Destination: Congo

How one group became involved in short-term missions

By Anonymous

How did a group of men and women from a town about 20 miles from Washington, D.C., end up holding business seminars in Central Africa? Gaithersburg [Md.] Chinese Alliance Church (GCAC) has about 300 members and is divided into Chinese- and English-speaking congregations. The Chinese-speaking congregation had sent numerous short-term missions (STM) teams to reach Chinese communities in Peru, Spain and Israel. But this year, God was stirring in the hearts of the English-speaking people of the congregation to form their first STM team.

Chia-Lin Yu, a missionary from GCAC, is serving with the C&MA in the Republic of the Congo, and we wanted to encourage her, see her mission field and learn how we can pray for her. Also, we wanted to see if Alliance churches could establish long-term relationships with missionaries, national churches and Christian organizations in the Congo and learn how future STMs could contribute to their ministries. God showed each of us more of Himself and the need for His work in the Congo.

Starting Right

No amount of effort could completely prepare us for what we would experience in the Congo, but some preparation is better than none! Each team member brought different God-given strengths and abilities to the table: Eva Jun, the team leader, is a retired government executive with many years of church governing board experience; Billy Chang, the co-leader, is a software engineer and church elder; Henry Sy is a restaurant business owner; Kawa Lau is a banker; Tiffany Fu is a veterinary graduate student; and Jessica Chang is a college student. Pastor Don Weidemann acted as the advisor. This was our first STM trip.

Our team met weekly to encourage one another and pray for both the trip and the people we would meet. Each of us prayerfully prepared our testimonies. The sharing of our testimonies with each other developed stronger team spirit. We studied the manual supplied by the Alliance Short Term Missions Office (STMO), which was most helpful.

We focused our efforts primarily on the development of the seminars. We researched, prepared and edited slides and finally worked with those in the Congo to translate the workshops into French.

Our team also learned hand motions to a few worship songs. Since our team knew little or no French, what better way to communicate with the Congolese than through hand motions? Congolese worship is particularly lively and active, and we wanted to relate our and Christ’s love to them in a way that they would understand. Memorizing the hand motions, much less the words, to entire songs is tough!

Part of our preparation involved collecting items for the missionaries in Congo. Things easily accessible in American society are difficult to find or too expensive to buy in Africa. Because standard mailing services are slow and unreliable, a short-term mission team is the most expedient way to send items to the field. As families of missionaries gave us important items to take to the Congo, we packaged snacks, gifts and specific requests into boxes. To the missionaries, it was “Christmas in July.”

BREAD on the Journey

The trip was designed for opportunities to serve and explore the depth and breadth of the nation’s spiritual and physical needs. We spent most of our time working with BREAD, a Congolese-managed, missions-driven development organization with primary funding from CAMA (Compassion and Mercy Associates). BREAD provides the means and establishes trust among people who may not normally have the chance to hear the gospel.

BREAD operates a microenterprise project that provides loans to the poor to help them start businesses. Initially, we wondered if a set of workshops on business principles and tools given to BREAD administrators and clients interested in microenterprise would have an impact.

In the little time we spent with the leaders of BREAD, we developed the highest respect for their humility and vision. Their expression of God’s love and compassion through meeting the community’s physical needs is felt by many. The impact to the community is incredible.

Although more peopled could be helped, BREAD is limited financially; the case workers carry heavy workloads. CAMA and BREAD share the long-term goal for BREAD to become self-sustaining (still requiring financial aid, but able to operate without infusion of external funds), while enlarging its positive impact on the poorest people. Research is needed to explore how this goal can be realized. In recent years, more funding has become available for microenterprise projects throughout the world. We believe God will continue to expand BREAD’s ministry throughout the Congo.

Godly Perspective

By faith, we relied on God’s guidance—somehow, He would use our work experiences to bring glory to His Name. Jun presented a workshop regarding financial integrity, including her experience as church treasurer. Billy Chang gave a seminar about work ethic, and Jessica Chang offered a tutorial about Internet research tools. Henry Sy related his experience with managing his own business and gave a workshop about creating a business plan based solely on Christian principles. Kawa Lau presented the importance of good customer service. Tiffany Fu presented the topic of ecotourism, a budding industry in Africa that might benefit the Congo. The workshops were designed to bring about discussion among the Congolese and encourage them to achieve their goals without compromising spiritual principles.

After each workshop, the response was overwhelming. Our STM training confirmed that the best thing we could offer was our testimonies. We shared how God had reached out to each of us and gave us a reason to live through Himself. We told the participants that God had saved us from our sins by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. We were also able to share how a godly perspective in the workplace can be lived out, trusting that God can be honored in everything we do.

In addition to the workshops, Chia-Lin Yu had arranged for the team to meet many Congolese pastors, with whom the team discussed the needs of the Congolese ministries, exchanged encouragements, and sought to build lasting partnerships. We found there is a tremendous need for outreach to the youth. A young man said to us, “I wish you could stay longer. We have troubled youths here; I hope you can help me bring them to Christ.”

Town and Country

Between workshops, we immersed ourselves in the community. In Brazzaville, Nkayi and Sibiti, we worshiped at local churches, visited markets and interacted with the Congolese people. From these experiences, we developed a fuller picture of life in the Congo. We found the Congolese people to be warm and friendly; they commonly greet each other (even strangers) in the streets as they pass.

The towns we visited ranged from urban to rural. Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, could have passed for any typical large (and polluted) city except for the absence of traffic on the roads. Ninety percent of the people travels via taxi or bus. Water and electricity services are unpredictable; outages occur several times a week.

We visited the C&MA Christian Education Center (CEC), which trains Christian leaders, and the Bible Society, which supports the distribution of Scripture. The CEC library was almost bare; books lost during the civil war have not been replenished. We also saw the state and needs of the medical care system at Brazzaville University Hospital. We were told there is no health insurance in this country.

Nkayi is a 45-minute plane ride from Brazzaville. Sugar manufacturing is the main industry, and smoke from the burning of sugar cane plants filled the town. We worshiped at the Nkayi Alliance Church. The members were thrilled that they will be able to construct a new church building in the coming months, thanks to the Great Commission Sunday offering for Congo in 2005.

Sibiti is much smaller and more rural than Brazzaville or Nkayi. Clay paves the dirt roads, which are surrounded on both sides by huts and fences. Goats and chickens run wild as people stroll on the streets and greet each other. We barely noticed the lack of electricity and running water in the homes because we were so charmed by the hospitality of our hosts and the people of Sibiti. BREAD recently started an Internet café in Sibiti and soon plans to establish a radio station for AIDS education.

Permanent Vision

What better way to grow than to get out of our comfort zone! STM trips are a great medium for spiritual growth. “[The Congo] doesn’t need our money. The Congo needs people. ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,’” Joe Harvey, a medical missionary who established a hospital in rural upper Congo, shared with our team.

God is doing amazing things in the Congo. In a place devoid of hope, God’s hope shines through to the missionaries and Christians there. With the knowledge gained and relationships built from our trip, we want to bring information, prayer requests and encouragement to North American Alliance congregations. We hope to see the strengthening of the relationship between the Congo missionaries and Alliance churches that support their efforts. Please remember the missionaries and the Congolese in your prayers and consider how you can help!

We didn’t know how awesome mission trips are simply because none of us had ever been on one. But now we’ve had a glimpse of the tremendous need and, more inspiring, the power of God at work. Most of us would say that if we had the chance to go back, there would be no hesitation.

—Gaithersburg Chinese Alliance Church

For more information about the Short Term Missions Office, visit: legacy.cmalliance.org/im/imserve/stmo/stmo.jsp

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