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Review for Congo Initiative, Germantown, WI, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

My husband, Kirby Frank, and I committed to a trip to DR Congo to visit our daughter, Chelsie Frank, who has worked here for 4 years. Our trip was a “sensory overload” of sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. I almost did not go on the trip after reading a little about the country, its poverty, violence among tribes and faction groups, its political corruption, and health issues—almost letting fear get in the way of a great learning and growing experience. I’m glad Spirit led me past this fear…
Sights: Beautiful green scenery, with blue, sun-filled sky; dust everywhere from unpaved roads, women carrying laundry, or water, or SOMETHING on their heads, while carrying a small child on their backs, small children (8-12 years or so) carrying water, pushing bikes with bananas to the market, garbage everywhere on the main roads, men and women sitting along the side of the road, selling their fruits/vegetables, and also in the huge marketplace, earning about $20.00 a month, not seeing very many elderly persons (average lifespan male is 40 years old, female 55 years old); seeing the clinic/hospital with minimal means of caring for people but dedicated, compassionate health workers doing their respective jobs with joy, church worshippers singing loudly and joyfully with hope and faith, UCBC leadership challenging students to look beyond what they know to a vision of hope and change, UCBC students taking them up on that challenge and learning and growing in leadership, service to their communities, and knowledge in their particular major field, with dreams and goals to make their country a stronger, better place; meeting NGO (non-government organizations) workers with commitment and care working with the Congolese people, the “tree supports” of buildings, mud huts, thatched roofs,
Sounds: Motorcycles (the main mode of transportation); music, radio,
Smells: Charcoal fires, great food, dust,

It was recommended that we not take pictures in DRCongo, except inside UCBC, or at Chelsie’s home. So, I don’t have pictures to share, only in my mind where they are seered forever in my memory.
There are also locked gates, overnight guards, and a “cautious” attitude about walking the streets at night. This was reality that I didn’t get used to in my short stay there, but upon further reflection in the USA we have apartment/condo entry systems (locked gates?) and a 911 system, and police/fire system in place to monitor and “watch over us” (guard?) and I don’t walk the streets after dark in too many places, unless I am with someone) so, it isn’t so different. Also, these things took a back seat to the very warm and hospitable welcome we received from EVERYONE we were introduced to, and the call to relationship that each person invited us into.

The UCBC, funded by Congo Initiative, is an incredible place. The students we spoke to really have “caught the message” of the mission, and are hopeful and dedicated to making positive change in DRCongo with their leadership skills and passion for their chosen field. The staff there are faith-filled, hard-working, inspirational, dedicated—mostly Congolese professors who witness what hard work, education, faith, forgiveness and resiliency can bring…
There are gardens that help support the university’s food supply, goats, and chickens, too—there is a radio station, library, small computer lab with limited internet service, classrooms of 12-15 students, except for a few larger “auditorium classroom” lectures, 500 students and staff that fill up the space with learning and hope.
The stories of the service learning projects that many classes have participated in were inspirational and courageous. One group reached out to the deaf student school, where they participated in mentoring and teaching and helped raise some money by making soap, af ter learning the teaching aren’t paid, and tuition is waived for parents who don’t have means to pay. They became aware of how these students are alientated from others. And learned that “Disability doesn’t mean Inability.” Another group went to the local movie theaters to challenge the owners to offer more than the violent, immoral types of movies that are mostly offered. Another group built benches on the campus for students to sit on under shade. The concept of service learning appeared to be a new one for the students, and I can already see Spirit working as a “domino effect” and this will spread far and wide over the next years as the students, then the Congolese people, are empowered to effect positive change with a dream, a little effort, a little faith and thus a stronger, better community! Kudos to Chelsie Frank for her vision and leadership in putting this program together, along with the other USBC professors and staff.

After taking in all these moments, I found myself leaving DRCongo with a change in perspective: I came feeling despair and fear; believing that what the Congolese people have been through, and continue to have challenges about, was too overwhelming, too entrenched to be much different. I left feeling a great faith and hope as I witnessed the staff and students commit to a vision faith in a God who loves and cares for them, a vision of integrity, honesty, hard work, and a vision of change for a better DRCongo. I asked David Kasali, the UCBC President, if he was afraid of doing what he was doing--for himself or his family-- because change is always threatening to people of influence and power. His reply, “I am more afraid of NOT doing what I do—out country’s future depends on it.” Spoken just like our OT prophets, and of Jesus himself—and why the Scriptures have more passages with the message “Be Not Afraid” more than any other subject matter. I left feeling humbled that I could even sit among these people, grateful for the opportunity as it leaves me feeling empowered and renewed to be open to God’s challenges in my own life, and hopeful for our world and the DRCongo that “peace and goodwill among men (and women), is possible if we but trust and “work for the kingdom here on earth.”

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