Monday, July 29, 2013

What I Haven't Told You and Why

Some of you may be surprised to read that most of the people with whom I regularly interact here in Djibouti know almost nothing (if anything at all) about what I do professionally. For that matter, unless you’ve had extensive conversations with me in the past year, you probably don’t know all that much about what I’m doing either. Even though it's not hard to get me talking about Congo, I rarely write about it—especially not about the issues that are most on my mind. There’s so much to say, and it’s hard to know where to begin.  Even more than that, there is the problem of finding words that convey the message.

Have you ever had the experience of opening up to someone and sharing something important you’ve realized/grappled with only to have the manner of their response tell you that they clearly didn’t get what you were trying to communicate? Has the frustration ever been made worse when they are convinced they already know what you’re saying and proceed to offer an example that does not match at all? If so, you've felt some of what I go through.

My experiences and work in Congo don’t fit neatly into dominant mental models, but that hasn’t stopped folks from trying to shoehorn them into one. Partly this is human nature; it is easier to file things into categories we already know. Partly, though, is that if a bunch of folks really heard what I had to say about mainstream Western mission models (secular and religious), a lot of changes would happen. Uninvited change, of course, is threatening and scary. No one enjoys having the effectiveness of one’s paradigm challenged. By just beginning to publicly point out problems in the way United Methodists in the USA relate to their colleagues in Africa, my father has made himself persona non grata in certain denominational circles and a legend in others. This is one of the reasons why he’s been writing a book and why the book writing process has taken so long. He can’t simply come straight out and write what he wants to say; that would offend too many people, and thus not lead to the desired results. He’s got to tell interesting stories that gently lead the reader into connecting the dots on their own. Self-initiated change is exciting.

The long-standing family joke is that I’ll write my book on missiology just as soon as Dad completes his. Well, it’s looking like that day is coming, so I’ve begun exploratory conservations with the faculty of the missiology department down at the University of South Africa about me entering their doctorate program. If I’m really going to write an academic book, might as well get a doctorate out of it. This way I’d have a dream team supporting my research and writing process. Of course, I’m guessing I’d curse my decision many times while in process (performance anxiety stress-outs), but I suspect that if I never do find the courage to say all the things I’ve been bottling up, I’ll be forever haunted by ‘what-if.’ What if I put my yearning for a world with healthy missiologies above my ego—my anxieties over what people would think, my reluctance to be a lightning rod (I’ve been one before, and it’s not fun), and my fear of my words being twisted and misunderstood?       

While most of you haven’t been obsessing over the root problems with Western mission models since you were a teenager, I suspect there is some issue of which you have an above-average knowledge. For some of you, it's the public school system; for others it is the prison system or gender discrimination or fair labor or city planning or arts appreciation or food supply chains or management styles or health care or even product design. No matter what your soapbox issue is, you can probably relate to your words falling onto deaf ears and even receiving hostile reactions when you point out what seem to you to be common-sense solutions. So can you get now why I’ve gone a bit underground in recent years in my efforts to encourage individuals and groups to re-examine the way they approach their mission initiatives and trips? 

So all of this was one big preface to say that I’m involved in some incredibly fruitful initiatives in Congo in my role as president of Friendly Planet Missiology (FPM). Some of our upcoming projects we’re keeping quiet for strategic reasons. Mostly I haven’t talked about what I do because, well, I’ve found it’s easier (both emotionally and functionally) to get things done when I fly below the radar. The downside of such an approach is that it doesn’t inspire many folks to make financial contributions to our programs, and it doesn’t help FPM’s secondary mission of being an educational resource to folks state-side. Pray for me as this introvert (yes, really I am) seeks balance in my online sharing.     

 Did you know that....  ?

FPM partnered with local doctors and officials to build the Mulongo region's only accredited nursing school. These students staff the local hospital and numerous village health clinics
FPM provides scholarships to female nursing students and is raising funds for the construction of a midwife training center, a medical reference library, and a dormitory for women nursing students whose homes are far away
Among next year's nursing scholarship recipients is the vice-commander (although widely considered to be the brains of the militia) of Lord Vende's Mai Mai army. One of these days I'll need to tell you the story of how FPM's Country Director Rev. Mulongo became her pastor. When Bishop Ntambo heard that "The Shooter" had applied to the nursing school, his eyes grew wide with shock and he said he would relay the good news to President Kabila as soon as possible.     
FPM operates a boat that is used for supply transport (Doctors Without Borders has borrowed it for immunization campaigns), evacuations (used to help leaders trapped during Mai Mai invasions), and more
FPM gave a matching business loan to a co-op of district pastors who had pooled half their salaries for one year to purchase a corn/cassava mill
The UMC's North Central Jurisdiction Volunteers in Mission program is in talks with FPM for a young adult road/boat adventure to Mulongo and beyond. American team members would be expected to provide financing for the cement and roofing sheets for the women's foyer (vocational training center) in Mulongo.  The women of Mulongo have already molded and baked thousands of bricks for the foyer's construction.  
There are well-organized and active troops of scouts deep in Congo. They serve as an unarmed peace-seeking militia for youth in the community.  When FPM teams or church dignitaries come to town, the scouts take the lead in crowd-control, hospitality logistics, and technical support (like setting up the electrical lines and speaker system in the temporary conference tent).  FPM has matched Indiana's scouting leaders with scout leaders in North Katanga to hold a special Jamboree in Tenke, DR Congo next summer.  
While FPM was initially launched by me and my father, FPM's Country Director Rev. Mulongo (left) and the team of volunteers he has assembled are the real brains and brawn behind the organization's work in DRC.

1 comment:

  1. You inspire me.
    If i fail to hear you, box my ears until I listen.