Reflections from a Flight Leaving Gemena

1 Comment » Written on July 25th, 2013     
Filed under: Child Sponsorship, News & Updates, Travel
Written by Jerry Penick, a member of Naperville Covenant Church

Note: I wrote this while departing Gemena on our last day of the trip. It has taken me almost two months to finalize my edits and bring myself to posting this. I did not return from the Congo “changed”. Instead I find myself “continuing in a process of change” from the impact of this journey knowing full well I am not finished.


Jerry taking a picture of Congolese families.

I sit here on the plane overcome with emotion. Tears flowing freely for the precious people I might not see again in this life. I came to hear their stories. I return with a piece of their hearts. Congo is something that cannot be understood from a book, a movie, or a story. One must feel the weight of the air, the sun on their skin, and the refreshing rains. Congo is experienced with all the senses. There is a unique rhythm of life that must be experienced firsthand; a richness of spirit and joy that can only be understood as you absorb it in time. What shocks the senses when arriving becomes normal at some deep level inside of you as time goes on. A new normal. A new definition for “quality of life”. The important so quickly becomes unimportant. Disbelief hits you hard at first. How could any place on our planet function in this way? Homes crafted from sticks, mud, and palm fronds. No running water, no paved roads, almost no banking institutions or centralized local government, yet cell phones, solar panels, and a functioning economy that defies simple explanation. Laughter, joy, giving, acceptance, come so easily for a people we would say have so little but on some level enjoy a freedom that escapes me.

I met a people who do not have their hand out for what I can give, but extend a hand of friendship instead. There was a desire to build relationship as we work together healing their land and their people. I started this journey with a mental notebook of answers and Western solutions that have now been set aside. What seemed logical to me prior to arriving now appears as folly; simple answers that could never fix complex problems.

Welcome party in Gemena for Vision Trip team.

Welcome party in Gemena for Vision Trip team.

I met a humble yet proud people, rich in history and some traditions that quite frankly were hard for me to accept. They love their families, yet in some instances, express it in ways that are so foreign to me. They care for their neighbors in ways that seem so unselfish, yet in the not too distant past were driven to acts of survival which I cannot comprehend.

Congo, like the river, is all about what is not obvious to the casual observer. As I glided along experiencing “surface issues,” safe in the knowledge that my time here was short, it seemed like a calm river with deep currents and obstacles under the surface that could easily be avoided. As I leave, I now begin to realize that the “river” is made of many currents, some that flow in unison while others surge and swirl creating dangerous undercurrents and hazards which might be missed altogether until you are in trouble. The country, so much like the river, is complicated and beautiful with so much hidden value and potential, but can only be safely navigated by those who have spent time learning its ways. I leave with a new found appreciation for those serving here for the long run, committed to this place, with its seen and unseen challenges.


Children waving at a school in Gemena.

What I witnessed these last two weeks gives me hope. Leaders in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM), and World Vision are sincere and dedicated to not only sharing Christ’s love but to lasting change in Congo that improves lives across the country. Hospitals, universities, schools, health clinics, water projects, agricultural projects, and local gardens – none of which would exist without the generosity of generations before me. Hope is evident in many forms but none more encouraging than the children. Through World Vision, they are being nurtured like never before. Their future is bright as long as those of us who can make a difference continue with what we are called to do.

As I go, I see a Christian church in Congo facing unprecedented challenges. Not obvious crises, which we are so good at addressing, but more subtle challenges to our mission. While material needs and daily life is nothing close to what I would call normal, the Congo I saw today exists at some level of “normalcy”. We are now challenged with things like religious influences from Islam that align with their history and past practices so well, market and job creation, and deep family traditions that limit progress and complicate social justice.

I wish I was leaving with answers, but for now all I have is a journal full of questions, more reasons to pray and trust that God is in control…

To read more of Jerry’s time in Congo click here.

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One Response to “Reflections from a Flight Leaving Gemena”

Dear Jerry,
Thanks so much for your incredibly articulate and thoughtful reflection on your time in Gemena. Having spent a week in that amazing place back in January, I can resonate with so much of what you observed. The challenge we (the ECC and World Vision) have undertaken is enormous, but the opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of these precious people is what inspires us to continue the journey, convinced that the work we are doing together is God’s work and it is good!
Dave Snyder, Church Partnership Officer
World Vision

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