Central and East Africa: Final Update

It’s been my turn to write the blog for a long time. This should’ve been a second or third… but I find it hard to write when I haven’t had time to process. This trip has been FULL. Full of travel, full of engagement, full of work, full of mental and emotional space… just full. That also means it wasn’t full of time to write and process.

To be with the ALARM Congo team is for me to be with true heroes of our faith. It was too short. Our team had the beautiful privilege of leading a marriage conference for pastors and their wives. For many of them (including 3 couples who are deaf) it was the first conference they had been invited to participate in – as couples, and for some even as individuals. If you ever find yourself wondering if you are qualified to be used by the Lord, let the testimony of these dear ones exhort you to say yes to your calling.

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Considering the longevity and depth of conflict in this area of the world, we did our best to be faithful to meet the opportunity with the reverence it deserved. We all felt woefully inept to step into this space. But God. His character and faithfulness, and the power of His Holy Spirit never lets us down. He moved and we were recipients of the gift as were all of the conference participants. It was a beautiful exchange.

Probably for me, one of the most memorable experiences was to sit with graduates from ALARM’s WLTI (Women’s Leadership Training Institute – funded and partly lead by IBC and in partnership with Bent Tree Bible) and a member of the micro finance group. The morning before we left, 4 women joined us to share how their participation in the groups has transformed their lives personally, those of their families, and those of their ministries. These women shared stories of them moving from the darkest depths to hope and restoration.

To sit in the depths of pain with those who suffer, is holy ground. I admit that I struggle to reconcile the fullness of these experiences with my day to day life. For it is in these places, that I come the closest to seeing the face of Jesus. For He is there.

Central and East Africa: Fourth Update

It has been hard to describe the last three days, filled with awe and wonder but also filled with great pain and grave injustice.

In Rwanda, our time centered around the word “ubumuntu” meaning humanity rooted in goodness, generosity, and kindness. We went to the Rwandan genocide memorial which was filled with stories that paint the destruction of ubumuntu and then a commission to honor ubumuntu as sacred. We learned this in the senseless and evil nature of the Rwandan genocide that was bred by colonialism and perpetuated by indifference. And then we met this in the men, women, and children that were killed and traumatized as a result. We now bear witness to their stories.

We also saw portraits of ubumuntu in the stories of men and women who have gone through leadership training intensives with ALARM. Because of the healing and freedom they have received, they demonstrate the beauty of ubumuntu in their servant leadership both within the church and in their larger communities. We learned of their ingenuity in economic empowerment and their commitment to being wounded healers in hosting trainings about trauma and conflict resolution. It was incredible to hear of their resilience and steadfast love for ubumuntu.

Soon after, we jumped on two vans: one headed toward the airport and the other to Goma; half our team was heading home while the remainder headed toward Goma to serve alongside ALARM staff in hosting a marriage conference.

Our first full day in Goma was… well full. We visited various ALARM programs to get a taste for the work here. We started off the day visiting BRENDA school, which is a women’s empowerment program that teaches women how to sew so as to help provide sustainable incomes for families. The women shared with us their hopes for supporting their families, training others in their communities, and getting a further education. The hopes were filled with color.

Afterwards, we visited a well project outside of Goma in partnership with Water is Basic. We saw men and women walk 15-30 km to get unsafe water and then saw the life changing impact that water tanks are having within that same community. What a difference clean and safe water makes!

Finally, we finished off our day by heading to the prisons in Goma where many are tried and presumed guilty until proven otherwise. We visited women, men, and then the children, and the prison leaders shared with us how meaningful it was that they have visitors, reminding us of the words of Jesus – “when I was in prison, you visited me.” We learned that many of the children and women stole food due to extreme poverty and could not afford legal counsel to get out. We brought them food, soap, detergent, oil, and wood since they do not eat unless family members bring a meal.

Their joy was palpable. They danced and sang “we will praise God because he sees us.” In my heart, I could not understand their praise, but I stood in awe at their deep grief and vibrant joy. We then learned about ALARM’s continued presence in the prison, supporting the leaders needs and providing counsel to those unjustly held. In fact, 21 children had been released this year due to ALARM’s faithful work.

Overall, we sit in the tension of beauty and sorrow. Though all is yet to be made right, we are leaning into God to believe that he is at work and he will restore all things one day. And until then, we join in what he is doing to bring healing and hope to our broken world.

Central and East Africa: Third Update

The best way to describe this past weekend is literally, Wow. Wow! when it was not pouring down rain we were on the go. It is nearing the end of rainy season for South Sudan. You could say that this is true literally and figuratively.

South Sudan has become so barren and desolate due to the most recent conflict. While we were there we could see the results of that in the empty shops and abandoned and collapsed homes. However, we could also see a glimmer of hope in the people of Yei. People are starting to slowly return to their homes from the refugee camps. We saw hope in the eyes of the new police recruits (pictured below). We saw hope in the eyes of the youth choir. They are the future of Yei and they were full of joy.

We see the future of Yei beginning to change. During our stay, we witness new life breathed into one community with the drilling of a new well and life restored by the repair of a broken well in another community.  While these two communities are far apart, thousands of people from many local villages joined together to watch and celebrate the South Sudan cup (AKA soccer) in the center of Yei Town. This is such a great message of peace coming to a nation.

Another demonstration of coming peace to South Sudan was when Barry taught on Sunday morning. People came together to celebrate and worship. Those not able to make it to the church were blessed with the opportunity to hear Barry’s message on how “Water is Basic” to Christian life over the air waves of EPC radio.

The team left Yei inspired, encouraged and humbled by the progress toward peace and the resilience of the strong and brave men and women that continue to push forward to make Soth Sudan home again. Please continue to pray for South Sudan as the seeds of hope are sown.

Central and East Africa: Second Update

The last two days in Arua and Rhino Camp have been a whirlwind. We’ve barely had time to unwind let alone process all that we’ve been seeing and hearing. Both days, we have driven into Rhino Camp (the South Sudanese refugee camp on the Ugandan border) and the journeys have been half the experience. The drive is over 1.5 hours with the last half on broken, unpaved roads. Multiple people on our team have nearly fallen ill time and time again. But the Lord held us together. Today was no exception. It started raining in the morning and did not stop until late afternoon. Because the roads are made of dried mud, our return today seemed nearly impossible, and yet we trudged on. At one point, we got stuck in the mud and couldn’t get moving. So our wonderful Senior Pastor, Barry, and our amazing team leader, Mike literally went out in the trenches and pushed our car til we were able to navigate it to safety. We thankfully made it home!

In Rhino Camp, our team split in half to serve alongside two different ministries. Rejoice – a ministry connected to OneTribe and Radio South Sudan – provides the community with training on sanitation and hygiene. Half our team helped lead those trainings and taught community members how to sew pads and make soap.

The other half of our team helped train church leaders and pastors on the impact of trauma through ALARM. The most impactful experience for the participants and our team was our grief circle when each person shared about their own grief and trauma. The pain was palpable and yet the resilience was just as strong. As people wept, the entire group would sing the song “we shall overcome” over them. It was a holy space and we were honored to receive their stories and trust and share ours as well.

Another beautiful thing we’ve learned from our South Sudanese brothers and sisters is the incredible power of joy alongside pain. After hearing such deep pain, their songs and dances of joy were all the richer. Their joy was vibrant but did not erase the depth of their grief or minimize the weight of their weeping. In fact, the wall was lined with paper links that documented some of their losses – there were hundreds. But their joy stood in juxtaposition to the reality of their grief. They carried both so tenderly and near to their hearts. I was struck by their courage to hold both. Their joy welcomed me in and their grief called me friend.

There is so much we have to learn from these brothers and sisters. God is gracious to have let us sit under their incredible witness and leadership.

Pray for us as we head to Yei, South Sudan today. Pray for us to hold these stories near to our hearts and ears to truly listen. Pray that God would expand our ability to love and for our South Sudanese brothers and sisters to feel the depth of that love.

Central and East Africa Trip: First Update

We made it! After spending a few hours in Entebbe, this morning, we took a charter to fly into a dirt strip in Arua. For a few of us, it was our first time both flying on such a small plane and flying into a rural airport.

When we landed, we were greeted with joy and welcome which we quickly discovered was a beautiful marker of the South Sudanese and Ugandan people. Our team was able to visit one of our partners – TAG, Targeted Aquaponic Growth, and got to hear stories of God’s miraculous intervention and the richness of obedience to Christ’s call. Many times, it was not easy, but God always showed up.

We were also struck by the power of prayer in faith. TAG partners with Calvary Chapel Church to house their aquaponic system which in turn blesses abandoned boys housed on the church compound. Not only was their generosity profound, but their prayer in faith was inspiring. As we met Pastor David, he walked us through a building still under construction. He shared that 9 months ago, the land we were standing on was just dirt. They realized they wanted to create a building space for their children, but they had no money. So in an act of faith, they gathered their church to pray on that ground and ask God to show up. In response, not only did God show up, but he showed up in abundance. Over the past nine months, they’ve not only built out most of the space, but it’s also already funded. God responds to the prayers of his people!

Pray for us as we jump into day two on the ground. We will begin teaching at a trauma conference hosted by ALARM in the refugee camp. Pray for wisdom to teach comprehensively and concisely. Pray also for the other half of the team as they teach about sanitation to the community.

Lebanon Mission Trip: Sixth Update

Hi there from Lebanon day 7 on the ground and what a day it was!! The team had the earliest start yet but we have Lebanese coffee to help with that. We prepared a traditional Lebanese breakfast for the kiddos that they got to wake up to. We then helped the HOH team hopefully instill a more of a family style meal atmosphere for the kids. After breakfast some of the kids and the team started making lunch which took some serious time and effort. But the kids LOVED it. Cooking, preparing, and teaching us the Lebanese way was fun for all.

Then after lunch the team split and half went to finish painting the wall and then the other took the older kids for a bike ride. We ended the night with other bonding activities which meaningful conversation were had by the whole team!

This day was by far the longest and busiest day, but also the day the whole team really bonded with the kids. It’s not a secret these kids have been through hell; you can see it in their eyes, but once they see God’s love poor out of you they open up to you, trust and truly love you. No matter what kind of personal trials you have been through you can always rely on Jesus to help you smile and rebuild your heart.

Written by Michelle Hicks.