A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice serving in Congo
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A new year means new opportunities! We make new year’s resolutions and goals; we look back and look forward. We want to share with you a few of the things to celebrate and a few of the big things we are hoping for in 2015 in our work with the church in Congo.
First, if you read our blog you may have seen that a collection of lessons in Tshiluba with color pictures on the life of Jesus was recently produced in Kananga. We are piloting the book in one congregation but are waiting to distribute it on a wider scale until we can offer a training to potential Sunday School teachers. This is a need that we have heard expressed in all corners of the church—both rural and urban congregations. About 50 percent of the population in Congo is under the age of 15, and CPC churches are filled with kids of all ages. Yet very few churches have a Sunday school or time specifically for children because of lack of trained people, lack of materials, and lack of importance placed on children. Very few of the members even have their own Bible for teaching children at home or for allowing children to read for themselves.
Please pray that God would lead and enable our team as we prepare for trainings on how to communicate God’s word to children. In a culture where schools still primarily use rote memorization as their method of instruction, we want to help people understand some alternative and creative ways to help children learn. If there is anyone with experience and expertise in teaching children and who also has a gift for teaching cross-culturally and wants to come visit Congo, please let us know!
The kids in the Ditekemena program for street kids have been transformed dramatically in the last year. They look healthy, they are incredibly polite and respectful, and they are even dressed well thanks to the generous gifts of several friends of the program. They know that they are loved, valuable, and have unique gifts and talents. Since September they have all been in school—a few in public school, and the majority of them in a ‘catch-up’ school program designed to teach them the content that they missed in several years outside of school so that they will be able to re-enter a traditional school. Our big hope and prayer is that this year these 23 initial children will be reunited with their families of origin or integrated into foster families. The leaders of the program have already begun visiting the families of children with living relatives to explore whether it is a good environment for the children to return to. Please pray for that process or reintegration, and for each child to be placed in a home that is safe and loving.
Another goal for this year we have been working toward is starting savings groups in rural communities. We have seen the sparse economic resources in Kasai and the way that many families fail to pay school fees for their kids or get necessary medical treatment because they don’t have money available at the right time. This means that they are forced to borrow at exorbitant rates or sell livestock or other assets at a time that is not advantageous. Kristi has been exploring with the leadership of the Department of Community Development the prospect of implementing a model of savings groups that has been effective in poor contexts in several other countries in the last 10 years. These are self-funded and self-managed groups; members are trained to track the savings of members, give loans within the group, and hold each other accountable. By managing funds internally the group members have an economical source for loans and also receive interest on their savings. This group setting is also an opportunity for the church to serve the community, for leaders to be trained and empowered, and also for members to learn together lessons from the Bible or on health or other relevant topics. The first step is for two members from Kasai to attend an international training in Togo in April of this year. Please pray for God’s direction and provision as we move towards implementing this in Kasai.
Another of our big hopes for this year is some visits to regions of Kasai that we have not yet been able to get to. Now that our department has a new Land Cruiser, we are excited to visit some of the far-flung reaches of the church. Just this morning two people from a distant village came into our offices in Kananga. When we asked how their church was doing, they said many people have gotten discouraged because it has been many years since they have been visited by any of the church leadership. If leaders from Kananga were to visit them, they said, members would feel like they are connected and part of a church that is alive. With that motivation, we will be going to the city of Ilebo, in northern West Kasai, at the beginning of February, along with a visit to Bulape, where one of the rural pastoral institutes is, and rounding out the trip with a seminar on evangelism and other topics for laity in the city of Mweka. We hope to make another big trip in East Kasai in the month of June.
We appreciate your prayers for each of these initiatives and for other aspects of our ministry as well. We know that our presence here is a significant encouragement to the church in Kasai. Please pray also for peace and good leadership in Congo in the midst of some tensions as they prepare for a presidential election. If you would like to contribute financially toward a specific project mentioned here, instructions and links are on the ‘projects’ page of our blog.
Thank you! May Christ fill you with peace and hope as you embark on 2015!
Bob and Kristi
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 146, 147
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