I feel like I’ve been on vacation for the past week–a spa experience complete with steambaths and plenty of rest. My bum knee is recovering from the strains of the past weeks, moving house and traveling long distances. I have few responsibilities except doling out money as needed. There is plenty of time for hanging out with friends new and old.
I’m doing all this ease-taking in one of the roughest cities in the world, Kinshasa, DR Congo. The political situation is a bit shaky here, though nothing like the region where conflict is currently raging. Two of my colleagues in leading this project came from there last week after arduous and circuitous journeys. We pray they can return home safely in a few days.
So my leisure seems luxurious and somewhat out of place. Note, the “steam baths” consist simply of going out of my air-conditioned room in the guesthouse. But I am not suffering and not working hard, though I have worked pretty hard behind the scenes in past months to make this event happen, to get this project off to a good start. Now I am watching other people work very hard and, because of their work, the project is indeed off to a great start.
The project is a campaign to train adult-literacy teachers and to eventually place a literacy educator in every Mennonite congregation in the DRC (how many are there? I forget, but a thousand or more). This will take a while. But we are starting with four workshops training 50 educators each. The Kinshasa workshop is the first.
By “we” I mean the three Mennonite church groups in Congo, and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), headquartered in the US. I represent AIMM in this project. It is the brainchild of three outstanding women, who are the elected leaders of women in the three Congolese churches: Marie Fumana, Hélène José Mbombo, and Adolphine Tshiama. It has been a pleasure to work with them to make this happen, and it is clear, in the middle of this workshop, that they are capable of carrying on this sacred task, which is just beginning.
Marie, José, and Adolphine carry a passionate burden for their sisters. They say illiteracy rates among women run as high as 80% in rural areas. Their constituents have been begging to learn to read and write. And so we are responding. They found a trainer, Pastor Timothée Sila, who has developed methods and textbooks and conducts week-long trainings. AIMM found some startup money for the trainings, from the estate of the late mother of a former Congo missionary as well as funds raised by women of an Indiana congregation. I helped flesh out the project plan and I’m here to see if it has a prayer of working in any way close to what we envision.
I am happy to say that it does. It has a prayer, and it needs prayer, because there will be obstacles, beginning with the unrest in this country. Public transport was shut down in Kinshasa for two days but we extended the workshop accordingly. More challenging will be the next three workshops, two of which are planned for regions where violence has escalated. We will start with the area that is currently calm and pray for a window of calm in the other regions.
This workshop has demonstrated to my satisfaction that the trainer is excellent, the method sound, and educated, dedicated participants can, indeed, learn the method in a few days. The participants are enthusiastic and work hard. I have seen that learning to teach someone to read may be as empowering for the teachers as learning to read will be for their eventual pupils.
The newly trained teachers will be responsible for creating their own teaching opportunities, finding learners, and practicing this new skill. May they find the grace and power to offer this gift.