Congo doesn’t lack for spaces to grow food, catch fish; nor does it lack the natural resources needed for cottage industries. I’m not saying it’s not poor — I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be.
When I was in Thailand a few months ago talking with a couple missionaries, one said
–you will always have the poor with you,
and the other said
–yes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be hungry.
The idea to teach coaching principles in Congo is fraught with a variety of cultural pitfalls. One of the biggest challenges is translating a skill set for use by peers or equals into a society steeped in a tradition of hierarchical social structures. From the chief down; from the dictator down, from the bishop down, everyone has to be very careful what they say to those above them, and to preserve their status, also to those below. Creating an atmosphere of authentic sharing among brothers is a cultural challenge. Still, we hope that the ideas we can share in Kinshasa will give pastors a new paradigm, which leads to a new kind of accountability — one the leaders seek eagerly, rather than avoiding.
Yet even to say “This is what we think you need” has an air of arrogance about it. I know Africa in general and Congo in particular needs leadership. But I approach the gift of training pastors there with a great deal of fear and trembling. It’s humbling to be invited to provide something that holds out hope to such a hopeless place.
As we plan and prepare, I reflect more and more on the first experiences in Africa. I find my year in Zaire (Congo) 27 years ago the most difficult year of my life to write about. It’s not that I’m shy about the psychological and social challenges I faced as a boy, the culture shock that was the bedrock of forming my identity in adolescence, it’s just that this particular experience was so powerful. Perhaps it is the hopelessness that permeated it. I am not by nature hopeless. I will rise above, and so will Africa, one day.
What hope did a man have that he would journey 50 miles on foot with a silver French coin minted in 1853, saved who knows how many years in a secret place, to bring this anachronistic remnant of colonialism to try to sell it at our house? Hope that it may be worth some sort of fortune? And what happened to his hope when my father sent away to determine an appropriate value, and the man waited three months, only to find out that the coin might retail at $10 in the States, and was generously offered the equivalent in rapidly devaluing Zaires? To wonder if he was being robbed, as is practically traditional in an exchange. A large sum in a country where people earned a dollar or two a month on average, but certainly no great fortune. A disappointment, that European cash.
What hope drove people to journey from the forest, knowing there were “whites” in Wembo Nyama, hoping we might buy monkey meat captured three days before and dangling in the 88-degree heat and 95% humidity from the back of their bicycle, an entourage of flies, what disappointment when we didn’t take the microbiological risk on their delicacy?
And I will be delicate with you about the hopes of those with open wounds who traveled to our stoop hoping for a miracle cure. Some medicine or perhaps a treatment. Even a prayer.
There’s the thing. There are no miracle cures today for Congo. There is not enough wealth we can offer for antiques or delicacies that could heal this nation from the many ways it has been wronged, by Belgium, by the United States, by the United Kingdom, by Big Corporations, and even the leadership training we might provide this fall contains no miracle cure in itself. So how do we hold out hope that this thing is the thing? This Leadership, the idea of coaching? But I am not by nature hopeless.
When I think of Lumumba and two others executed with him, I wonder what America might have been if Washington, Jefferson and Franklin had been abducted and executed in 1778. But rewriting history in such a fantastic way is the stuff of novels. Rewriting the future is something we can still hope to do. Dream of a future with me where Congo leads central African nations to a new way of doing leadership that takes Africa back for the people. And when it happens, expect your cell phone to cost more because someone digging near Lubumbashi is getting paid a living wage. Dream of leadership and fair-trade electronics.
As of this writing, I still need $4,000 by August 1 so I can go to Kinshasa and offer hope, however small. That is a fortune in Congo, but it’s doable here. It’s a small amount, much smaller than the hope it offers; at least, the hope in my heart. Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to know more about how to give.