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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gemena Moments

Christine and friends in Gemena

Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what to share about my life here.  Everything is different, but I forget what might be interesting or surprising to people at home.  Some fun stories from the past week:

I have been driving a 4-wheeler to the World Vision office for a little over a month now.  I am one of two young white women who live in this town, and there are only two 4-wheelers in the town too, so if people didn’t notice me before, now I REALLY stand out.  To make things more interesting Debbie Williams lent me her motorcycle helmet that she rarely uses because she isn’t about to ride motorcycles on these challenging roads.  So, now I am the only person in town wearing a big green helmet, on top of being white and having a unique vehicle, and sometimes the children screaming and running after me gets almost out of hand.  My daily commute.

We had a team from Covenant Churches in the US visit last week, and one morning I went with Diann from Naperville Covenant Church to visit her World Vision sponsored kids.  It was a great experience, and as we were walking through one village we saw a group of women pounding fuku flour (corn and cassava flour mixed) and the women encouraged us to try pounding the flour with them.  Diann and I quickly realized the hard labor that preparing a simple meal entails, and the women laughed and laughed at our efforts.  As we worked, a young man rode up on his bicycle and asked the women if I had a mobali, or husband.  My Lingala is good enough now that I can understand when people are talking about me, but they might not know that I understand.  He asked again and the women said “No, she is not married, she is free, so take her!”  I have been proposed to before in Congo, but that was the first time I had an arranged proposal approved by a group of women I had never met before.  Welcome to my life.

This past Sunday I went to a church in a neighborhood called Salongo II, and in Lingala salongo means “community work”, or “work together”.  Often Saturday mornings are a time of salongo where everyone will come out and clean up their neighborhood together.   So, I went with one of our Saving for Change trainers, Mama Bibi, so we could share our program with women of the Salongo church after the Sunday morning service.  In these small village churches there might be 60 people under a grass roof with mud walls and dirt floors.  I actually prefer this kind of church because from my foreign Western perspective, it seems more intimate and real.  They bring out the drums made of wood and taught goat skin and we celebrate our faith with singing and dancing to rhythms of Congo.  That is by far my favorite part of church.  After the 3 hour service (not too long by Gemena standards) Mama Bibi gathered about 40 women to talk to them about saving and loaning to improve their businesses and household income.  The women listened at first, asking questions where they didn’t understand, but the women community leaders were the ones that really grasped the idea and convinced the other women that they could do this.  It was awesome to see – there was doubt and negativity at the beginning, but it slowly turned to acceptance and even excitement.  We offered to let the women think about the idea for a week before we come back to form the groups, but the women said “No! Let’s make the groups now, we want to start saving as soon as possible!”  So cool. The women split themselves into two groups, we led them through fair elections for a president, secretary, treasurer, cashier and key holder and they chose saving amounts and names for their groups,  Bolingo and Esengo, or Love and Joy.  When Mama Bibi comes again next week, they will have their first official savings meeting, and they will be able to take loans from their group within the next 4 weeks.  On our walk home Mama Bibi commented on what hard work we accomplished, and I agreed how great it was that within 3 hours we got 40 women on board with our program to be empowered and change their own lives, without receiving a penny from an international organization.  In this town, changing people’s minds and behaviors is by far the biggest challenge, but we are seeing change and acceptance of our idea. It really is miraculous.  So far 14 savings groups have been formed in Gemena and we look forward to seeing how God works through these groups to bring empowerment and relieve some of the struggle from living in poverty for these women and their families. 

All in all, another eventful week in Gemena, DRC. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hope Continues to Grow

Hope Continues to Grow

1 Comment »Written on May 22nd, 2013    
Filed under: Ground UpdateMissionary UpdateNews & Updates
Written by Christine Buettgen, short-term missionary in the DR Congo
Existing water source which will be fixed up, so it is clean and can serve more people.
Existing water source which will be fixed up, so it is clean and can serve more people.
Mbote mingi from Gemena! There is lot happening these days, so I will give you a few highlights:
Our big focus is water. World Vision has hired two new folks from Kinshasa and Zambia to implement the WASH program, which will provide clean water and hygiene/sanitation education for the entire city of Gemena. This will include repairing and restoring existing capped springs, digging wells with solar powered pumps, and installing hand pumps for easier access, just to name a few. Wallace and Sandy, our WASH team, are working almost around the clock to get these projects started.  Providing water to 300,000+ people is no small task! But with your generous donations, we will see clean water more readily available in Gemena, and we will then testify to the miraculous power of partnership of God’s people.
A very practical way that people are seeing the benefit of our work is the nutrition program that has been launched. Gemenites learn how they can do simple things, like add ground peanuts into their manioc flour, to provide more protein for their children’s diets without paying more! These simple recipe ideas could be revolutionary in improving the overall health of our kids in Gemena.
Christine, right, with  co-leader Mambo and his family who have helped start savings groups trainings for the women of Gemena.
Christine, right, with co-leader Mambo and his family who have helped start savings groups training for the women of Gemena.
Another exciting program involves the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM) partnering with World Vision to promote savings group training for the women of our region. Savings groups organize women to save their money in groups of 15- 25 women in order that they can take loans from the group, and pay back with interest to see the common pot grow. Only one month into the training, there is a lot of buzz about this program and people are already starting to form groups, even though they haven’t yet finished the training! These groups will also serve as a platform to teach women ways to improve their business, their health, and their communities. This is an important first step before introducing micro-finance programs in the years to come.
So, we are breaking ground and planting seeds. The World Vision office is a constant stream of activity and there is a feeling of energy and excitement about the coming year. This is our year of implementation thanks to the generous support of so many in the United States and Canada who have said “Yes, we hope with the people of Congo.” This would not be possible without your support, and I just wish you could be here to see the joy and clarity in people’s eyes when we teach a new concept. I am finding that people are hungry to learn more about the world they live in, and World Vision in partnership with the Covenant and other local churches are sharing information and knowledge everyday, meeting the deep desires of the people to be educated in all areas. Good education is highly valued, but is only available to few. We seek to change that, for both adults and children, to create a more informed and empowered community, driven to change their own lives.
As I reflect on the past year I am overwhelmed because I had struggled to find signs of hope here. Yet I find it growing in me the longer I stay. People want to see a brighter future, and they are taking steps towards that light everyday. Thank you, faithful churches and individuals at home, for saying “Yes.”

Stories of Hope & Resurrection: Week Six

Stories of Hope & Resurrection: Week Six
Written on May 6th, 2013     
Below are stories from Congo on hope and resurrection written by Christine Buettgen, a short-term missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If your church is interested in receiving these materials weekly via email, please email us at and request them today.
Nyenemo Sanguma, second from right in back row, with the Congolese Community Development team.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
1 Peter 5:5-9
For the past few weeks, I have been charged with communicating stories to you that will help paint a picture of “hope and resurrection” for Gemena and the entire region of Equateur, DRC. For this last installment, I want to emphasize this: It is clear to me that hope lies most obviously, in the youth of this city. They are intelligent, hardworking, and understand the world in a way their previous generation doesn’t always. It is for this reason I believe in World Vision’s focus on supporting children and youth. World Vision desires to partner with emerging young Congolese leaders that are already serving as agents of change – one of them is Nyenemo Sanguma. Born and raised in Gemena, he continued his education in the US, including an undergraduate degree from North Park University and a Masters in International Development from DePaul University, and is now using his educational opportunities to make a difference in his home country.
Nyenemo founded the non-profit, Congolese Community Development (CCD) in order to support farmers to increase their production and connect them with markets in Kinshasa where they receive a higher return on their agricultural products. The organization just celebrated it’s one year anniversary, and in this pilot project year, they have taught farming skills, loan management, and significantly improved the incomes of over 200 farmers. And they plan to keep adding to their numbers.
This is a program that works, because it is conceived and managed by a young Congolese leader who understands the cultural context and language, and is fiercely commited to the betterment of his people.
World Vision works with partner organizations like CCD and leaders like Nyenemo in order to strengthen existing programs and build sustainability into every aspect of their work.
With faith, we must trust and empower local young leaders with the future of their nation – and it is only in this way that we allow hope to take root, grow, and flower. One empowered leader, one project, and one community at a time.

Stories of Hope & Resurrection: Week Five

Stories of Hope & Resurrection: Week Five
Written on April 29th, 2013     
Below are stories from Congo on hope and resurrection written by Christine Buettgen, a short-term missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If your church is interested in receiving these materials weekly via email, please email us at and request them today.
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Family on a dirt road in DR Congo.
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
Revelation 21:1-6
“It is a matter of glimpsing that in God’s new creation, of which Jesus’s resurrection is the start, all that was good in the original creation is reaffirmed. All that has corrupted and defaced it – including many things which are woven so tightly in to the fabric of the world as we know it that we can’t imagine being without them – will be done away. Learning to live as a Christian is learning to live as a renewed human being, anticipating the eventual new creation in and with a world which is still longing and groaning for that final redemption.”
N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
These are powerful words for all of us. Especially in Gemena, despite the current challenges we face, like lack of electricity or sufficient access to clean water, we are called to be renewed human beings, anticipating and hoping for that day where we can access the outside world through power and improved health through clean water for our children and our communities. That day, where Congolese mothers see God answer prayers of provision for their children.
N.T. Wright in this passage reminds us that hope is active, not passive. While we anticipate the change to come, we know that without our own contribution toward a different future we will not fully participate in the blessing of calling the Kingdom of God to this earth through liberation of all marginalized people – in this case, our Congolese friends.
The WASH program currently being implemented is revealing the many resources that already exist in Gemena to bring clean water to the town’s population of 300,000 people. Water is abundant, but clean water is scarce. It will take digging wells, capping natural water sources, and maintaining functioning sources in order to provide protected water that will improve the health of this whole town. It will take reaffirming the gift of the original God-given creation to see resurrection, from sickness to health and from death to life.
Of equal importance, the WASH program will address education on sanitation and protecting water sources so they remain clean. If the community is not on board, clean water access will be temporary instead of long-term. God will provide, we have faith in that. But we know God loves to use us, His created, to reaffirm His own creation.
We remember our work is always in the hands of our Creator who makes all things new.

Stories of Hope & Resurrection: Week Four

Stories of Hope & Resurrection: Week Four
Written on April 22nd, 2013     
Below are stories from Congo on hope and resurrection written by Christine Buettgen, a short-term missionary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If your church is interested in receiving these materials weekly via email, please email us at and request them today.
“Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
Phillippians 2:1-4
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Ariel selling her goods.
Every morning, I walk down the “mbala mbala”, the big dirt road that takes me into town, where I find my motorcycle taxis. Every morning, I pass the same vendors of peanuts, sugar, salt, tea, and coffee, all wrapped in little plastic bags costing no more than about 5 cents. These vendors don’t often sell in quantites larger than this because most can’t afford more than 5 cents worth of sugar at a time.
Through these trips, I have come to know Ariel, who will be having a baby any day now, because I often buy peanuts from her. Three of her children are registered for sponsorship through World Vision although none of have found sponsors yet. When the World Vision International Leadership team came about a month ago, we asked if Ariel would open her home to one of the US executives named David for one night. World Vision believes in the importance of even the top leadership fully comprehending the day to day challenges that Gemena community members face. The local office in DR Congo wanted the US office to “live it”.
When I asked Ariel how it went, she laughed as she told us how David pounded “mpondu” (cassava leaves) with her and her neighbors. Usually this work is left only for the women, so to see a big white American man accomplishing this task was a memory she won’t soon forget. David also carried water on his head from the river to the house, and he slept on a bed made of bamboo. I asked if he was afraid during the night and she answered with a resounding, “Yes! He thought that lions would come attack him!” We both roared at that, knowing there are a grand total of zero lions in this entire region.
Ariel was honored to host a visitor from the US in her home. But more importantly, she was able to build a connection with World Vision to not only learn about their programs, but get to know the kind of people that want to help her community. It is not often in Gemena that executives of large international non-governmental organizations humble themselves enough to sleep on dirt floors and sit on low wooden stools to labor alongside the women.
But this is the example World Vision is setting, and this is the beginning of a deep and committed relationship to these people.
Hope can be found in the smallest of things, even in a sleepover in a mud home under African stars.