April 2017: Always Hope

April 4, 2017

Greetings,

One hundred twenty Congolese jurists and fifteen international visitors share the UCBC campus this week with our students and staff. The jurists, all legal professionals of various roles, join with seven lawyers from Uganda, Texas, Arizona, and Oklahoma, for the biennial Justice Conference. Three members of Blacknall Presbyterian Church (Durham) teach classes and engage conversations with students and staff. “Deep Common Journey” describes the Blacknall and Congo Initiative relationship, and so we are delighted to welcome this team. Two members of Faith Missionary Church (Indianapolis) visit with staff and students to develop understanding and relationships. An artist and a nurse with an interest in early childhood development fill out the visitor list. It’s a busy and exciting time, and we are grateful for God’s provision and protection. We are also grateful that all of our visitors obtained their Congolese visas in time to make their travels!
 
Yes, we rejoice in God’s provision and mercy. We rejoice especially in the midst of these uncertain times.
 
News from across Congo is unsettling. President Kabila gives no indication that he will honor the December 31 agreement brokered by the Catholic bishops to conduct elections. More than 400 civilian deaths at the hands of militia and rebel groups over the last six months have been reported from Kasai. UN peacekeepers Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan were recently abducted then murdered along with their interpreter and moto drivers in that same province. Political opposition groups call for ville mort (city-wide strike) across the nation. But my colleagues defy the evil and live in hope.
 
This past Saturday I joined our international guests on the first part of a two-day pilgrimage of lament, reconciliation, and hope. We traveled 30km north to Oicha where Pastor Peter Amani has led a revival church since 1982. In 2014 and again last year, Oicha flooded with refugees from surrounding villages. His hand sweeping the meeting room where we gathered, Peter explained how the church provided sanctuary, its rooms packed with the fearful and the weary in need of a safe place to sleep. His congregants, with limited resources, gave what they had and provided food and shelter.
 
Even as he told the story, Peter breathed hope and promise. Quoting Jeremiah, he confirmed God’s words, “For I know that plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).
 
Such is the spirit I witness among my colleagues at UCBC. Confidence in God’s love overwhelms the uncertainty that taints the air. Every Monday morning my team gathers for prayer. Always, yes always, one of the team begins with, “We thank God that we are here together. We thank God for UCBC and for the work we have to do.”
 
UCBC graduate Francine Nabintu recently posted, “My smile doesn't mean that everything is great. It tells Satan that no matter his tribulations, my faith (and joy) in God is unshakable.” 
 
May such hope sustain you,
M

February 2017

My last letter to you was during Advent. Lent begins this week! Even though I’ve let so much time pass, please know that you remain in my mind, heart, and prayers.
 
It is relatively quiet here on my porch in Beni, this Sunday afternoon. Street noises float over the wall. Cars bump along the rutted, dirt road. Motorcycles (the local taxis) race by and beep. Passersby call out greetings. Our cat (and rat-catcher) slumbers on a chair beside me. Tomorrow it's back to work, though!
 
Lately administrative work fills my days—meetings, writing project processes, implementing projects, evaluating programs. While that is not particularly newsworthy stuff, it is part of the bigger work of Congo Initiative and UCBC.
 
So, what kind of administrative work has demanded my time? The new Advanced Studies Program (ASP): 25 by 25 is claiming much of it these days. The goal of 25 by 25 is to facilitate UCBC faculty and staff to obtain graduate degrees. Specifically, the ASP program will support 25 staff members to obtain advanced degrees (master’s or doctoral) by the year 2025.

Here is some perspective:

  • Of the 16 Congolese staff members here at UCBC whose primary responsibility is teaching—
        • none have their doctorate degrees
        • only three have master's.
  • Of the 15 Congolese staff members whose primary responsibility is administrative, but who also teach some courses—
         • only two have doctorates
         • only six have master's degrees.
  • None of the remaining 17 staff members who work in various administrative capacities have degrees beyond their graduat  or licence (the equivalent of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, respectively).

Thanks to support from Christ Presbyterian Church (Edina, MN), Daystar University (Nairobi, Kenya), Bamberg University (Germany), Westwood Endowment, Crowell Trust, The Elsevier Foundation, Bread for the World, Messiah College, and several individual and anonymous donors, we are on our way. Two staff members have already begun master's programs. Five will commence this spring, and another will begin his doctoral program in the fall.

Administrative time also goes toward faculty development initiatives. This year, instead of offering topic-focused, single-session workshops, my team is working with small groups of teachers around shared interest areas. One team member is working with applied sciences teachers to develop hands-on activities and simulations for electronics and physics courses. Another team member is helping a group improve their syllabi. I’m working with teachers interested in incorporating reading and writing into their courses. The English teachers are exploring the "scholarship of teaching and learning," and examining how to assess their teaching practice as research.
 
So, I look to the week to come, try to prioritize time and tasks, and thank God for the privilege of participating in the audacious vision of Congo Initiative, “a community of Christ-centered Congolese leaders and global partners united for the transformation of lives and a flourishing Democratic Republic of Congo.”
 
PS: By the way…Did you know that CI—

  • Has a new logo, a new look, and a new way to tell our stories?
  • Is celebrating 10 years?

Please check out and share the news on our new website!

October 16, 2016. Hope in the midst of insecurity

Peace and security remain elusive here in Congo. The nation’s elections, scheduled for December 19, are a dream deferred. Congo’s civilians continue to suffer violence, terror, and political instability. Last week was no exception here in Beni.

A week ago today a rebel group attacked an area just 1km from the UCBC campus. Residents fled to town for safety. Eight civilians lost their lives. No UCBC community member was physically harmed. But staff who live in that area and some who were visiting friends that evening endured the greater harm of trauma and terror during three hours of gunfire and panic. On Monday the area was on alert. Shops were closed. An angry and frustrated crowd blocked the roadway. For the next three days Beni observed an unofficial ville mort. Consequently UCBC remained closed until Thursday.

Such disruption takes its toll. Registration of incoming students, planning meetings, and other work in preparation for the opening of the academic year halted at UCBC. Intensive English classes were postponed.

The disruption of calendars is minor compared to the persistent stress and trauma people experience. No one can deny the menace. Yet a spirit of hope, faith, and trust in God prevail.

Friend and colleague Daniel Masumbuko told me Friday,  “Jesus spent much of his time on the water. He was often in a boat on the open water, in the wind and the waves, crossing from one place to another. The water is unsteady. Life is like that. But God is steady, and our faith is in Him. We have faith and hope. I believe God continues to protect this campus because UCBC is a light to this nation, and this is a place of hope.”

We live “on the water,” subject to storms, wind, and waves no matter where we live. But God is a God of hope, a God of peace, and a God of light. Thanks be to God.

May 2016

Hello,

Is there good news anywhere? Sometimes I wonder.

Today's good news is that Beni is relatively calm, and UCBC is in session. For the past week the opposition parties to President Kabila have threatened protests against the Kabila and government efforts to delay the November electionsAccording to the news, there have been clashes between protestors and police in Goma and Kinshasa. According to individuals with friends and family in Butembo, that city has been on edge.

When we left campus yesterday afternoon we did not know if we would come to work today. In spite of the local and provincial government ban against opposition activity, resentment against the government boils. One is never certain about the public response.

Since things were quiet in town this morning, the decision to continue with work was confirmed. Many students and some staff did stay at home. As the day has progressed, the campus has slowly emptied. 

UCBC was closed for three days last week, as were all schools and businesses. Civil Society, a formal organization of businesses, called for a ville morte on Wednesday through Friday. All activities were suspended to honor those who have been massacred and kidnapped over the last 18 months. The ville morte was also an act of protest against the government, whom many believe are complicit in the violence. At the very least, the government is impotent to bring peace..

I share this not to raise worries, but to offer a snapshot of recent realities and to ask you to pray for Congo and our sisters and brothers here. 

The persistent undercurrent of uncertainty and the too-familiar disruption of daily life can slowly erode hope and drain energy. At the university, classes have to be cancelled and projects suffer delays.

Yet God prevails and faith persists. During a lunch today, my colleague Ndjabu noted, "We have gone through these troubles before. We don't know why. But we know God is great, and God will deliver this country."

I look out my office door to see Kisba pruning the hedges, and am reminded of the beauty that surrounds us. Kisba tells me he will have a cutting of lantana for me to take home this week and plant at my house.

Yesterday, first-year student Hakima excitedly showed me a book she is reading on agribusiness and agricultural education. She is one of our "Bilingualism Award Winners," and proud of her efforts to learn English.

On Monday we celebrated a colleague's birthday. Mama Furaha baked a cake decorated with "Happy Birthday, Matthieu." My sweet tooth enjoyed the treat.

Yes, there is uncertainty here in North Kivu Province, DR Congo. But there is uncertainty in every corner of the world. There is uncertainty in every corner of our own lives. God does not promise safety and security. God does promise grace, mercy, and a "peace that is beyond understanding." How grateful I am for the examples of grace, mercy, and peace beyond understanding that God shows me here in Beni.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you,
m

April 2016

Dear Friend,

How are you? Enjoying enjoying all the promises of spring, I hope. All is well here in Beni. It's rainy season. Blue-sky mornings turn into hours of pounding rain by noon, and then wrap the afternoon in cool breezes and grey skies. In spite of the weather, we carry on and do our work as best we can. Here is a run-down of a typical week for me:

  • Most weekdays I’m up at 5 am and on campus by 7:45. Mondays and Fridays share similar schedules, with the day devoted to working on projects or meeting with staff about curriculum or faculty development. My team meets for prayer on Monday morning. We share thanksgivings and concerns, and place our week's work before God. Chapel meets Monday and Friday from noon to 1 pm.
  • Tuesday is meeting day, beginning with a team meeting and individual check-in sessions. Currently we are revising course evaluation processes, assisting faculty coordinators with curriculum and scheduling, and developing a 3-year strategic plan for faculty development and bilingual affairs. In the afternoon I’m in a leadership team meeting.
  • Wednesday and Thursday mornings fill up with individual or small group meetings related to projects. Faculty development sessions occur Wednesday afternoons. While various people lead the sessions, depending on the topics, my team is responsible to coordinate the program. I join the Academic Services meeting every Thursday afternoon.
  • Saturday and Sunday I try to protect for personal care, rest, a little French study, and unfinished work from the week. This past Saturday I joined colleagues on campus for a meeting with a new funding partner. Even though the meeting concluded at 10:30, pounding rain (rainy season!) kept all motos off the road, holding me hostage for two hours before I could leave. I have managed to keep a Sabbath on Sunday, including a rest from the laptop and email.

I am blessed to live in a comfortable house with friends and colleagues, Jessica Shewan and Sifa Jolie. We live about 5 km from the UCBC campus and 2 km from the center of town. Mama Furaha manages the household and prepares meals. Mama Edwige keeps things clean and pressed, and Pascal takes care of the garden. Kasikas and Jonas, our attentive and trustworthy guards, alternate 12-hour shifts to keep watch.
 
WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime have become my new best friends. They make it easy to keep in touch with family and friends and enable evening work calls with US-based colleagues. Any chance you would be interested in a voice-to-voice or face-to-face call sometime? If so, let me know!

Thank you for your continued love, support, and encouragement. They continue to be cherished gifts, as do you.

M

October 2015

The wind brushes yellow and orange leaves across the central Ohio sky. By the time the trees have emptied their arms to stand bare for the winter, I'll be headed to Beni and UCBC to assume a new set of responsibilities and title: Director of Faculty Development and Bilingual Affairs.

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November 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to you! May you know joy and blessings tomorrow as you gather with family and friends. I'll share Thanksgiving Day with the rest of the CI-UCBC International Staff (IS) team members here in Kampala, Uganda. (Yes, we are still in Uganda!) 

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