I have a few reasons for going … let me share them with you …
First, The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s richest and poorest countries at the same time. It is a land of amazing opportunity, and of unfulfilled potential. But, they need help.
Why help? In the Bible, Jesus tells us to give to the poor (Matt 19:21), and that when we do, it is as if we are doing it for him (Matt 25:40). A godly woman is described as one who gives to the poor. (Prov. 31:20) We are joyful when we can help others. (2 Cor. 9:7)
We all generally want to help other people – especially those in extreme need.
But, what if we don’t see them? What if they are kept from our sight? What if the poor and suffering people of God’s lands are forgotten?
Why worry about Congo?
A Short History …
Congo has gone through major political upheavals in the past two hundred years. It was settled by tribal and aboriginal peoples long ago, but during the 1800’s suffered from the global slave trade like much of Africa. Many people died. The land was acquired by King Leopold II of Belgium for the rubber and mineral wealth, and after millions of Congolese were brutally exploited (as much as half the population died), the Belgian Parliament took over the “Congo Free State” in 1908. Indigenous courts were a dual-system mess, strangled by Belgian rules and hundreds of local administrators.
In 1960, the country gained independence and was called the Republic of Congo. This ended in 1965 after several changes of leaders and governments and political intrigue when Joseph Mobutu led a military coup. People died in the war. The “Democratic Republic of Congo” name lasted until 1971 when the name was changed to Zaire. Political stability was the trade-off for human rights violations and corruption. In the 1990’s civil war raged. More people died.
The country was renamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1997 and a constitution was approved with a democratic election held in 2006. Today, the DRC is stable for the moment awaiting the next constitutional election in 2018.
Human rights has been a problem for a long time. Today there is still a culture of violence against women. The UN regularly issues alerts. Documentaries describe brutal violence. Politically active women pay a heavy price. Corruption exists. For many people, life is a never-ceasing struggle. Faith comes hard in those situations. Help is hard to find.
When people have come to Congo to “help” to often the result has been more oppression and more injustice. Today, the country needs real help that doesn’t oppress or bring death, but brings hope and justice.
What will change? When will it change? Who will make it change?
The past has been horrific. But, today, over 80% of Congolese children attend school, and 75% of people are literate. The land itself is rich in natural resources and the country could support itself given the right conditions. The DRC is the world’s second largest producer of diamonds and is a major producer of cobalt and copper. God gave the DRC an amazing natural bounty.
At the same time, God gave His people hope and imagination. The people are working to regain their dignity, rebuild their culture, and restore their lives. Progress is coming. Potential is being realized. Justice is working and there has been a major change in the attitude toward violence against women. Today, prosecutions are happening and change is occurring.
Through it all, what has persisted? Faith. The people. God’s love. Potential.
But, it isn’t easy and they have a long way to go. And, the land and its troubles are so far away that we don’t easily see it. So, then, because we don’t see them in our midst, we forget to help.
Oh, yes, this is going to be a “churchy” letter, because that is who I am.
And, this is the masterplan of darkness …
Keep Congo and all its troubles “out of sight, out of mind”.
Is it working? Is Congo “out” of your mind?
The darkness wants you to forget, but today, I want to answer the one question I posed above … “Why worry about Congo?” with this:
- Because our brothers and sisters struggle every day.
- Because oppression should be relieved.
- Because we are all called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).
- Because God has a really big plan, and for all of us, even here in the USA, Congo is part of His plan.
You might be asking … “Can I really help?”
The short answer is yes, and let me invite you to become “super-marginal” with me. Let me explain.
I learned long ago that we do not need to invent anything new…. God has seen it all and He is in control. He is already active in the world. The best thing I can do? Come alongside of God in what he is already doing.
For many years, churches all over the world, over 60 denominations in all, have worked together to bring light to the “Heart of Darkness” in Congo. The name of that project is Congo Initiative (CI). I’m not going to tell you more about CI … instead, let me tell you how I am involved.
You know that I am a second career attorney and that I practice Elder Law, which means that I help clients face aging with their dignity intact and with them in control of their future. Many of my clients are in their 80s, give or take a few years, although I do support all ages, including some in college. More about my practice near the end of the letter.
Recently, I was invited to participate in a Justice Conference in Congo. The goal is to help Congolese attorneys and judges develop a response to the history of injustice and to build a new pattern of human rights, justice, and mercy. I’m not talking about conversions and evangelism … this is much simpler and yet deeper than that. It is standing alongside people who struggle as they work for their nation and their neighbors.
“How can I do that?” I have no skills that pertain to the Congolese. I don’t speak French. I’ve never been to Africa. Truthfully, I’m even a little afraid of Africa. I struggle with putting faith into action in my job. What do I bring to this event?
Prayerfully, I sought an answer. I asked people I respect as I struggled over the desire to be involved over the fear of being involved.
I learned this… I just bring a little marginal change.
What I bring is a message of hope and love for the people. A visible statement that I care about them … that American churches pray for and support them. It is a simple a message of hope and encouragement from a brother standing with them in their own efforts to follow Micah 6:8.
But, visiting them isn’t marginal in cost … it is expensive. It takes time. Determination. Endurance and courage. And shots … lots of shots!
This is where YOU come in … you can be involved in at least two ways.
First, I do need your thoughts and prayers … since I decided to follow where God was leading in this effort, many things have apparently “conspired” to make it harder to go.
Not everyone prays, and not all of us understand God in the same ways. That is ok! I welcome your participation in any way that is meaningful to you.
But, pray-er or not, secondly, you can help financially. I know that isn’t a surprise, and I’ll have some creative ways that you can benefit from this too, but let me say that the trips cost about $3,500 to $5,000. It is a lot to afford, and my church, Blacknall Presbyterian in Durham, is incredibly generous because members have been so generous in the past. But, each traveler needs to raise these funds so that the next person whom God calls to see what He is doing can also afford to go. For now, I have access to some funds in various places, but not enough. Yet.
Think about how you can help. And read on to see how I can respond to your help!
While you consider that, let me tell you another fact about Congo …
The second thing to know is that the church is already involved in working with the Congolese.
Over 60 denominations are active in Congo, including Blacknall Presbyterian in Durham (my church). Congo Initiative is a joint effort for global entry into Congo, and our way to support missions from the USA.
Other denominations are involved too, of course, setting up schools, supporting education, and helping people. Children and women as especially vulnerable and do receive targeted help. God’s people are active and supportive, heeding the voices crying out so that we can in the wilderness prepare a way for the Lord (Isaiah 40:3).
The primary religion of Congo is Catholic, and today, the Catholic church is a major influence in culture and politics playing an important role in peace-keeping and education. Between 85% and 90% of the population is Christian, with about 10% Muslim. But, merely being affiliated with a denomination is not enough. We must actively help bring justice to a troubled people.
There is good news…
Churches come to Congo from a position of historical involvement … and success.
As believers, we work from a position of victory, knowing that God always leads us in triumph in Christ (see 2 Cor. 2:14). We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (see Rom. 8:37). And if God is for us, then who can be against us? (see Rom. 8:31)
You see, I believe that the real battle is already won … for all history. The darkness does not win.
But, that does not stop hunger, and injustice, and horrors from being forced upon the weaker and poorer among us. It is especially true in poorer countries, including Congo (as I explained earlier). That is why Jesus told us to give, and why He healed while He walked this earth.
Whomever you follow (for me, it is Jesus), most religions agree that justice is good and should be sought after.
But, for now, people suffer, and we must do what we can to help all of God’s children.
Wait, what about local work, Durham, for example?
Ok, I know some of you are asking, what about Durham? What about spending that money right here? Why spend it so far away in Congo? Great questions!
For me, I think of the marginal dollar. I think relief works in amazing ways, locally, nationally, and internationally. Here, in the US, we have systems and people and ways to assist. Here, most people are not homeless (although some are) and most people do not have to worry about food (although some do).
A dollar given here, and an hour of time there … it is great, and necessary, and it does help. And, I do participate locally various ways.
But, over in Congo, a dollar … or an hour … can make a national difference.
It is what I am calling the “super-marginal” dollar.
If I spend a week with the Justice Conference …
- Judges may be able resist corruption
- Attorneys could make real change
- People could receive real justice
Their actions could affect hundreds or thousands of women and children, and could liberate a nation!
The marginal effect is astonishing.
The heat of darkness seems to have a plan … a plan around the world to oppress the people so that they don’t have time, or energy, or hope to look up to see God or to find hope. Too often it works with war, oppression, corruption. Lately right here in the US it seems like he has also found ways to use prosperity to make us complacent about ourselves and the world.
Don’t be complacent. Be a part of the “super-marginal” majority …
Will you help?
Will you be Super-Marginal?