2017 Congo Trip – Forgiveness Like Potatoes

29 Aug

Trip Collage

What could a group of American women do to help Congolese women build peace and resolve conflict in a country that’s been notoriously unstable for decades? Carry a sack of potatoes, it turns out.

I was one of four women from Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas, who recently traveled to Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to train a group of 50 Christian women in Leadership Development & Mentoring as well as Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding.  Also traveling with me was the Amazing Amy Aupperlee, Marvelous Marsha Romanowski and Joyful Jessica Johnson.

Going to Church

Going to church on Sunday morning.  Amy and I preached in 2 different churches that day.

One of our topics was Biblical forgiveness, and we knew the teaching would have no effect if it didn’t get personal. So we asked each of the women to write a list of names of the people they hadn’t forgiven. For each name, they received a large potato—which they carried with them in a sack throughout the week.

potato sack

That sack was with them when they attended training sessions. It shifted awkwardly on their shoulders as they cooked, cleaned, and cared for their children at home. Whatever they did in their daily lives, they carried this burden with them. It was heavy, uncomfortable, and inconvenient.

The ladies found that the burden of unforgiveness got in the way as they tried to live life. On the last day of the conference, the women placed the potatoes at the foot of a cross and gave them back to Jesus, the only One who can help us forgive. Many of the women wept as their long-held grievances were released, and they experienced the freedom that comes with forgiving.

The potatoes weren’t just a personal illustration, though. Each of the ladies in the Women’s Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) is expected to use their newly acquired skills to train others, multiplying peacebuilding throughout their communities. For three years, they’ve been meeting two or three times a year with ALARM Congo to learn about Biblical theology, servant leadership, trauma healing, and other subjects that help them lead effectively in their churches and communities.

2017 Group Photo

Group photo of the ladies attending training and facilitators

This time, the ladies were especially thankful for the training they received on mediation. They viewed their own lives and communities as rife with conflict, and now they had step-by-step practical knowledge and a process to bring resolution. The women role-played, seeing how these steps worked out in a realistic scenario. Then they broke into groups and mediated more thorny situations. It was a joy to watch them put their new-found skills to work.

We at ALARM & IBC know that peacebuilding doesn’t come about through good intentions, lofty rhetoric, or U.N. resolutions. It takes place person by person, as Christian men and women recognize their identity in Jesus Christ, forgive their enemies, and obey His command to love their neighbors. That message is the same in America and Africa, and it was such an honor to carry it to Congo with ALARM.

I want to thank you for your financial and prayer support.  This was a particularly difficult year for me and my family.  My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in April 2012.  He had been in a slow but steady decline since that time but took a shocking turn for the worse on Palm Sunday (April 9).  Instead of leveling off as we expected, he went into a rapid decline and passed away on May 20.

Through this difficult time, your prayers sustained me and my family.  My family insisted that I was to go on the Congo trip regardless of what happened with my Dad.  So the unexpected timing of his death, while difficult, allowed me to be with Daddy nearly every day from Palm Sunday on, be there as he was in hospice for the last 5 days of his life, have a sweet time with him early one morning as he told me goodbye and let me know he loved me, be with my family at his bedside when he took his last breath, plan his memorial service with my family, and attend that service.  All this to say that God’s timing allowed me to be present and grieve with my family before I left on June 1 for Congo.

Though I was sad and missed my dad very much, the Lord was gracious to provide me a peace and comfort that was beyond my understanding.  I was able to be fully present with the women and my team during our time in Congo and I saw God work in mighty ways to equip these women as they face a very difficult year in their country.

Vacation Pic

Picture of me with my Dad and Brother on our last vacation together – July 2015 in Yellowstone National Park

May the Lord bless each of you for your kindness and generosity.  Though you didn’t physically travel with me, each of you participated in this trip and I am grateful for you!

If you would like to meet to talk about the trip, I’m happy to do so.

And I can’t close until I share that I also have a new granddaughter that was born on July 18.  Isabel Veronica Ramirez – 7lbs 15oz – 21 inches.  And just because I have a captive audience, I will share a picture of my precious granddaughters!

 

Eva and Isabel

Eva and Isabel – My precious girls

 

2016 Congo Trip Report

12 Jun

The IBC Women’s Congo Team of 2016 recently returned teaching two concurrent conferences in Goma, DR Congo during the week of May 2-6. Here are the stories of some of our adventures!

Since one of the topics I was teaching in the Women’s Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) was on the names of God, I will be sprinkling some of those names throughout this report so all of that study can continue to be used AND I can highlight where a particular aspect of God showed up for us!

This is the team picture that we were finally able to take as we were leaving on our final day in Goma. This was taken at the guest house where we stayed, with Lake Kivu in the background.

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(Back Row: Wayne Cagle (Bent Tree Bible), Mike Scott, Kevin Dial; Front Row: Marsha Romanowski, Katherine Holloway, Lauren Gilland, Kara Murrin, Lindsey Sobolik)
Our adventure began on Thursday morning, April 28 when I received a text message from the airline informing me that our first flight would arrive 20 minutes after our connecting flight to Amsterdam! After alerting the team, I got on the phone with the airline. I learned later that the ALARM-US staff and a small group of IBC Staff gathered to pray that we would be able to keep to our original arrival date.

After 2 hours on the phone, Yahweh Jireh (Lord who Provides) gave us the ability to split up onto 5 different flights and meet our original arrival date. Unfortunately, the flight through Minneapolis was also delayed, so the 2 teammates (Kara & Kevin) that were on that flight ended up being 24 hours behind us. We were sad to be separated from them, but glad that at least the 2 of us that were scheduled to preach in 2 churches in Goma were able to be there for that. We learned after arriving that several churches had combined services to be able to hear the visitors preach.

We arrived in Kigali, Rwanda Friday evening and it felt so good to lie down on a bed and stretch out after spending more than 24 hours sitting in airline seats. When I awoke on Saturday morning, I went outside to watch the sunrise. I was startled to see a security guard wrapped up in blankets outside of our doors with his big club to protect us as we slept. It was as if I heard the Lord saying, sometimes this is what Yahweh Ra’ah (Lord our Shepherd) looks like.

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(Picture of team about to leave for Goma, Congo from Kigali, Rwanda)

After a hearty breakfast, we had an uneventful drive to Goma. We crossed the border and arrived at the Catholic Guest House where we would stay for the next week. It was a beautiful 10+ acre property covered in lawns and gardens filled with tropical flowers on the shores of Lake Kivu. It was a wonderful place to come at the end of each day to reflect and recharge after a day of teaching at the conferences. Here we saw Elohim (Creator God). Here’s a few pictures of some of our views:

On Sunday we attended 2 different churches. I preached at Theophile’s Assemblies of God church on “The Names of God”. We were entertained by 8 different choirs.
Here’s a picture of me enjoying one of them.

Katherine listening to choir

Marsha preached on “Grace” at Marie Jeanne’s Nazarene Church. Here’s a picture of her preparing in the pastor’s room before the service.

Marsha Prepping for Sermon

Women’s Leadership Training Institute (WLTI)
About 48 ladies attended the WLTI Conference. They will attend 12 sessions of leadership training to equip them for service through the ministries they are leading in their churches. At the end of 12 sessions they will receive a certificate. Our team taught on “Bible Doctrines”, which is the 4th in the series of 12 sessions. This covered Who is God, Who is Man, Who is Jesus, Who is the Holy Spirit, Role of Angels & Demons, Who is the Church, Hope in Christ, and Second Coming. Basically, all the major doctrines of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in 5 days! This was a VERY full week of meaty topics. The women were learning many things they didn’t know before. Examples of new ideas for them:

  •  Jesus existed in eternity before he was born to Mary
  • The Holy Spirit existed in eternity just like the Father and Son
  • Jesus is still in heaven in his physical body
  • The Holy Spirit lives in us but also has times of outpouring for the purpose of mission
  • Many had not heard the term Trinitarianism or thought much about the 3 members of the Trinity working together in one united being.
  • They hadn’t made the connection between the blood required during OT sacrifices and the blood of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the OT law – a one time and final completion.
  • That the Holy Spirit is equal in deity and relation to the Father and the Son.

We were a bit surprised at the level of legalism in their churches, and the focus on “God as Punisher” instead of “God as Grace” that came through as we discussed our lessons, so we made sure to be teaching in each of our sessions about the Freedom we have in Christ.
When talking about the ordnance of Communion, there were MANY questions. If a woman’s dowry isn’t paid, can she take communion? If a couple is separated but not divorced can they take communion? Is it OK to wash feet before communion? And too many other questions to enumerate.

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(Picture of the WLTI participants)

On the last day of the conference, we had planned to do communion, so Theophile decided to add a foot washing before the communion. It turned out to be just the right thing on several levels. The wounds of colonialism are still deep. And the women couldn’t believe that white women would wash the feet of black women. It was a time of great joy and laughter and love. And we saw Yahweh Shalom (The Lord is Peace) as those from different tribes, denominations & social status come together to serve one another.)

foot washing laughing lady
When we (the facilitators) finished washing all their feet, we went back inside to take communion together. It was a holy moment where we experienced the presence of Yahweh Shammah (The Lord is There) and reflected on how our actions (foot washing & communion) were illustrating what we had been teaching all week about the Global Church. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit are One, we are also One because of Him.

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Men’s Trauma Healing Conference
When our team was in Goma last year teaching a women’s trauma healing conference, we identified a need to teach a similar conference for men. This week was the fruition of that idea, and it was amazing!

Eighty plus men gathered for training in topics that would help them deal with their own trauma, and help them lead others in their spheres of influence deal with trauma. The men were from many different backgrounds: Pastors (majority), army chaplains, police officers, army officers, doctors, and nurses. Though all had experienced trauma themselves, they are also essentially first responders to those who they serve in their communities.

Toward the end of the week, the men began to see their need to forgive those that were responsible for actions against them and their families. They began to share their stories, and a pivotal moment happened when they took their burdens (represented by a rock they carried that week) to the foot of the cross and gave then to Jesus. We saw Yahweh Rapha (The Lord Who Heals) at work on the hearts of these men.

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This conference ended with a foot washing and communion, and it was another holy moment shared together by the global Church.

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Some of the comments we heard after this were:

  • “I felt joy and the Holy Spirit, to the point where I felt like I was in another world.”
  • “I was surprised by my actions. I never would have participated in that kind of event but found myself participating. I realized, ‘a servant is to be a slave to others.’ Blessed is this teaching because it has taught us the importance of serving people.”
  • “This activity brought joy to my heart. What we have done is a work of the Holy Spirit. Young, kneeling before old; old kneeling before young. God says go and serve – not to be a chief ruler and be served but to serve others. This is what I learned.”
  • “What has been done is an answer to my prayers. So many pastors argue and divide. There is no loyalty or harmonizing. But God has called us to love and serve others.”
  • “I washed the feet of one of the men in uniform but I was very intimidated and thought to myself that I should not let him wash my feet. But he was so kind and full of joy that it gave me the confidence to let him wash my feet because he wanted to do so. I have never experienced anything like that before. We are truly brothers in Christ.”
  • “As a man, I was taught that women should serve men. But when I became a Christian I learned differently and learned that men and women are equal. Even still that is something we say and do not always do. I’ve never seen a man washing a woman’s feet, white people washing the feet of black people or those in authority washing the feet of others. Our culture has a very strong understanding from colonization of the role of a master and a slave – authority and under authority. This teaching has shown me an example of what it means to be humble and a servant leader.”

One of the pastors could not gather the courage to share his story during the conference. After the conference, he spent the night with Theophile (ALARM-Congo Servant Leadership Coordinator) and shared this story.

“During the war in 1996, we spent 2 months in the forest. We ate fruit some days, and many days we had nothing to eat. There was no water and it was like a feast when it was raining, but it was also sad because we had no shelter to cover ourselves. One day the soldiers came to chase us. I hid myself in a corner and my father in another corner. My father warned me if we hid in the same place, we will be killed at the same time. Unfortunately, when they came, they took my father and I saw how they were killing him with knives. By God’s grace they didn’t see me. I continue to relive this situation every day. It is the reason why you cannot see me laughing with other people, though I am a pastor. I didn’t even have the courage to tell the story to anyone else. Even in the conference, I was thinking how to start telling my story. Finally, I decided to come to you and share it with you.”

Theophile says, brothers and sisters, let me tell you that we went to sleep at 1:00 am and all this time I was listening to this pastor tell his story through tears. You cannot imagine the impact and the healing you brought to our brothers in the Trauma Healing Conference.
CLOSING THANK YOU
I want to thank each of you for your prayer and/or financial support. You were all there in Spirit and you made a huge difference. We felt your prayers and saw answers to many of those prayers. Please continue to pray for life change and that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. May the Lord bless you for your faithfulness and partnership!

If Necessary, Use Words

18 Nov

“Preach the gospel at all times – if necessary, use words. — Unknown” 

I was sitting in Starbucks this morning and dropped my cup of coffee on the floor.  I cleaned up the mess and immediately flashed back to an extremely important lesson I learned on my first trip to DR Congo where we held 3 women’s conferences.

The first conference was attended by 200 displaced women living in the camps at the base of a volcano in Goma, Congo.  These women had fled their homes when rebels attacked their villages.  Most of them had been raped and/or witnessed at least one family member being killed in brutal ways.  To say that the women were suffering from trauma would be an understatement.

We were a team of 10 women joining with the ALARM-Congo staff to minister to these women by teaching on “The Hope we have in Jesus” and several lessons on “Healing from Trauma” taught by trauma counselors.  My role on this trip was to coordinate and open the conference each day.  During the opening, I had the privilege to tell the women how special each one of them are in the eyes of our Almighty God.  They are made in His image.  They are His daughters.  They are unconditionally loved by Him.  He will never reject or leave them regardless of what they have done, or what has been done to them.

One of the women in the displaced person’s camp

During our lunch break on the first day, one of the women knocked her Coca-Cola over on the floor.  The floor was made of concrete, and being the mom that I am, I quickly grabbed some napkins and cleaned it up so no one would slip and fall.  I also cleaned up her feet since the Coke had splattered on her.  I did this act without thinking.  I had no idea that I was being watched.

At the end of the conference, one of the women stood up to share something meaningful that she learned from the day’s teachings.  She said, “Did you see that white woman clean up the spilled Coke on the floor?  Have you ever seen a white person clean up after a black woman before?  These women speak the truth.  They love us!”

I was humbled to know that the Lord had used me to show His love to these women in a way I never expected.  I didn’t speak eloquent words or do any great, noteworthy act.  I cleaned up spilled Coke.  And He used this act to speak volumes to these precious women about His love for them.

This experience taught me that as I go through each day I am seen, and my actions speak much louder than words. 

“…let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18 (NIV)

I Didn’t Know to be Nice to my Customers!

26 Aug
Wednesday, July 20, 2011 – We finished another great day of teaching micro-business skills to the ladies in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.  The women are very eager to come each day to learn! 
 

Dorcas & Fidelis role-playing being nice to your customer

We are at a beautiful conference center that has a nice grassy area with shade trees where the women can go from the meeting room to do their group break-out sessions.  The temperature is so nice that sitting outside in the sun is a great pleasure!

 
What a thrill to see the understanding as we teach them new skills for improving and expanding their businesses.   These skills will be life-changing for them and, as Americans, we think everyone already knows them.  Such as:
  • Being nice to customers
  • Understanding how to price products to make a profit
  • Writing down the information for what they sell and what they spend on their business each day so they can calculate profit/loss
  • Displaying items nicely to differentiate themselves from others selling similar items
At the end of the day several women said “with the tools and new ideas we are learning in this conference, we can be true businesswomen.  Our lives will be transformed, and we can help to transform our nation!”
 
It dawned on me that nothing we were teaching these women would cost them even 1 cent.  These were skills and tools they could put into practice immediately at no cost!  
 
This group of women, named “Source of Blessings”, is composed of women from different religious backgrounds and tribes.  As they are providing for their families with their newly acquired skills, they are also working together to build relationships within their group and to transform their community. 
 

There are No Barriers with Love

19 Aug

Friday, July 22, 2011 — It was the last day of our conference in Ruhengeri, Rwanda with the “Source of Blessings” women.

All week, we encouraged the women to work well together, to love one another and serve one another, because together they are more powerful than any one of them is alone. 

Alivera (ALARM-Rwanda’s Women Coordinator) presented the gospel message as she taught on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  The other training facilitators (me, Fidelis, Chantell & Kristen) washed the feet of 4 of the women.  They in turn washed the feet of 4 other women until all of us had washed and been washed.  

Serving one another by washing the feet of women from different tribes & denominations

Some of the women cried because they never imagined anyone would ever wash their feet.  The barriers of race, tribe and religion came crashing down around us as we saw blacks & whites washing each other’s feet; Hutus and Tutsis washing the feet of one another; Baptists,  Catholics, Anglicans, Muslims, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists were all washing each other’s feet.  What a beautiful example of unity and reconciliation being demonstrated by this beautiful act.

Afterwards, several women shared what they had been thinking during the foot washing: 

“We respect one another regardless of differences; We are all equal and serve the same Father; Love must be practical, not theoretical; Love must continue and not end today; There are no barriers with love.”

I was reminded of Jesus’ prayer for future believers (us) before He went to be crucified, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved me.” 

I will never forget the beautiful unity I experienced with my sisters in Rwanda on that day.

 

We are His Treasured Possession

8 Aug

Mary* is a woman in the “Source of Blessings” microbusiness group in Rwanda.  She is a beautiful woman, a second wife to a polygamous husband, and she is barren.  She is raising her brother’s two children.  In a culture that still judges the value of a woman by the number of children she bears, Mary is not in the upper echelon of society. 

During the week of training, she always sat on the front row.  She engaged in the group discussions and was very interested in putting her new skills into practice.  She was also grateful for the gift of a Bible.  She is a Muslim and thanked us for not excluding her from receiving this gift because of her religion.

Showing us her boutique

One evening after training Mary invited us to visit her business.  She has a little boutique where she sells different items in a small store outside of her home.  It is like a little convenience store stocked with bar soap, tea, rice, flour, beans, sodas, etc.  The shop is orderly and clean.

It is very unusual for white people to come into that neighborhood, but here we came to visit Mary, and in a car!  Adults and children alike were following us to Mary’s shop out of curiosity.  When we stopped and got out of the car, there were about 50 people watching us.  Many were commenting “Look!  How did Mary get the white people to come to her shop?  She has become a great and important lady!”

It gave us great joy to be able to raise the perceived value of this precious woman in the eyes of her community just by our presence at her shop.  But I am so thankful that our value as women and men is not measured by random ideals determined by a culture or another person, but by a God who loves each of us more than we can imagine and He calls us his “treasured possession”.  

*name has been changed

You are the God Who Sees Me

5 Aug

While in Rwanda, I was part of a story that reminded of the name given to the Lord by Hagar in Genesis 16:13 which says, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me.”

This story starts in the US before I left on my trip.  I was trying to decide what shoes to pack.  I had 2 pair that would go with the brown clothing I was packing.  One pair was beginning to “let go” and another pair were brand new.  I decided to take both. 

When I got to Rwanda, the new shoes rubbed blisters on my feet, and the older ones weren’t holding up very well to the gravel walkways.  I had decided to discard the shoes, but Alivera (ALARM-Rwanda’s Women Coordinator) wanted me to have them fixed because that is what Africans do.  I didn’t want to go to that trouble and didn’t want to give my broken shoes to someone else, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw the shoes away that evening. So I put them back in my closet.

The next day, another friend on our team noticed the ragged shoes of one of the women attending our training and thought my shoes would fit her.  I put both pair of shoes in a bag and gave them to my friend who gave them to Alivera to give to the young woman.  I noticed that she wore the shoes each remaining day of the conference.  They fit her perfectly — and no blisters!

On the last day we were together, she told me her story.  She was a young woman whose husband abandoned her 1 week before giving birth to their second child.  She asked his friends why he left her and they said that he was ashamed of not having a job and being unable to provide food for his family.  He left her so he didn’t have to watch them starve.  She moved in with her mother because she couldn’t make it on her own. 

The young woman also told me that she didn’t own a pair of shoes.  Those ragged ones she had been wearing to the conference were borrowed from her sister.  In Rwanda, it is against the law to go barefoot.  So she had been unable to go to church, or even do her business, unless she could borrow someone else’s shoes.  She was very thankful for the 2 pair of shoes.

I asked Alivera if she thought this young lady had been praying for shoes.  She said, “No.  She is desperate for food for her children.  Shoes are not her priority.”

But, even though she didn’t pray for shoes, God saw her need and provided for her!  I also saw that He didn’t use just one person in this chain of events, but three – no one person could say they had done this act of kindness.  It was orchestrated by Him and the gift was from Him.

And I marveled that I was in a place where a pair of shoes can change the life of a woman and her family, and that I serve a Lord that allowed me to be a part of blessing another …