BY ALLI NEWELL
August 10, 2015
As I sit here at home, getting ready to start my first week back at professional development for school, my heart is wrecked. Literally wrecked. As in, I just starting tearing as I made coffee, like really, really good coffee.
Being back just a week, it feels as though I am just now readjusting to the reality I was witness of in the Congo.
To process the stories I heard of war-torn communities, incessant rape and sexual abuse, lack of education, lack of access to clean water, the stories of pain can go on. YET, the deep sense of Hope and Joy is alive in Bunia. People worship freely and loudly. Their laughter is contagious and their smiles are healing. Their eyes are on fixed on today, but see the horizon of tomorrow.
Teachers are craving change and more education, children have hope for the future, students want better schools, women want help out of abusive relationships, police and politicians want to lead without corruption, leaders aim to rise up other just leaders.
So when I get the good intended question of, “How was Africa?”, I respond with “amazing, life-changing, incredible.” But my response should really be, “How much time do you have?” Because the stories I have need to be heard, but will probably wreck your heart, too.
But isn’t that what we are called to do? To share our stories? And not just the filtered, life-is-awesome, Instagram photos, but also the hurting, sad, or conflicted stories we are witnesses to or walked ourselves. Isn’t our call to have our hearts hurt for those who are hurting, to feed the hungry, to heal the hurting, YET at the same time fully rejoice with the hope and promise of Christ. Yes! I think so.
So, I have stories to share. Stories that have changed me, wrecked me, inspired me, and allowed my eyes to see Hope differently.
Thank you, Africa.
BY JORDAN COOPER LEE
In the twelve years since the civil war ended in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the country has been seeking to rebuild itself. And for the past six years, The Bunia Evangelical Francophone Church has been partnering with Bel Air Presbyterian Church to put on personal development conferences to help transform the country. As a member of Bel Air Pres and a Los Angeles Police officer serving in South Central Los Angeles, I was invited to join the 2015 mission team to speak to the Congolese military and police.
In the year spent preparing for this trip, I felt woefully unqualified for the task. But biblically speaking, that is exactly who God uses. He equips the called. By the time I got to the Congo, I realized that God has been developing me and giving me a foundation of training and experience in military leadership, sociology, poverty alleviation, at-risk-youth development, police community relations, gender violence, and ministry. I was able to synthesize all of these to come alongside the Congolese church and aid them in their quest for restoration of their country.
Police: After spending a week talking with Congolese police officers, learning what issues face them, and studying the city up close, I was able to speak about the corruption that was keeping their country in poverty and how it was up to them to break the cycle of corruption. At one point, I thought I was going to get arrested for my boldness, but God paved the way and they were completely receptive to the ideas of integrity in all things, respect for all people, and how to gain trust in the community they serve. They asked me for copies of my talk and asked me to return next year.
Military: In an audience of military commanders, General Kaseekiela and the head magistrate of the region spoke on war crimes, genocide, and the rules of engagement. When it was my turn at the podium, I challenged the commanders to see their profession and leadership as a calling from God to serve the people, and I spoke of how a country can only develop when there is a foundation of security. I explained that the Congolese church’s efforts to help the people in business development, education, and health care would be fruitless if people are not safe and cannot trust their government. Many of their business leaders are weary of importing products into the country because of the many levels of graft and extortion they must pay, and many young women won’t go to school out of fear of sexual assault while walking there.
Security Trainees: The Bunia church puts on vocational classes for young men (many of them former child soldiers) to become certified as private security guards so they can find employment in the city. Some of these “security boys,” as I called them, guarded the compound in which we stayed, and I quickly befriended them. They asked me if I could come speak to their class. I expected six of them. Forty-two showed up with pen and paper. We ended up meeting three times and had discussions on why and how to live a moral life amidst an untrustworthy government.
Youth: Along with one of the other Bel Air Pres high school volunteer leaders, and Maddie, the high school member on our team, I spoke at a youth conference for about three hundred 16-28 year-olds. Using my experience in youth ministry and working with at-risk youth and inner-city Los Angeles gangs, I discussed issues of faith, morality, and choices. I also spoke on the theology of respecting women and used my love for my sister as the foundational narrative for the talk.
Orphans: We also worked with “House of Grace,” an orphanage the Congolese church supports. I really had no idea what to say to young boys who have lost their parents in the civil war, who don’t have beds, or a toilet, or light once the sun goes down. Maddie, who had raised funds back home to buy beds for them, presented the first of these beds to them, and I briefly spoke on the concept that we can’t choose the circumstances we’re born into, but we can choose how we treat each other.
Women: My favorite part of the entire trip was not planned at all. One morning, I awoke thinking about a talk I had given on female safety to the high school girls at my church. In a country where about 90% of the women are victims of domestic violence and about 80% are victims of sexual assault, I thought this Bunia church is the place that needs that information, so I pitched it to Pastor James.
Less than twenty-four hours later, I was speaking to a room of about hundred women on how to use their instincts to recognize danger, and how to protect themselves from domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking in a society where they cannot rely on law enforcement. We also talked about the need for them to remove their sense of shame as victims, because shame and secrecy are the tools predators use to remain at large to continue their evil. Women began speaking of their traumatic experiences to the group, and it was such a powerful experience for them, they asked me to come back the next morning to answer more questions.
Throughout this mission trip, God used me in ways I never knew were possible. I’ve been serving in Third World countries for a decade now, much of it in the medical field, but this trip was unique. A dear friend described it as filled with “Moses moments” in which God calls you to a task that is so overwhelming and unprecedented you don’t know how to process it. That is where I find myself.