Build Relationship First, then Work

 Working in a place like the DRC takes patience and vision.  “And, prayer,” adds Denis.  Assess the circumstances alone, and you might just leave, as Denis was tempted to do all those years ago. 

The success of any work, especially the Common Ground approach, relies on Denis’ model for his first ministry appointment: build relationship first.  Without a direct connection to and investment in the people at work in Africa, efforts fall short.

The work is far from done – it may never be – but today, here’s how Denis and his leadership team are moving past staggering obstacles:

-       Orphan Care: Sister Alvera leads the Flame of Love Orphanage and is Denis’ friend.  She has cared for these children for a long time because, while this group of orphans is small, their lives are significant. This fall, we invested financially in the immediate need for a new dormitory and kitchen.  Construction concluded this past month. 

 Denis and Sister Alvera are now championing sustainability efforts, and are assessing the purchase of farmland to both teach students agricultural skills and grow produce to sell.  Using the first phase of the Common Ground Handbook approach, Denis and Sister Alvera are determining – today – that this agricultural program could make enough money to significantly reduce the orphanage’s overall operations costs. 

-       Healing from Trauma:  Denis knows this and he lives it: Some in the DRC trapped by trauma don’t even know that they are suffering, or the extent to which they are affected.

Restoration won’t come to the Congo without investing in the hearts of its people.  So, today, Denis, Sister Alvera, African Leadership and the Bible Society of Congo are joining together to train trauma counselors and begin working with children who have seen more in their little lives than imaginable.   In addition to spiritual healing, their emotional and spiritual well-being matters because it frees their soul to grow rather than be stuck in a moment of trauma.

-       Growing the Church:  Denis’ first pastorate hardly included a church building at all in the Congo bush.  It was more about the people…and that is exactly what we mean by the “local” church.  Those who belong to Christ and carry out his will.

Denis sees personal growth in Congo’s pastors.  Today, nearly 300 students across 16 classes are enrolled in the Common Ground Academy, gaining a theological education.  They are part of nearly 700 this year alone who have engaged in the Academy at varying levels, including graduation.  Many of them didn’t have Bibles when they first joined.  Several are refugees of war.  Some can’t finish because of conflict.  But, the Academy is a place they can come together and not only grow in their knowledge of a God who restores, but also be an instrument of healing that redeems their communities. 

This training, says Denis, is a reason the physical church is growing in the Congo, too.  New churches are being planted with buildings about to be constructed, and missionaries are at work inside and outside the country.

These are just pieces of an unfolding, comprehensive picture of restoration. And it’s not done…

A Cyclical, Not Linear, Approach

With each next step taken, new challenges are uncovered.  That’s the nature of relationship work.  And it’s why we see the work of the Handbook as a cycle, not a linear approach. 

So, for example, we can build on the success of the Flame of Love Orphanage in Goma as we expand out to support orphanages in other locations.  Because let’s face it.  There are 4 million orphans in the country.  Child labor is an everyday practice.  And 1 in 7 children die before they turn 5 years old.

The newest potential location for a full-fledged Common Ground Space is in Tetea Ya Tima, not far from Goma.  Denis and Sister Alvera are in the first Handbook stage of Gathering Data.  They identified the need for this place to be reestablished after war completely ravaged the area.  There are 37 boys, age 3-15, who need basic care.  A dormitory, cooking areas and a water tank are all necessities.  A carpentry and metal workshop would also teach the students skills that will equip them for life beyond the orphanage.

Looking at all that is on the horizon, it’s hard not to see the foundational wisdom of Denis’ first call to the “bush”: God shall do his purpose. He has, and he will continue to do so.