friends Amy and Heidi from The Congo Tree, a UK based charity.

The Congo Tree seeks to inspire young leaders to change society using alternative and creative ways to build peace, lead with integrity, serve others and innovate in enterprise. The seminar was held in a retreat type atmosphere, away from the busyness of everyday life to focus on the concepts of leadership, teamwork, problem solving, communication and social action planning. 

Julius is very creative but tends to blend in as just another member of the crowd.

In one exercise, he seemed pensive and disinterested for half of the time until he saw the others having problems.

"Give me the rope, if we do it this way, we will succeed no problem, I'll show you." The others caught on and it was Julius in the lead.

In the post activity debrief the facilitators asked for someone to give positive feedback to another.
Toxic waste: remove a bucket from the middle of a circle,
you can't touch the bucket nor enter into the circle.

One peacemaker immediately took the floor.

"At first Julius didn't say anything and wasn't involved…" At this point I was thinking wait isn't this time for positive feedback? But the peacemaker continued, "But then he brought an important idea and it was his idea that helped us succeed."

The smile on Julius' face was ear to ear.

"Do you see the power of positive encouragement?" Amy inquired of the group.

"I feel encouraged and confident," said Julius and the other peacemaker commented how he felt good to make someone else feel good.

Social Action

To put leadership principles together with practical community implementation, in the YLT there is a social action plan project in which the Peacemakers were to split into three groups to develop a plan. The groups were to compete for $50 and the group with the best plan presentation would be awarded the amount. The young leaders came up with some really creative ideas that could make a high impact within the community.

A group of peacemakers working through a problem
solving challenge, the catch: no talking!
Julius was in a group that came up with a dynamic, high yield project. Julius, the main presenter for the group, said they planned to buy a pig and from the offspring they could turn their $50 into $300. This would then help to pay for school fees of other orphans like Julius.

“All of us used to be child soldiers and many people in the community don't think we can do anything. But with this project, it is an opportunity to show them that we can do something positive. We called our group Peace for a reason. We have hope that we will bring peace to our communities through showing that we can do something positive.”

Julius is just one Peacemaker who first hand felt the positive effects of hope. Let us pray that he and the others will continue to apply what they've learned when the going gets difficult and tough.

Romans 5:3-5 - “3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

GOF-C Peacemakers and The Congo Tree team together after
 receiving their certificates of completion. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

What Does Excellence Look Like?

Am I social worker or a missionary? 
It has been our goal to see the kids in our program transformed in multiple areas of their lives: spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally and relationally. It is not enough to just believe for it or to take what they say at face value. Excellence takes time, effort, energy and money to measure results. But it also stops to listen to the sound of the wind, sometimes changing directions when necessary.

We have set a number of goals for what we (both us and our Congolese colleagues) want for the children in our program: reconciliation with their families and communities, higher education, leadership skills and abilities, spiritual formation, etc….

We have also encouraged each child in the program to set a number of measurable goals for themselves.

Why is this important? 
“It is important that we help people set goals for themselves. Goals that they can achieve—or else the goals will become just another thing in life that they always wanted but could never have. It will become oppressive rather than empowering,” said Clarence Tedrow, a short-term team member who works as a Christian counselor.

Our team worked with the caretakers/counselors in our program to develop a case-management matrix that can document the progress of our children. The matrix measures multiple areas of their lives within their context: family relationships, substance abuse, housing, food security, domestic abuse, access to clean water, etc…, and then grades them on 1-4 scale. 1 being in crisis and 4 being stable.

This helps us to better understand the state of each individual in our program and to make informed decisions about walking with them through their journey to healing and restoration. This is essentially social work. We have worked with multiple social workers and child protection specialists, but have found that within our context, this is a very new concept and also an ambitious goal.

Many organizations like to save the world, but take little time to actually measure the scope of their impact. This is sadly even truer for Christian missionary organizations, in our experience. Furthermore, organizations that do measure impact can often avoid listening to the people that they are working with. Let us explain: they make goals for people and villages that the people never even cared to achieve or saw relevant.

Although we know that we are not perfect by any means-- we are also working hard not to repeat some of these mistakes.

Although in French, here is the fruit of our hard work in preparing the case-management matrix that we are using to monitor progress of the young men in the Peacemaker Program and the young women in the Esther Project.

Strategic Planning
We and members of the team have been burning the midnight oil of late to do some serious praying, thinking and strategic planning for next year. We have done this before—but never at this level. The process has taken over a month to complete.

The Listening Cycle
We started out with two days of critical reflection and spiritually discerning the times. It was a time of worship, meditating on the scriptures and sharing what God is doing individually in each one of us and how that affects our role in ministry. We took time to reflect on the times that we live in: what’s happening in the world, in the church and in the country. We also took time to talk about the people we serve, listen to what they are saying and what God is doing in their lives.

It was a refreshing time, something that is necessary for keeping the vision fresh, staying transparent with each other and also seeing what God wants to do in the future.

Putting pencil to the paper
This was the tough part. We created serious goals and objectives for next year along with timelines, activities and budgets. The result was a line-by-line chart three-quarters the height of a person. Dang! It is detailed!

Lastly, we are training our team in some very specific practicalities that will give them the power and ability to seek funding for projects themselves, rather than relying only on us (Andrew and Amethyst) to raise support. This allows all of us to share the workload even more.

Big Partnerships … a risk that we are willing to take
Andrew and I started this ministry being in control of nearly every aspect of it. This is usually necessary when starting something new. But we are slowly relinquishing control of it, delegating responsibilities, dreaming less, talking less but listening more. We listen to the dreams of the people that we work with, listen to how they relate to those that we serve, listen to how they talk to God and about God, listen to how they work together in times of struggle and strife.

It’s beautiful, actually!

We feel very strongly about putting a tenure on our leadership in this organization. Staying too long will hurt the likelihood of becoming a truly indigenous movement. We also know that stepping out too soon will set our team as well as those who depend on us, up for failure. The age-old question of leadership has always been: when does a leader step out and step away? Few people in this world have gotten it right: Nelson Mandela and George Washington are some examples, but there are not many.

It has been in our vision to set a foundation (ironically, we joined Global Outreach Foundation) where diverse people, tribes and nations will unite and walk this nation into her full calling and destiny. Our hope is that this people-centered foundation would be a pillar of peace, where there is not much peace— a pillar of love and transparency that would draw people from all nations to Jesus and His ways.

That said, Andrew and I have been praying about making a pretty large partnership with a Congolese couple. We don’t know exactly what this will look like and we are still working out the details, thus we must remain vague on the matter. But we intend for this to be a covenant relationship unlike one that we have ever had before.

We request your prayers. We are praying for wisdom and guidance in this process for them and also for us. It is a decision that could change a lot of things in our future. We pray that we will not be hasty or over-idealistic.

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.

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