Our eight-member team left Los Angeles in July to visit the city of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where we joined four African team members to speak at a conference on transformational living.
Sponsored by the Bunia Francophone Church, the conference was designed to help people gain new skills with which to climb out of poverty and to encourage reconciliation and transformation among the inhabitants of a city and region struggling to recover from civil war, rebel invasions, and tribal genocide, and in which 40 percent are unemployed and 80 percent underemployed.
Our team divided up into smaller teams of two and threes, with members bringing their expertise and skills to share in seminars and workshops with over a thousand attendees.
Our teams met with:
• Pastors from a variety of denominations to teach, train, and encourage them in their very difficult ministries of growing their churches
• Politicians gearing up for upcoming elections, and challenged them to reject corruption and to uphold justice. Many of the politicians publicly made the decision to follow Christ at the end of our meeting
• Top-ranking officers from the army and police forces, and challenged them to be “peace guardians” who serve justly. Many of them answered the call to commit their lives to Christ
• Established business owners seeking to grow their businesses, and men and women seeking to start and build their own small businesses
• Youth groups from surrounding areas, and from a boys orphanage, all eager to hear from our younger team members
• Teachers, principals, and administrators from public schools struggling to teach within a broken educational system
• Professors and administrators from universities and higher education institutions with limited resources to help students prepare for a modern labor force and globalized economy
As a member of the education team, I spoke to schoolteachers and administrators from around the region. Acknowledging the challenges that continue to face them in the DRC—an education system devastated by war, school buildings destroyed, thousands of children slaughtered along with their families, many children forced to become soldiers, entrenched corruption throughout their government and education system, teachers not getting paid for months, and seventy percent of secondary students absent from school on any given day—I reminded them that:
• They have one of the most important roles to play in the rebuilding of their nation—that of educating their youth and adolescents who will determine the future of their nation
• They are not alone in their struggles, for together as educators, and together with churches like the Bunia Francophone Church and others throughout the DRC, they can become a unified voice of hundreds of thousands of educators working together to bring about change and improve the education system
• They must find ways to work together beyond the lonely confines of their classrooms—encouraging and supporting each other, mentoring the newer and inexperienced teachers, and developing strategies to change the education machinery within their city, their province, and across the nation
• With most of them having only “O” and “A” level school-leaving certificates as their highest qualification to teach, they need to keep learning and striving to earn higher qualifications and degrees—no matter their ages
• Teaching is a holy calling, citing Jesus as the supreme teacher who called his disciples and many of his followers to be teachers (Eph. 4:11-12; Rom. 12:6-7; Titus 2:7), and citing from the Bible fifteen characteristics of transformational leaders and teachers
I also reminded them of the words of the apostle James that “we who teach will be judged more strictly,” and I called on the male teachers to stop the abusive practice of demanding sex from students in exchange for higher grades.
I also spoke to university professors and administrators, and introduced them to a program of transformational partnerships between African and U.S. universities and institutions of higher education—a program sponsored and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in association with Carnegie Corporation of New York, Higher Education for Development (HED), and the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU).
The program is designed to help universities and institutions:
• Improve the professional development of faculty and staff
• Strengthen their capacity to prepare students for the realities of a modern global labor market
• Strengthen the use of technology in learning
• Develop sustainable revenue streams
Several faculty and administrators expressed interest in forming such partnerships, and have been communicating with me since my return home as they begin the process of applying to the agencies.
The highlights of our time spent in Bunia include:
• The exuberant and joyful worship of God by the congregation and its many choirs, dancers, worship bands throughout the week and culminating in three services on Sunday
• The many decisions made for Christ throughout the week and at the end of the Sunday services
• The warm hospitality and care shown to our team by members of the church
• Pastor James Byensi treating our team to a trip out to the countryside to see the beauty of the land
Finally, I wish to thank all those of you who contributed financially and prayerfully to make this trip possible. Grace and peace to you all.
Following is a reflection by the youngest member of our team:
My name is Maddie Reasner, and I am a 17-year-old high school student in Los Angeles, California. This was my second time to Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last time I went I was 13 years old, and I worked to set up a computer center in the church so that people in the city could learn how to be computer literate for free. This time back, I worked with the House of Grace Boy Orphanage, and I brought an additional 10 computers to add to the Bunia Young Technology Center.
I’ve been back from the Congo for over two weeks now, and it has been hard to get back into the every day. I wish that by now I had a simple and clean answer to the question, “How was Africa?” but I don’t, and I don’t know if there will ever be a concise answer that is true to the experience I had. Being back in the U.S., it is easier to just pretend like the world of the Congo—the corruption, the pain, the grief, the suffering—does not exist…BUT IT DOES! And I am called to be a witness; I’m called to testify to what I saw. I’m called to testify to all that God is doing, and to testify to all of the hurt and helplessness felt by the Congolese people.
When we encounter God in a “mountain top” experience, we are called to come back into our everyday. In 1 Kings 19:15, after Elijah had experienced God’s power through the wind, the earthquake, and the fire on the mountain, God said to Elijah, “Go back the way you came through the desert.” God says to go back to the everyday, to the foot of the mountain where a large crowd waits (Matthew 17:14).
I have to tell the stories of the Congo no matter how heartbreaking and gut wrenching they may be, because that is why God had me there. God had me in Bunia, not only for the work that I would do there, but also so that I would have the opportunity to be a witness back in America, and that I would be able to share the heartbreak that needs healing, and the victory that needs celebrating in the lives of my friends in the Congo.
One story I want to share is when we visited the orphanage. When we arrived at House of Grace, the sun had set and the sky was getting darker, we heard the boys joyfully singing all together, but we couldn’t see any of their faces. The lack of electricity was one resource they weren’t at all concerned with. We sat around and answered their questions, and we asked them questions. When asked what is the most beautiful thing, one seven-year-old boy answered, “That Jesus loves me and saved me,” while another young boy answered that the most beautiful thing he will ever see is “a family telling [him] to come home.”
We enjoyed a whole evening getting to know the boys without even being able to see their faces. Many of these boys were child soldiers; others had lost their parents and all family members in the civil war. While they had every right to be solemn and depressed, instead they were filled with joy, an extraordinary joy that they recognized came from their Heavenly Father.
It was hard to leave…the American in me says that I failed, I did not complete my project, I did not “FIX” all the problems in the Congo. But God says no, just be a witness to his goodness in the midst of this evil, and see him move and change people’s hearts, which in turn can change the country.
God is stirring in the country. We witnessed a joyful, on-fire worship and praise among the Congolese—people who have nothing, but give every ounce of their selves to glorify God. We saw 150 people give their lives to Christ. Additionally, one of our team members, Jordan Cooper had the opportunity to be the first outsider, EVER, to speak to men of the Congolese Military about serving God while serving his people. We also saw 90% of a room full of politicians give their lives to Christ. Moreover, in the next year Bunia will have an election for their first governor, an opportunity to put someone they trust in power. There is hope beginning to rise up in Bunia.