A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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Mamu Ntumba sells plastic bags, tiny portions of salt, and other small items near Kananga’s central market. Her stall is a small simple table with a stick that props up a plastic bag, and her small items are spread out on the table. The total value of her stock on the table is less than $20. Yet she is exuberant as she describes how her income from this stall helps to support her and her children. After her husband died, Mamu Ntumba struggled desperately to feed and support her children. In her Presbytery of Tshibashi, they started a micro-finance program with help from their sister presbytery in the U.S. Mamu Ntumba attended the training, along with about 30 women received a small loan of about $30, and was able to establish her stall at the market. She faithfully repaid the loan in small weekly installments. Unfortunately this story is not all roses—a loan program like this, however small, requires skilled oversight, strict accountability, and significant investment to be able to continue. Lacking in some of these areas, the program in Tshibashi lost steam and is currently on hold.
Along with a few other leaders in the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC), we did an evaluation of the micro-finance programs around Kananga in 2012. We recognized the challenges and weaknesses of a credit-led program like this. It was not accessible to people in rural areas. And it gave assistance in a limited way—it provided loans when it was convenient for the program, not at the right time for the client. We wondered how we could empower and give economic opportunities to people in rural areas—even in areas where there was not an American sister presbytery to give support, or where there was not infrastructure or capacity for skilled oversight and monitoring.
The answer, after a lot of research, focus groups, and discussion, is savings groups. We described some of this methodology, often called “Village Savings and Loan Associations” (VSLAs), in our January newsletter. Groups of people—women, in our case—are trained in how to save cooperatively and manage their own savings. When their collective capital increases, they can give loans to some members who need them from their own capital. A few benefits of this methodology are that it empowers the members, requires less outside funding, staff, and administration, and can easily multiply organically to serve new areas. Members pay modest interest on the loans they take—but because they manage the funds themselves, the interest then goes into their collective pot and becomes interest they receive on their savings! The churches will be integral in the program, but the whole community will be invited and included. We want to encourage positive integration and witness of the church in the community. Savings groups have proven to be an effective way of improving the economic security of people in poor rural areas and empowering them to improve and change their lives.
We share this vision again with you now because it is finally becoming a reality! This year the Congolese Presbyterian Church was awarded a grant from the Presbyterian Women of the PC(USA) to start savings groups in West Kasai. In addition a few individuals have already contributed needed supplemental funds. The first step is that Victorine Manga, our colleague who will be supervising the project, and Kristi will attend a training on savings group methodology in Togo at the end of May. The training will be held in French—a good challenge for Kristi! Please pray with us for an effective training, good connections with other people, and wisdom and cohesion as we start this program near Kananga. We hope that soon women like Mamu Ntumba will have a safe place to save money for school for their kids, an inexpensive source for business loans, and a group that can give support and help when a crisis hits. We are really excited about the potential for this program, but it is a big undertaking.
In July of this year Bob and two of our Congolese colleagues will attend a school of reconciliation in Rwanda, learning how to facilitate reconciliation workshops. A friend and colleague of Bob’s from the time he lived in Rwanda, Joseph, leads this ministry of helping people find healing and reconciliation through the power of Christ and the cross. Please pray that the training they attend in July will be a significant time of growth and preparation for each of them to come back and be agents of reconciliation in the CPC.
These are just a few of the new things going on—other activities like the Bible subsidy program, visits to rural areas, and seminars for laity continue. We are so grateful to many of you who participate with us in ministry here through your prayers, financial support, and encouragement. As one Tshiluba proverb says, “Eku kualua kafuka, eku kualua katanda, nunku bialua kukumbana munda” (A little food here, a little bread from there, and eventually your belly gets full). When we all participate in some way, however small, our joint effort becomes something significant. We depend on your financial support for two things: first, our salary and logistical support that enables us to live in Congo. If you want to contribute to that, our account number with PC(USA) is E200429, and you can do so at pcusa.org/give/E200429. If you are a congregation and want to confirm the account or process for giving, please contact us. The other important thing that we depend on your help for is ministry activities. Those funds come through the account for Evangelism or Christian Education of the CPC. The activities that you’ve seen us describe and report on are made possible through your generous giving. We have posted a list of our “top 10 ministry funding priorities” on our blog, with specific instructions about the accounts or designations for each. A general link for giving online to the ministries of the Department of Evangelism is pcusa.org/give/E318702. If you have any questions, please contact us directly—we love to hear from you, our partners in this ministry of partnership with the church in Congo!
Serving together in Christ’s Kingdom,
Bob and Kristi
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 146, 147
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