God is Present in the Shadow

A Letter from Ruth Brown, currently in the United States, but based in Zimbabwe

April 2018

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Chikondano! (Love!) and Muoyo Wenu (Life!) to you all!

Are you ever startled to discover lines from literature that seem to speak clearly to our own times … lines written long ago?

“New occasions teach new duties, ancient values test our youth.” These words were written by James Russell Lowell in 1845 in his poem, “The Present Crisis.”

The words make me think of Florida’s brave youth crying out “Never Again!” against violence in their schools.

The poem also makes me think of the vast number of youth in countries of Africa –– especially in Congo and in Zimbabwe, where the median ages are, roughly, 16 and 19 years, respectively. In both countries, rallies in response to injustice are often led by youth. And it is often the youth who are felled by very real bullets in these countries where there is no freedom of assembly and no freedom of speech.

On many a day while in the church’s Community Development office in Central Kasai, I heard teenaged girls in the English language class next to my office. They spoke and sang English in a program begun with a 2010 Thank Offering grant from Presbyterian Women. My heart was encouraged when they sang, “We shall overcome! We shall overcome someday!”

These youth, as well as youth in Zimbabwe, are confronted daily by poverty, defunding of their schools, unemployment, and HIV/AIDS. Yet they are strong in their faith and courage!

As I think of the large numbers of youth in Congo and Zimbabwe, I’m encouraged by the work being done on their behalf by mission networks meeting in America.

According to UNICEF, a lack of adequate HIV/AIDS prevention, related to adolescents’ current lack of understanding about HIV, is the main factor driving infections in this age group. According to the 2015 Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, “fewer than half of young people have comprehensive knowledge about HIV. Lack of knowledge, together with unprotected sex, is a challenge that could increase HIV transmission rates among adolescents.”

The ZZM Mission Network meeting under the Cross!

The Zambia-Zimbabwe-Mozambique Mission Network (ZZM) has prioritized lowering the incidence of HIV/AIDS as one of its three main objectives. The ZZM will establish a study team to formulate an action plan to enable African church communities in the tri-country area to achieve the “blue trajectory” [i.e., the much lower rates of HIV infection projected by UNAIDS/Lancet if ambitious fast-track interventions are implemented].

Another objective for the ZZM Mission Network is to promote sustainable livelihoods. The network plans to establish an intercontinental study group to research best practices in microfinance and sustainable agriculture. Of special concern is planning for irrigation and responses to climate change.

And basic to all the work of the ZZM Mission Network is the objective of strengthening theological education. The network plans to gather and disseminate information on needs for scholarships for students and funding for theological institutions in ZZM; opportunities for seminary professors and church leaders to serve as guest lecturers at theological institutions in ZZM; and opportunities for distance learning, partnering with theological institutions, and creating scholarships for international students. The network also plans to compile records of African theology and to share these widely.

The Congo Mission Network has been involved with advocacy and with a community assessment to decide health priorities. Congo Mission Network’s greatest and on-going efforts have been to build schools for children. Please review the following presentation to learn more!
youtube.com/watch?list=UUk2pAxSIUs5x5aaop 7JNAlQ &time_continue=8&v=wATUCll92JA

I hope you are encouraged by learning about the work of these mission networks! I hope you will make a great decision to join one of the mission networks and to work for the great cause of loving our neighbors in Congo and Zimbabwe!

Friends, I am still writing to you from the USA, where I have remained since learning in February 2017 that I would be unable to return to Congo. In the spring of 2017, the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian-Harare Synod invited me to join in partnership with them. I submitted to the Zimbabwean government an application and much documentation for a visa, and waited more than six months only to learn that the visa application was denied. The CCAP-Harare Synod, considering changes in Zimbabwe’s national government, requested that I re-apply for the visa. A second visa application was submitted in January, and I am awaiting a final decision.

Thank you for your notes of encouragement during all this time. I’m very grateful for your friendship and for your prayers. Thank you for your donations to my sending and support. During this uncertainty about my placement, your gifts to my sending and support are still needed.

When you support mission co-workers, you are supporting life-giving, sustainable services to people all over the world. I rejoice in assuring you that the community development programs you supported through your gifts while I was working in Congo continue today: the efforts to promote human rights for women through encouraging marriage certification, the support of street children, outreach to families for improving childhood health and nutrition, and the microsavings and loan programs. Thank you for making all these on-going programs possible.

During my time in the States, I am reaching out to churches in Virginia to share information with them about World Mission and to learn about their work and interests in World Mission’s outreach for evangelism and work for justice and the alleviation of root causes of poverty. Additionally, I’m studying and recording ways to strengthen World Missions’ Community Health Evangelism (CHE) curricula, and I am taking a course in the care of trees. Learning to be a tree steward will be helpful in no matter what country I work. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, from the 1980’s through the early 2000’s, sub-Saharan Africa lost the highest percentage of forests of any other areas in the world. I hope to pass along the skills I’m learning about caring for trees to those who will be caring for these valuable resources for healthy living on our small planet.

Thank you for your encouragement to me during these uncertain times. The future is unknown to all of us. Prayer and being open to God’s guidance is our answer.

Please remember the people and Church of Congo and the people and Church of Zimbabwe in your prayers. In both Congo and Zimbabwe, widows without marriage licenses have no rights to their property. Please pray for justice for widows and orphans. See the brief but powerful documentary on the Human Rights Watch’s webpage regarding widows’ situations in Zimbabwe: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkafoNvQj5g

Both countries will be having elections this year. Please pray for transparent and peaceful democratic elections. James Russell Lowell’s poem, “The Present Crisis” is a perfect prayer in this year of presidential elections in both Democratic Republic of Congo and in Zimbabwe:

“Once to every [soul] and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prospers, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Stands our God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.”

Amen, and love and life to you all!

-Ruth


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