Reclaiming “Ubuntu” in Gemena

1 Comment » Written on February 13th, 2013     
Filed under: Ground Update, Missionary Update, News & Updates
Written by Christine Buettgen, short-term missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A strange experience – when I left on the plane from Gemena to Kinshasa for my vacation in December I felt like a physical weight was lifted from me. When I returned to Gemena one week ago, it was very tangible, the weight I felt I was carrying again. This is the best way for me to describe life here – not that it is awful or hopeless, but simply heavy.

Christine, on right, with World Vision volunteers and their friends.

People laugh and have a good time, they celebrate in church and at night outside their homes around the fire. There is reason to celebrate because they have the blessing of one another, a beautiful country, and of daily provision. Yet at the center of everyone’s thoughts, deeper than thoughts about daily life, people are thinking about their survival, and what the next day will bring. This way of thinking stems from the years of civil war that people in this region have lived through. This region has been politically and economically unstable since the civil war. This mentality influences everything – the way people relate to one another, the way they think about their future, and the way they take initiative for their own lives and work. Surviving is a heavy business. Your first thought is for yourself and your family. You will do anything to improve your situation, so your friends are people that could benefit you in some way. You shop at certain vegetable stands because you want to build relationships with the people who work there – one day you might be hungry and they will help you out if you have given them business in the past. You marry because it is a wise economic decision, not for love. Everyday decisions are different because you are in constant self-preservation mode.

Because people make decisions with a survival mentality they cannot always be concerned about betterment of their community at large. Africa is globally known for its value of “Ubuntu” or, “I am because We are.” This sense of community may be at the heart of many African cultures, but in Gemena the instinct to survive is too strong. One can look out for their neighbor, but only up to a point.

This survival mentality correlates directly with the poverty that people experience. To reclaim “Ubuntu” would be to move on from this state of survival to renew the heart of Congolese culture – it’s deeply rooted sense of community.

World Vision is an international organization, but it is represented by a majority Congolese staff here in Gemena. The staff understand the survival mentality that exists here, and has helped WV to develop programs that address this issue first and foremost, recognizing that without liberation from this way of thinking, people will not take responsibility for their own and their communities sustainable development.

We all have our work cut out for us. We will not see change overnight. Nor should we. The kind of value change that is necessary will take building of relationships, building of capacity, and a new generation of leaders to recognize the importance of an alternative way to respect and love themselves and their community.

We move forward, one day at a time, trusting in God’s provision and grace for us and for the Congolese people that He loves so much.

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One Response to “Reclaiming “Ubuntu” in Gemena”

I’m really proud of Christine and her commitment to serve in Jesus’ name.  That commitment to see God move in difficult circumstances give brings hope to on the other side of the planet and gives me hope too that God is capable to do a similar work here as well.  May God deepen our sense of ‘ubuntu’ and belonging to each other in him and may we see glimmers of hope around every corner.

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