Congo – ‘Face-to-Face’ Best Way to Build Relationships

Post a Comment » Written on September 16th, 2009     
Filed under: News
GEMENA, CONGO (September 16, 2009) – Editor’s note: Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church, is currently traveling in Congo on the first of three key mission trips planned before the end of the year. During each of the trips, he will meet with local church leaders, explore partnerships with other Christian organizations, encourage Covenant mission staff in various areas, and evaluate needs and potential ministry opportunities. Additional trips will include countries in Latin America and Asia.

By Curt Peterson

Monday we traveled 90 kilometers from Gemena to Bogose on the Lua River to dedicate a large transport boat, “HB Legan 1” (meaning the city will grow), which was funded by a grant and a loan from the Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP).

The vision for this boat (top photo) was that of Father Wafili, a Catholic priest who participated in a PCP development project seminar in 2007 and submitted a proposal that met PCP’s goal of investing in sustainable communities. This became an ecumenical partnership project of PCP, the CEUM (Covenant Church of Congo), CECU (Free Church), and Father Wafili. To read more about the building of the photo with links to in-progress photos, click here.

BoatPresident Sanguma preached during the dedication worship service, focusing on Nehemiah and his emphasis on vision, a burden for the people, and the importance of courage and persistence in the name of the Lord. Byron Miller, PCP executive director, helped celebrate the accomplishment of this boat project that reflects a combination of vision, the hard work of the builders, and the community’s support and cooperation.

The vision emerged from Father Wafili’s walk through this region, seeing the poverty and the children suffering from malnutrition, as well as the extreme difficulty in trying to transport produce from local, flourishing gardens to markets where it can be sold. The boat will provide transportation for all of the agricultural products grown in this area – rice, soybeans, peanuts, coffee – to more distant markets where demand is high, resulting in better prices.

Local farmers will realize a greater return on their labor and will be able to send their children to school, pay for medicine and medical treatment when sick, and purchase clothing and food. Families and the whole community will benefit from this visionary project as this “port” becomes a center of shipping for the area. Covenant Church and Free Church members will be among those who will benefit from the transport possibilities on the “HB Legan 1.”

The witness of Christ at the center of this holistic development project was clearly proclaimed during this community gathering. I offered a prayer of blessing that concluded the service and later joined in the maiden voyage of the boat. It felt a little like boating through the jungle on a larger version of the “African Queen” of movie fame. Dancers with bullhorn flutes added to the festivities of the boat’s first run. A worship band of young adults from Bokonzo led worship for the 400 people gathered for the dedication (lower photo). Click here to see additional photos from this leg of the trip.

StudentsDriving back from the dedication service, one of our trucks had a flat tire. We were near a church and while the tire was being changed on the road, we were invited into the grass-roof church and neighboring homes. Children enjoy visitors to their remote homes. We were introduced to newborn twins of one family. We examined an innovative hand press used to extract oil from palm seeds for use in cooking fires. We observed the pounding of manioc greens used to prepare a favorite dish of mpondu, and marveled at the children’s toys made from materials found in the forest.

Navigating deep ruts in the road, washed out sections of roads, and wobbly log bridges, President Mossai Sanguma skillfully drove us home through the intense darkness of the Congo forest. One other brief stop was to witness the traditional dress and dance of boys ages four to six who had been circumcised and taken into the forest for three to six months to heal and be taught by their grandparents how to hunt, fish, care for themselves and survive in the forest. This day-long ritual welcomed the boys back into the village after their rite of passage. This ritual is not as common today, due in part to the availability of hospitals and clinics provided by the CEUM with partnership support from PCP and Covenant World Mission.

On Tuesday we met with the Medical and Technical Committee of the CEUM hospitals. Doctors, administrators and nursing teachers gathered for three days to deal with management, policy and financial issues involving the four hospitals and 73 medical clinics of the CEUM. The Covenant Church in Congo now includes more than 200,000 members in 1,500 churches with hospitals, clinics, and schools serving 65,000 students.

It is a complex ministry in a country suffering even greater economic failure during this time of international economic crisis. Some five million people have died in Congo due to war, disease, malnutrition and preventable, treatable illnesses like malaria, sleeping sickness and respiratory conditions. If it were not for the support of generous donors in the Covenant, medicine and medical care would be greatly diminished in this medical mission partnership. The need is so great, we cannot turn our eyes away.

MusiciansAt Bokonzo, the center of the CEUM administrative offices near Gemena, we walked around to see the community. We entered elementary school classrooms of 90 children squeezed five to a bench, situated on dirt floors with a blackboard, notebook and a pencil as supplies. The center photo was taken in a first grade classroom at Bokonzo. Sunday School funds collected by local churches throughout the Evangelical Covenant Church have helped provide basic supplies for the children, but the need for more classrooms and teachers is desperate. The classroom was very well disciplined as students stood to attention and recited for us. I don’t know what that long stick in the teacher’s hand was used for.

A number of homes in this community were built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Since Habitat’s first homes were built in Congo, it was interesting to visit the inside of these red adobe brick-walled dwellings. Steel roofs, cement and framing wood was supplied by Habitat with the recipient family providing the bricks and the labor. These houses typically have a living area, dining room, a kitchen, a parent bedroom, and a girls’ room and a boys’ room. Cooking is done outside on charcoal grills. Latrines are located at the back of the property, with water carried from the one faucet at the spring-fed community water tower.

One of the purposes of this trip is that of staying current and relevant in the partnership relationship between Covenant World Mission and the CEUM. This is a face-to-face relationship culture and many hours today and the rest of this week will be spent in conversations, vision sharing, and collaboration agreements with the leaders of the CEUM.

To read previously published reports, select from below. Covenant News Service will publish additional updates as they become available.

Congo – A Place of Joy, Challenges, Opportunity

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