Oscar Night in the DRC…

•March 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Tears.  No sobs. Yep, I will own that.

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Getty Images

I sobbed when Lupita Nyong’o took the stage and accepted an oscar for portraying in her words, “so much pain in someone elses life”. Pure and unadulterated empathy. She took on the pain of Patsy and anyone who saw 12 Years A Slave felt it.  Lupita acted for all the world as a conduit, a translator, and may I go so far as to say, an intercessor. She placed a hand on us, and a hand on pain and helped us understand and feel the humanity of her character.  I, as a human community member, was made better for her contribution.

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But it was her final words that threatened to undo me. She spoke of the validity of dreams. As she spoke, my mind raced to my TEN for Congo sisters here and in the DRC. . I remembered the dreams they shared and the way they felt beautiful as Christine Anderson took their photos, as if it was Oscar night  in the DRC.

I sobbed then too.  When these brave and beautiful women took “the stage” on a dusty cement floor in Rutshuru, portraying their own story of pain. So unhindered in their ability to accept the ache in the stories of the sisters around them.  Pure and unadulterated empathy.  They helped me understand and feel the torture of war, of rape, of hunger and unending spirals of violence against their children’s children. I as a human community member was made better through the privilege of seeing the beauty of their lives as survivors.

What conspired to make Lupita and my TEN for Congo sisters so beautifully connect last night?  The beauty of dreams.

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Well, I believe my eyes were full of beauty, overflowing onto my cheeks, my chin, my couch,my computer.  The beauty of dreams.  As I watched Lupita, the words of my Congolese sisters came back to me as if I were there again.  Each of them had not given up their right to dream. Dream of a hope and a future. Dreams my dear friend Lynne Hybels says,” of the beauty of babies with full bellies, and the beauty of mothers with hope”. Beautiful dreams of peace in their lifetimes.

I believe Lupita glowed brightest as she finished her acceptance speech.  And there was that last undoing word…

“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid….”

Ah, yes… so very valid. And so very beautiful both here and there.

We are not alone, even in a war zone.

•March 1, 2014 • 3 Comments

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Originally written for Today’s Christian Woman

http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2014/january/to-see-and-be-seen.html 

            She was haggard and beautiful, pulling her sweater close as the rain clouds threatened.   Fifty year-old Uwimana Marie spoke first when I asked how she and her sisters came to the refugee camp. When you are a refugee you lose everything,” she said, her hands perpetually moving as she spoke. “But the most painful part is losing your right to think.  I used to think about my farm, my goats, and the education of my children. ” She lifted her head to look into my eyes hoping, somehow, I would understand. “Now, I only think about how to survive each day.”  Four others nodded in affirmation and each began to pour out their own story of loss and lament.

Losing Everything

            The Nkamira Transit Camp where these five women lived is located in Rwanda, just over the border from Congo, the poorest country in the world. To say this camp is filled to capacity is an understatement. Last month, a kind but overworked camp director arranged for me to meet with a focus group of vulnerable women between the ages 40 to 80, a demographic that makes up almost 60% of the camp population. He led me past the tarp walls and tin roofs of eleven wear-house sized living blocks. I met women and children who had fled the violence and rape that has come to characterize the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They were living out their lives here:  cooking, washing, carrying bundles of charcoal, kicking a ball made of banana leaves and trash, waiting in endless lines. Every pair of eyes I looked into seemed to plead, “Do you see me?”

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The forgotten conflict

            As a “transit camp”, refugees were meant to only stay a maximum of three days. Uwimana Marie and her four companions had been here for well over nine months.   The homes which they fled were miles away in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Known as “the most dangerous place to be a women”, “the worst place to be a mother”, “rape capital of the world”, and “the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster”, the conflict in the Congo is often regarded by the international community as  intractable and frankly, hopeless. These five women literally comprise the “headline” statistics of war: 6 million dead, 2.7 million internally displaced, almost 450,000 refugees, a woman or child raped every 60 seconds, and 9 out of 10 refugee women between the ages of 3 and 72 have experienced gender based violence. In the Congo it is commonly said “rape is cheaper than bullets”.   The numbers are mindboggling, and need is urgent.  On all accounts this is an international crisis of mass proportion, yet so few people know.

God’s presence in the midst of everyday terror

 In light of these overwhelming odds, what do these women think about God?  What gives them hope? What do they fear?  Little did I know that these questions would lead to a moment of healing and hope for each of us.

            Uwimana Marie spoke again, detailing her flight from what is currently the world’s deadliest forgotten conflict. “My village was attacked at night. We stayed hiding on the farm as long as we could”.  She leaned into her companions around her for support. “When the gunfire stops, you check and hope, check and hope. But the gunfire always starts again. Then you know your family must flee alone– without your goats, or your friends or sometimes your family.” Her eyes were wet as she remembered her husband and oldest son who stayed behind to guard the farm.  She has not heard from them since.

            All five women heard gunfire through the night and screams.. They spoke of holding the hands of their smallest children, praying their husband or mother or sister are able to lead the older ones, and travelling only at night, so  the dark can hide them from those who seek to take their lives, rape them, or steal their children.

            Each woman bravely unfolded her story of suffering. When I asked what they thought about God, something astounding happened. As if by some agreed upon signal they all sat straight, squaring their shoulders and boldly said “Yego!” which means yes.  Nyira, at 76, the oldest of the group and married for “more years than she could remember”, spoke with confidence:. “God is certainly here, and listening to us as we talk right now!” she declared.  “We each reached a place of safety, and are still alive.  We have shelter and hope that our families may yet come to us. God is here because we have hope”. 

            Two women believed that God had actually blinded the eyes of soldiers and militia men that chased them, allowing them to safely cross the Rwandan border.  One of them was able to find her lost child who slipped away from her in the chaos and dark of fleeing.  All of the women were surrounded by real bullets, and none of them had a single physical injury.  The credit, they insisted, goes to a God who is there for those who suffer. 

            They even found God in the meager food supplies in the camp.  “God is in this place because the burden to feed our children is lifted, even if it is a little”.  “When you finally reach a place of safety, then you can eat”, said Kamanzi Rosa, a 59 year old mother of four.  For these brave families this meant three to five days of hunger. Keeping a hungry child quiet while pushing forward in the dark is truly an impossible task.  I tried to comprehend how God comforts with 3.5 kilos of red beans, 12 kilos of maize, and pinches of salt and oil, the amount of good given to them as they arrived  at the camp. 

Unfolding forgiveness of the forgotten

            God was present with them in another unexpected way: forgiveness.  For each of these women, forgiving those who violated their dignity, thieved their bodies or murdered their family was a sign that God was indeed real and present with them.  Each one gave testimony to the power that is found in forgiveness—God himself.  “If we forgive those who hunted or hurt us, it is not from us but from God himself,” whispered Kamanzi Rosa.  “If we were to continue to keep the bitter burden in our hearts it would destroy us. We must forgive them. We must not wish to kill them as they wished to kill us. Our lives were threatened, but we are still alive and so we must forgive.”  

What do you fear?

            To say the future of these strong women is precarious does not begin to sum up the situation.  Each day they fight against two dark and sinister enemies– hopelessness and fear. When I asked them what they feared most, the question hung in the air.  Their response came slowly:    “We fear being forgotten…there is no hope when you have been forgotten”.

            I was undone. Stinging tears came to my eyes at the answer that was a bit too close to home.  I also fear being forgotten.  This is not the kind of forgotten that leaves you off a party guest list, or misses a phone call.  This is the kind of “forgotten” that creeps along the edges of even the most crowded room to whisper, “No one sees you, and no one cares. There is no hope”.  Becoming invisible, isolated, abandoned and forgotten, even for just a moment, can sink deep into the soul leaving fear in its wake, here or half way around the world.   It was true– the world had forgotten them.  The world had ignored the death, the carnage the rape and massive destruction of Africa’s world war.

            But had God forgotten them?  No, in their stories, He was their singular hope and strength. Even though they, too, had tears in their eyes, these women believed that God had come to come to their aid.  They were not forgotten. They pointed to, of all things, my presence and all who would read my words, as witness and proof that God had, in fact, not forgotten them.

To see and be seen

            “When our eyes see those who see us, it gives us hope”, Nyria smiled through her dry lips.  “Hope is to know that others know us”.  I took her hands into my own, her wise eyes looking into mine:. “This is how we know God has not left us.”

            “If we have no peace,” Mother Theresa said, “it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. I felt and saw the strength of women who endure the deepest of suffering and yet hope in God. They saw a woman who willingly listened to their story and would try to give voice to their pain.  In the wake of war, hope rises on the wings of one another. Somehow in a refugee camp with people forgotten by most of the world, I could see clearly: we are not alone. God had given us each other. 

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Our lives bundled together 

            Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks of the very essence of being human as Ubuntu. We cannot live fully as humans if we are isolated, alone, or forgotten.  It is to say, in Tutu’s own words, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life.”

            Returning home, my best friend and husband, Stephan, reminded me to carry my new friends in my heart– “Honor them as they honored you.”  The virtue and calling of friendship lay in shouldering burdens and joys together, face to face and eye to eye, even if when across an ocean and through a war zone.  As they say in this complex, conflicted region, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable”.  I have bound myself in friendship with these brave women, for to befriend is at its root and essence different than to become a benefactor.  I pray for my friends and they pray for me, and we are not alone—this I know to be true.  I have seen it with my own eyes.

Belinda BaumanTen For Congo- a grassroots movement of individuals raising awareness and funds for women suffering from the ongoing, brutal civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  She is currently writing a series of articles on the themes of grassroots peace building and the suffering of women caught in conflict. Belinda is married to Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief, a non-profit organization that empowers the local church to serve the most vulnerable around the world. Together they do life together in Baltimore MD with two energetic and imaginative sons.

If you listen… you give it away.

•February 6, 2013 • 1 Comment

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Today I listened to many things… phone alarm, birds chattering, toast popping, car motor, loud music playing, computer keys clacking.

But by far themost beautiful thing I heard was my son praying.  He asked God for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Joshua knows that on Friday, Stephan and I will have the absolute honor of “giving away” our birthdays for peace in the Congo.  You see we were born 45 years ago in the same hospital, less than 12 hours apart.  We grew up in the same, small midwestern farming community, and we fell in love when we were …gulp…15!

It has long been our desire to celebrate a significant birthday by gathering some of our favoirte people and throwing a party not in celebration of our selves, but of others. In celebration of the beauty of  Congo.  And in protest to the suffering of Congo.  This amazing and shocking place has captured our hearts.

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We had met many beautiful people there. Strong people living in a war zone, yet giving away their own lives to make sure the lives of others were saved.  There were gener based violence councellors, faithful pastors, peace committee workers, teachers, and doctors.

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Every one of them a survivor, and every one of them hoping for peace in their nation.  We listened to them, and we heard the call to give it away…

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And yes…it really was easy!  The hardest part was just making the decsion. Once  we did, we were off and running. We contacted our favorite artists, Josh Garrells and Micha Bournes, and our dear friend and speaker/ author Lynne Hybels and amazingly they all said that they would give away their gifts to help us give it away!

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Then came the free fair trade ticketing( thank you Brown Paper Ticket!), the gift of a theater (super cheap–thank you National Community Church!), the help of creating and printing signs and cards and such(thank you Melanie and Chelsie), right down to the suprise gift of free birthday cake from one of the oldest and best bakeries in Washington DC (thank you Clements!!), good coffee (charity discount at Starbucks!!) and then…

We started asking friends to come help us give it away… and they said they would!  We invited people and they invited people and others invited more.  We are overwhlemed at the response! Friends who are coming are giving “gifts” to Congo. And friends who can’t come are still giving…

Together, we will listen.  And together we will hear for the sake of  Congo… stories and songs and spoken word.  Together, we all are “giving it away”.  Still some tickets left for this Friday, February 8th … join us?

Listen and join us?  Contact Chelsie Frank at cfrank@wr.org to find out how!

Listen and give?  http://worldrelief.org/congo-crisis 

Listen and give your own birthday away for Congo?  What a beautiful thing!

If you listen, what will you hear?

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Peace on Earth… Refections on Advent in a Time of War

•December 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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Advent has a very special place in the Bauman household.  We light the candles, we sing the songs, we pray the prayers each week.  The little weekly ceremonies have often helped us with that often needed “holy perspective”, giving us an map to follow as we journey to Christmas.  This Advent season has been particularly hard for us.  We find ourselves “mourning” on a number of fronts.  Stephan recently wrote of the real context of the original advent:

 Bethlehem… Oppression ruled the day. Christmas wasn’t happy yet; it was chaos.

Into this suffering and injustice, into the oppression, the palpable fear, and among the cries of unlikely people,

God pitches his tent.  (http://stephanbauman.com/)

Our good friend and coworker Justin sent this to Stephan and I yesterday.  This was meant to be the kind of private, conversational musing you have over a coffee, hoping for a friend to understand the wrestle going on in your soul– hoping if your friend can understand what you are trying to say, then you can’t be totally off base.  Stephan and I connected with his sentiments, and he bravely agreed to see if his thoughts connected with any of yours as well.  I am deeply grateful to have friends with me on the Advent journey into mourning.

 We pray that the mourning will become the miracle, just as it did on Christmas day…

Justin is a gifted writer and teacher, and he loves the mission of God in this world, and advocates for justice.  From Justin:

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I’m sipping coffee and listening to a countrified version of “Run, Run Rudolph” as I read an IRIN article entitled, “DRC: Growing humanitarian needs in Goma.” Can anyone say con-tra-diction?

 

How long must this go on? My friends, my brothers, my sisters flee for their lives, hope for a ration of food and a place to sleep for a few hours each night where they will not be threatened by a rebel militia group whose fuel is fear and intimidation.

 

Finding food, shelter, and a place to sleep are literally the last questions that arise in my mind. When I finish working today, I will go home, kiss my wife, play with my two young sons, and eat a hearty dinner, before praying together as a family and having a Bible study. Then, off to bed.

 

In Goma, a man my age, if he has not already been forcibly recruited into M23, will perhaps wonder if he will ever see his wife and/or children again. He will hope for a small ration of food and, if fortunate, he will have a place to sleep tonight. His prayers to God will include fully-embodied trust in God for the next day. He realizes that his life is fragile and that God alone has control. He lives in the tension between life and death—neither truly living nor truly dying—on a regular basis.

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I live in this same place, but I do not realize it as he does. “Run, Run Rudolph” and Caribou’s dark roast clouds my mind and my spirit. Nobody has threatened me or my family for a long while, and then, certainly not unto death.

 

Who lives the greater reality? Who has come to his senses more? Who understands raw trust in God? The one with “options” and “freedom” or the one who has no choice but to lean into his heavenly Father?

 

I have so many options—where to go to school and what for, whom to marry (already decided), how many kids to have, what kind of career to have, what kind of food I’d like to eat, what to read (forget that I already know how to read), where and how long to sleep, which family members to visit this holiday, what presents to buy and for whom, what car to buy, buying vs. renting a home, what kind of health insurance to purchase… this list, in this country, does not end.

 

In DR Congo, he trusts in God his Father, or, he despairs to his own demise.

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War does not focus our priorities. War destroys, debilitates, orphans, widows, burns, diminishes, breeds hatred, and produces more war.  No; our priorities are truly focused when we see what is against what could be—the current state of our world versus God’s design for this earth. Our priorities are truly focused when we are able to see clearly—that we coffee-sippers and “Run, Run Rudolph” listeners are just as fragile and weak as our brother, as our sister, in DR Congo, whose eyes and lives have been illuminated to the true state of affairs both in the heavenlies and on earth.

 

Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. This was declared prophetically in anticipation of His advent. It seems that, this season, our focus should be on peace, shalom, rather than on the Americanized ideal of “Christmas.” Real Christmas is about “Peace on earth.”

 

Lord Christ, awaken me

to my fragility.

In you I trust.

In you I must

find myself.

Do not let the cloud of commercialization

that plagues our nation,

descend upon my mind—

deliver me from this evil—

that does not let me see

what Christmas—and life—is meant be.

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Justin Kaufman  serves at World Relief as the Executive Assistant to the President/CEO, Stephan Bauman. He is a husband to Heidi, father to Grayson and Hudson, and leader who desires justice and peace to reign “on earth as it is in heaven,” fully expressed through the Body of Christ to all nations. He likes to write, read, and sleep when he is not working, playing with his kids, or taking his wife on a date.

 

An Update on Congo from Lynne Hybels

•November 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dear FRIENDS,

Lynne Hybels has a most beautiful and effective way with words.  She portrays a person or a circumstance with commitment to integrity and to the hope to be found there.  Her latest post on Congo from Lynnehebels.com is compelling and real. I wanted to included it here for those following the news on Congo   Please, open your hearts to…

The Faces I’ve Seen in Congo

In October of 2009 my friend, Christine Anderson, and I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with World Relief to learn more about the tragic, ongoing civil war in which over 5,000,000 people had died, hundreds of thousands had been displaced from their homes, and brutal rape was used as a weapon of war. (According to educated estimates a woman is raped every minute in the DRC.)

After that trip I started a fundraising campaign called Ten for Congo, challenging American women to donate just $10 to support programs of healing for Congolese women.

In June 2012, Christine and I returned to the DRC with five additional American women, plus three women who couldn’t travel with us but supported our trip with prayer, blogging and raising funds.  With that trip, Ten for Congo morphed from ten dollars for Congo to ten women for Congo.  My Congo Journal, which starts here tells the recent story of Ten for Congo, and contains lots of accessible information about the DRC.  If you feel any nudge from God’s spirit to stand in solidarity with the dear people of Congo, please read the series of blog posts.

Our trip to Congo last June was almost cancelled because of escalating violence in the Rutshuru region we were planning to visit.  We left home anyway, praying we’d be able to enter Congo, and we did!  We spent 4 days in Ruthshuru, hearing the stories of women who had been violently brutalized, but were finding hope and healing through compassion committees in their local churches.  We met with pastors and church volunteers who had build homes for widows and were helping to mediate local conflicts in their communities.  We were devastated by what we saw and heard in Ruthshuru, but also exhilarated by hope that can blossom in the most desperate situations when followers of Jesus live out their calling as healers and peacemakers.

Sadly, just days after we left Rutshuru, the region was taken over by the same, vicious M23 rebels who are now fighting in the streets of Goma, threatening to take control of that town of 700,000 people.

The situation in Congo today is grave—worse than it’s been in years.  Many of the people suffering there today have faces I recognize.  If you read my Congo Journal, you too will have faces to put on the faceless conflict in Congo.  Those faces will haunt you, but I guarantee you will learn what I have learned: that it is an unspeakable privilege to carry in our heart and mind the face of a child of God who is suffering.  It is life lived on the edge of the unseen.

The World Relief staff in Goma is gathered behind closed doors, forced there by the fighting raging in the streets even as I write.  But they are strategizing, praying, and preparing to respond to the emergency crisis they will face when the doors open.  Please pray for them and give generously to support their work athttp://worldrelief.org/Page.aspx?pid=2986.

For more information about Ten for Congo, please visit our Facebook page.

PS  A month ago I spoke at a retreat for forty Palestinian Christian women in Bethlehem, West Bank.  The woman who invited me to speak asked me to tell the Palestinian women about the women in Congo.  I hesitated to do it, because I knew these Palestinian women lived very difficult lives and I didn’t want to add another burden for them to carry.  But my friend insisted, so I told the stories of Congo.  In a spontaneous offering, these 40 women donated $1000 for their sisters in Congo.  You can read about that amazing experience here.

“This shadow in this particular valley… “

•November 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

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The valley is in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The shadow is the long shadow of war. War immediate and present.

I have rarely been present at those moments that are so often memorialized in movies. The birth of a long awaited child. The death of a close friend. The sharing of a long held secret. And war.  However, his morning, I was ushered into a front row seat to war through an email.  

I woke to my “tri-tone” text going off on my phone. Once is normal, but nine minutes later I had 14 notices. I knew something was happening, and I needed to steal my heart and spine.

I prayed first. Then I read a hurried email from my dear friend Charles. He told us that there were soldiers Goma, and one could hear bombs and firefight. He said that the M23 boasted that “They would sleep in Goma tonight”.  He asked us to pray for protection for World Relief staff and all the vulnerable ones they serve.

This happened only 8 hours ago, but my the tears and twitter feeds have made it feel like weeks. I checked my email every 15 minutes, minimum. In between I prayed and asked many others to pray. And many, many, many did pray. Thank God.

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A few minutes ago, I received this from Charles   Names have been removed and rearranged to protect, but outside of that, it is real.  War is happening now, and this is the front row.  This is a real email from a real man in a real and violent place.  

 

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

9pm
I have just talked with World Relief staff and with a few other Goma friends. There is some random shooting inside Goma town itself, the conflict is at a standstill with the M23 backed up at the top of the hill before the northern gates of Goma negotiating with the MONUSCO who have thrown up a barricade saying ‘you shall advance no further’. Negotiations are underway and it is said that delegations of ministers from Kinshasa and the Francophone group are winging their way to Bukavu as we speak and then we assume thence to Goma in the morning.

There are a few vehicles on the streets but everything is very quiet tonight. Kapalata has made the rounds to the houses of every staff member to make certain that they are OK and have enough provisions, etc. The office has been closed tomorrow as we continue to assess the situation.

Your continued prayers are essential as everyone walks through this shadow in this particular valley and as we wait for what the late night and early morning will bring.

God will bring us through this terrible time, we are certain of that.

Charles 

 World Relief Country Director 

Goma, DRC

The front row is a place of responsibility   We are here, they are there.  The staff of World Relief Congo are strong and determined people.

ImageThey will rise. And they will raise others as they stand.  There is hope; it has names and faces and heartbeats.  What despair I felt this morning has become blessed gratefulness for real, courageous people who love and give themselves freely in wartime and in peace. The are there, in Goma right now.  Thank God.

A brilliant friend responded to one of my posts today with a question… “What do we do?”

The right question! This is a battle in two worlds with moving battle lines; some are on the front lines in Congo, some are on the front lines on their knees. This is not pious platitude or non-reality. 
ImageIf you were to ask a Congolese mother fleeing for her life how to help her,  she would plead for you to pray for her children. And we do…
 
She would ask you to tell the world what is happening  fearing that the world has forgotten her and her home.  And we will…
 
Then she would ask for food, for shelter, for protection.  For a hope and a future for her children.  And now we give so that they can stand up in the ashes to help others…
 
The staff of World Relief Congo is full of pastors working to see change in this world. Beyond denomination, demographics and tribe.
 
This is a two front war to be fought by us all. But first we must care enough to ask the question, ” What should we do?”  The right question from ones who can see from front row seats…
 
SASANI WAKATI WA AMANI!  Now is the time for peace.  
 
worldreliefYou can give to help Congo here: http://worldrelief.myshopify.com/collections/crisis-to-peace

 

Images

•November 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Images

I have a curious little file in my email. It is called “images”. Here is where I place pictures of people that I pray for. I can tend to pray comfortably outside the place of reality when I am dutifully listing a name or a need. It is when I open this file that I can no longer avoid the fact that this person is more than just an image, but “made in the image”, my sister or my brother.

I will keep this beautiful image before me, praying and fasting, for Congo is in need today, this very minute. Please, would you pray as well?

 
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