Youth Training in Congo & the Globe

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Sarah and I traveled to the Congo this summer where we were involved in running youth training seminars and connecting with church and youth leaders to try and get them thinking about youth issues, Christian camping and developing youth ministry training. This is my first visit to the Congo (my wife grew up there) and we are trying to work out ways in which we can encourage training for youth leaders in a country where it doesn’t really exist.

The Congo is not unusual—in many countries in Africa the idea of a formalized or structured youth leaders training doesn’t exist. Most youth leaders just do what they have seen done by others and they follow the patterns and styles of what they know. What this means is that youth ministry in many countries is stuck and young people are drifting away from the church because youth ministry is irrelevant to them.

Some of the issues youth leaders are facing in the majority world (like Congo) are:

  • People are not seen as important until they reach age 30
  • Young people are not recognized as a separate culture
  • Churches and Bible colleges do not have the material or people to teach and equip youth leaders and pastors
  • Lack of material, equipment and resources for youth ministries
  • Lack of support and recognition of the importance of youth ministry by pastors and church leaders
  • Youth culture is functioning in the year 2000 while most churches are still functioning in a 1960’s model
  • Youth leaders know that youth ministry in churches is not cutting it but they often lack the training, skills and freedom from church leaders to change the situation
  • Youth leaders do not have people to mentor and train them in doing youth ministry and so they can easily get lost and discouraged in what they are trying to do.

Sarah and I are passionate about helping churches in Africa uncover the realities of youth ministry and to be able to connect into the spiritual and practical needs of young people so that the church of Jesus Christ may become so real and meaningful in their lives. I believe that this loss of meaningful youth ministry in churches in the majority world is starting to cause churches in these countries to lose their place and effectiveness in society.

There was such a large desire by many in the Congo who want to reach out to young people and to provide relevant youth ministry to young people inside and outside the church community. The thing that they lack is good training on understanding youth culture and leading youth ministry.

In the Congo there is no denomination or organization that provides consistent youth leadership training. Occasionally a group might run a seminar but there is nothing consistent where youth leaders can start to really grasp the basics of leading a youth ministry. The Congo is not alone in Africa—I am not aware of many countries in Africa where there is structured training in youth ministry. Many of the youth leaders we came in contact with around Congo are looking for ways in which they can even learn the basics of youth ministry. They can see the possibility of what could be, but for many of them this reality is far away because they do not have a way to learn and grow in developing and running effective youth ministry.

I came away from Congo even more committed to work out ways in which structured youth ministry training can be provided in countries where it doesn’t exist, countries from the majority world, countries where they do not have the same access to resources, countries where you do not have a place in society until you are thirty years old. I am also more fired up to continue leading our youth here in the USA to become better disciples of Jesus Christ.

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pray for Leonard

pray for Leonard
and his family

While in the Congo I met a pastor, Leonard. He has been in Bukavu for 6 months waiting for work and a means to get back to his wife and children who where many kilometers away. He made a special visit to see Sarah and me. In the conversation, which Sarah translated, he asked if we could take his three sons. With big eyes his sons were sitting quiet, listening. Sarah, translated the message to me with the addition of, “Be careful how you nod.”

The Congo is a different kind of place. You see, Leonard thought he can not provide for his children and in desperation they will be better off with these Americans he barely knows. How would you respond? Our response was simple. No. We explained to him that it would be impossible to take his children. What Leonard’s children need to see their father’s struggle of faith and these difficult times will be fruitful to his family. I promise Leonard my prayers and ask that you would pray too.

Pray that his children would see their fathers faithfulness.
Pray for work and the provisions of God.
Pray that he would trust God to provide all of his needs.
Pray that God would be made famous through his example.

a spoiled baby

Victoria Crying

I am stunned by the number of NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) based in the Congo. Many people around the world have compassion on this country. Yet I am concerned. Could all this compassion be causing long-term harm? Could they be creating a spoiled baby who cries for milk, nurture, clothing, and more, but cannot help itself? This is a country that relies so much about outside help. What the Congo really needs is to know how to grow up and live on their own. Or in other words stop acting like selfish babies.

I grew up having all that I wanted and more. I know the struggle of having to grow up and provide for myself. I suppose that is why I like the movie “Empire of the Sun” so much. It is the story about a wealthy British boy growing up in Japan during WWII. He has everything and more. It is obvious he is spoiled. The war strikes and he is separated from his family. He now has nothing. He is force to live on the streets, in containment camps, and is forced to grow up. He becomes a man. In the end he is reunited with his parents and has an appreciation for them unlike he had before.

Spoiled is all a matter of cultural definition. What it comes down to: being spoiled is selfish living. One who is spoiled says, “You do the work and I get the reward.” It is much the same in the USA as it is in the Congo. You can have a lot and be spoiled, and you can have little and be spoiled.

lost in translation


August 16 lost in translation. Sarah and I traveled to two churches this morning. At the first church we just observed and sang. Can I say it again? The singing here is amazing. At the second church I preached. The gentleman that translated for me was a rookie. I suppose we had something in common!? Overall the sermon was communicated without too many verbiage distractions. Interesting I was speaking on commitment. There is no word in the Swahili that can be translated “commitment.” The closest is “standing firm.”

Most people in the Congo can speak 4-5 languages: Swahili, French, tribal languages, and maybe English. I am such a monolingual American. I took 4 years of French in high school. I wish I could remember some of that!? Sarah speaks great Swahili, which is great. Some of Swahili the phrases I have picked up (it is all phonetic so that helps):

Jambo = hello

Habari = how are you?

Bwana Asifiwe = praise the Lord (what else do you need to know?)

Ndyo = yes

Hapana = no

Mungu = God

Muzungu = white guy (I hear this a lot walking in the streets)

kivukutu = hot

asanti = thank you

tokainje = get out of here (mostly for fun during games with the youth)

FYI-We just heard that Kenya Airlines was on strike this week, but praise the Lord they are back to work! We will be boarding a small bus at the Congo/Rwanda boarder Tuesday morning to head to the

August 17 free day. Sarah and I are now finished with all our projects. We headed out for a few meetings with pastors and friends. The rest of the day we saw sights and went to the market. I relaxed. Tomorrow we head to the boarder to catch a bus for a 5 hour ride through the winding Rwandan hillside. Wednesday morning we fly out of Rwanda to Kenya to Amsterdam to NYC to Buffalo where Sarah’s family will pick us up for her brother’s wedding over the weekend. Bon Voyage Congo!!

a congo camp

August 14-15 A Congo Camp. For two days we are holding a half-day retreat for youth. We have about 20 youth and 20 adult leaders that are attending. This gives the leaders attending our seminars a practical application to what they are learning. Each of the adult leaders has a responsibility: teaching, leading worship, prayer, administrating, cooking, serving, scheduling, leading activities and more. The leaders did an amazing job and took ownership of their responsibilities. On a side note they all love the game HUWA. It is all they want to play!!

We met with a group of the leaders from the seminar that now have a vision to start a camp that travels across the country to churches that could use a camp/retreat as a means to reaching out or growing their youth. It is great to see their passion for God and youth. We walked through the process of beginning such an organization (theological structure, government legalization, and more). My experiences with the ReFUEL Retreats, Shakamak Bible Camp and Checkpoint Bible Camp have proved to be valuable.

seminars

August 11-13 The seminars begin. And we are off… So we had about 49 people the first day. Many more than we expected. We had a wonderful discussion about the biblical basis of youth ministry and the ground level instructions on how to structure a camp/retreat for youth. It was so wonderful to see such faithful servants passionate about the youth of their country and desiring to learn more about the Truth. Their faith inspires me, their heart of prayer convicts their desire and me for God moves me.

On Wednesday we started our morning with some discouraging news. One of the leaders was given word on the way to the seminar that the soldiers down country killed his brother. He and a few others went to help him prepare shelter for his family coming in from out of town. We prayed for him at the seminar. This is painfully common in the Congo. It set a somber mood for our seminar this day. After each session in the workshop we allow time for questions. They have many good questions. I don’t always have the answers. So I am studying the Bible answer give them adequate answers.

Thursday was our final day of the seminar and we prepared for our retreat for tomorrow and Saturday. Sarah and I are confident that they are going to do a great job. Each of the leaders have a specific role and ownership of the retreat. My translator Rafael has been excellent!! Praise the Lord for all your prayers!

dust


August 10 Dust. There is dust everywhere here in Bukavu. Since it is dry season the the vehicles and people walking about stirs up clouds of red clay dust. Sarah and I walked through the city markets and streets of Bukavu. We are full of dust. People were selling anything from bait fish to sandals, avacados to palm nuts, leaks to cell phones.

We visited a hospital and visited with Dr. George. He walks with a limp and specializes in pediatics. For the Congo the hospital seemed large and organized because it used to be a private Catholic hospital. We also met Dr. Gila, a Messianic Jew, who works with Moriah Africa an organization that networks churches and hospitals with helpful resources. For lunch I tried some local sombe (rice, greens, palm oil and a side of sardines) and a bottle of Coke. It was satisfying and filling.

We set up a few meetings today with youth leaders from the area. Many of them are headed to our seminars this week. The meetings are times we can discuss the week in the seminars in advance and answer any questions they might have. We were expecting about 15-20 leaders, but it now looks like we will have over 40. This will prove to be logistically challenging, but God has show His faithful. At one meeting we met a pastor by the name of Leonard and his son. Just months ago his village just 3 hours away was burned to the ground, except for their church because it was made of brick. The soldiers told him to leave so he has moved to Bukavu to look for work. He has 6 children and a wife who is expecting. He asked if we would take in some of his children. How would you respond to this proposition. We prayed together that he would trust God to supply His needs for our God is faithful.

going to church

August 9 Going to Church. This morning we woke up to the sounds of Bukavu: roosters crowing, car horns honking, men whistling, children playing, UN soldiers marching, and motor scooters racing. I took a bath with a bucket of cold water. It was surprisingly refreshing after such long travels. We are staying with Renee, a single missionary who ministers with the deaf and runs a coffee shop next door that employes locals. We had dinner there last night and it was fabulous.

We attended Berean Church (CEEBCO) today. The singing was incredible and unforgettable. Sarah and I presented our ministry (leadership seminar and camp for youth) before the church. They sang a song to welcome us. After the service the elders of the church prayed over us and we had an opportunity to pray over them.

We had lunch with the Lindquist’s our sponsoring family. They had hamburgers covered with Goma cheese and homemade icecream. In the afternoon we headed to a missionary fellowship with people from Food for the Hungry International, Crossworld Press, braodcasting and aggriculture (headed by a Purdue grad), and others. It was an encouraging time of worship, fellowship and devotion from Daniel 7.

getting to the Congo


August 6-8 Getting to the Congo is no easy feat. Our journey the past few days has taken us through Chicago, Detroit, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Nairobi (Kenya), and Kigali (Rwanda). Once we landed in Kigali we ventured a 6 hour bus trip through the curly roads of the agriculturally patterned hills and jungles of southern Rwanda. The bus dropped us off near the boarder of the Congo where we checked out of Rwanda, crossed a small bridge and entered Bukavu Congo. The immigration building was a small room will a curtain and a man sitting behind a rickety table with a small lined notebook. Once he entered our info into the notebook by hand we were free to enter the country. Much different than the excruciating checks and rechecks of the US Immigration Service.

I wish I could give you a glimpse of the sights, sounds, and smells we have experienced the past few days. It is a lot like camping here in the Congo: electricity is limited, there is little to no water pressure, and a mosquito net to keep the bugs out. There are no tents, rather layers of housing that overlook a massive lake. Bukavu is a city of 600,000 people comprised of locals and war refugees, but that varies because people come and go often. The city has seen better days. 12 years of civil war have taken their toll. The city is alive, but needs the life of Christ.

leavin on a jet plane

The time has arrived. Tomorrow Sarah and I leave for the Congo. We start out from Chicago and find our way to Africa sometime on Saturday afternoon. It will be a long trek, but a I will be with my wife! We have spent the better part of the last two weeks apart because of ministry camps in Indiana connected to our church.

Here are a few ways you can pray for us the next 3-days:

  • Thursday: rest for the journey
  • Friday: bags protected from theft
  • Saturday: 6-hour bus trip from Rwanda to Congo to be safe.

real questions: suffering?

suffering

Ned Anzers: It doesn’t seem fair that a loving God would allow bad things to happen. Why does God allow so much suffering?

This is an honest question.

I have often wondered the answer to this question myself. Years ago as a young boy, I would visit the nursing home to see my great grandmother Loretta. I remember these visits to this day. I was enamored by my great grandfather Roman’s care for his wife. They had been married for over half a century, but for many years she had been degenerating from the disease of Alzheimer’s. It was incredibly painful to see such a wonderful, witty woman who was so alive, not recognize who you were. As a young boy and even now as an adult it is still hard to understand why God allows this to happen, especially to one so undeserving. I will talk more about this in my conclusion.

I hear the stories my girlfriend Sarah, who tells me about where she grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How the authorities have raped and pillaged a beautiful land. I see and feel the emotion she bears from the scars of her home land.

Jesus tells a story in the Bible about a real life catastrophe. It was about landmark tower took years to build, and seconds to fall. It stood as a powerful symbol of strength, security and prosperity, but in only moments became cloud of dust that blanketed the neighboring streets. As the dust and debris settled and the death toll rang out to the shaken city (18 people), the skyline was now empty and mournful. People were trying to make sense of the calamity. When Jesus talked about this tragedy at Siloam He knew it wouldn’t be the last (Luke 13:5).

We want explanation for the disaster, injustice, abuse, sickness, poverty, pain and suffering. So did people of the Bible (Jer.12:1, Hab.1:2-3, Ps.6:3). Where are you now God? Have you forgotten? Don’t you care?

Sometimes people think that the presence of suffering means the absence of God. Does suffering mean there is no God?

Certainly not. I would certainly be more fearful of the consequence of believing there is no God.  Jesus says there is significance to the human life (Luke 12:6-7, 24). Those who die are not forgotten by God. If we reject God because of suffering then we have to face a world that is much worse: meaningless suffering. Without God there would be no justice (Ecc.3:16ff; Acts 17:31; Mal.4:5), and no future (Ecc.3:20; John 11:25-26). Death would be the end of life. No after life. Without God there would be no significance to life (Ecc.3:18). We would be just animals with clothes on. Killing becomes like that of a lion killing a antelope. The killings of Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, Auschwitz, Manhattan, Virginia Tech and others would be without pity or horror. That is a scary world to me. A world without hope or meaning.

What is the meaning of suffering?

Going back to the story of Jesus and the collapsed tower we learn some very practical principles about suffering (Luke 12:54-13:5). First, we see the reality of sin. Suffering is not always caused because of man’s sinfulness or lack of acknowledgment that there is a God. God is not a bully trying to pressure His creation into submission. Second, through suffering we see the fragility of life. Life is short and we must trust God with our eternal destiny’s. Third, we see that God is with us through the suffering. Fourth, we see that suffering cause us to depend upon God.

We have a God that knows all about suffering. He is a God that has experienced suffering Himself. Jesus experienced abuse, betrayal of friends, gossip, hunger, alienation from family, torture, thirst, homelessness, religious persecution, bullied, death of close friends, unfair trial, excruciation prolonged execution. He wept and saw suffering like we do and gave up his own life to do something about it. The cross represents forgiveness for all those who cause suffering or experience suffering. On the cross we see a suffering God, suffering for His own people because He loves them and wants to free them from all suffering in eternity (John 3:16). God’s suffering was for our greater good and a proof of His love.

What does this love in suffering look like in real life?

Going back to the story of my great grandmother Loretta Rothe: I the mist of her suffering I saw an amazing picture of love that I would only wish to aspire for one day. My great grandfather would care for her when most in his shoes would bail. He would comb her hair, feed her dinner, read to her and prove that his love for his wife was “in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Suffering shows our true colors. I would only hope to have a similar perseverance in the midst of pain.