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Posts Tagged ‘mission’

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Entebbe, Uganda: Team members from left: Will Bredberg, Scott Prewett, Dr. Emmanuel Bellon, Jordan Cooper Lee, Stephanie Seim, Maddie Reasner, Alli Newell, Buck Rea, Jonathan (our Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot), and Derrick Coy

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

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Teachers from Bunia and surrounding areas

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

A public school classroom in Bunia

A public school classroom in Bunia

• 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:

One of many choirs, bands, and dancers celebrating during worship

One of many choirs, bands, and dancers celebrating during worship

• 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

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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.

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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.

Maddie speaking to an audience through an interpreter

Maddie speaking to an audience through an interpreter

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.

Boys from the orphanage

Boys from the orphanage

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.

Maddie with pastor James Byensi

Maddie with pastor James Byensi

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Between 1998 and 2007, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was ravaged by violent conflicts as tribal warlords and invading rebel armies fought over the country’s rich mineral resources needed by international corporations for the manufacturing of electronic products in cellphones, computers, and cars.

Over six million people died from these conflicts and from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition brought on by war conditions. Even today there are still some 1.5 million Congolese who have been displaced or are in refugee camps.

The Evangelical Church—co-pastored by Rev. James Byensi who oversees more than 1,400 churches in Central Africa—is at the forefront of efforts to rebuild communities, resolve conflicts, reconcile enemies, train pastors, teachers, and Christian leaders, and teach good governance to business owners and political leaders, especially in fighting corruption and injustice.

In July—thanks to God and generous friends who donated money on my behalf—I’ll be part of a mission team that will travel to the DRC to work with the Evangelical Church to help individuals develop small businesses through training and micro financing, and by providing a variety of local leaders with advanced training in healthcare, nutrition, and K-12 education.

My role will be to use my background in teaching and curriculum development to train and encourage high-school teachers trying to rebuild their school system shattered by civil war. Many of them are not much older than the disinterested pupils they are trying to teach, and some of the teachers and pupils were once forced by warlords to become child soldiers during the war.

Please keep us in your prayers as we join the Evangelical Church to bring about reconciliation and rebuild the communities of Bunia and Butembo in the DRC.

And please click  the following link to view my photo essay on the Congo.

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My son Chris and his friends recently took me skydiving to celebrate my 70th birthday, and it was one of the thrills of my lifetime.

Psalm 90:10 reminds us that “Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty. But even the best of these years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we are gone.” (NLT)

Having reached that 70th “milestone,” I am grateful and humbled for each additional day that God grants me, and I am careful to not take life for granted.

So as we begin 2014, I give God thanks and praise for the past seven decades and look forward to new avenues of service into which God might be leading me.

I thank God for:

• Rescuing me at age 17 from juvenile delinquency and violence, and opening my heart to respond to his grace, love, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

• Calling me into ministry, and surrounding me with the men and women who mentored and supported me through seminary and my early years as a young pastor in Jamaica.

• Watching over me during setbacks and failures in careers and marriages, never forsaking me during my prodigal wanderings in my early thirties.

• Welcoming me back to him and his fold in 1977 when I recommitted my life to serving Christ during an Easter service at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. O, the joy and peace that a prodigal son or daughter finds upon returning home to a welcoming heavenly father!

• Healing the wounds within our family, and restoring my relationships with ex-wives and adult children. I thank God for blessing me with four grandchildren and with over 26 years of marriage to my present wife, Diana.

• Providing a loving church family at Bel Air Presbyterian Church for the past 37 years, filled with genuine friends with whom I have the opportunity to worship and serve locally, nationally, and worldwide. I am especially thankful for the Chancel Choir with whom I have been serving from that first week in 1977 until now.

• Keeping me connected to a few old friends from my seminary days, who continue to serve as pastors in various parts of the world—Raymond Chin, Winston Lawson, and Wesley Shand—despite the distances that separate us. And for Buck Rea with whom I have been having breakfast every Friday morning for over 23 years as we prayerfully support each other in our careers, marriages, and ministries.

And as we enter 2014, I am thankful for new avenues of service that God has opened for me:

• In January, Bel Air Pres is sponsoring me in a two-year program to be trained as a spiritual director with Christian Formation & Direction Ministries to “help lead others into a renewed love for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through spiritual formation and the art of spiritual direction.”

• In July, I join a team from Bel Air Pres as we travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help the Congolese church in their effort to bring about reconciliation between former enemies during the recent decade of civil war and tribal genocide.

• On my way home from the Congo, I will travel to Pithapuran, in the Andhra Pradesh district of India, to speak at a conference of pastors, preach in several churches, and learn about the plight of abandoned children in the region.

Of course, all of this—and future opportunities to serve God in his Kingdom work—is dependent on his will (James 4:13-16) and the remaining time that he grants me with health and life.

And should he bless me with long life—as he continues to do with Diana’s aunt Dot who celebrated her 100th birthday last July—perhaps I will celebrate that milestone with yet another skydive!

Happy new year to all my readers, and may the Lord bless you and your families as you continue to worship and serve him throughout his Kingdom this year.

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View the video of the skydive

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