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Talking, listening & partnering in Congo
Suzanne and Tim Lind are currently serving with MCC as representatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their home congregation is Florence Church of the Brethren Mennonite in Constantine, Michigan.
People often ask, “But what do you actually DO?” when I tell them that my husband Tim and I are the MCC representatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I sometimes tease them and I say, “I administer and represent.” So here are some notes on being an MCC rep in central Africa.
The MCC program in DRC includes two main projects. Menno-Santé (health) is helping to improve the services and management at four Mennonite hospitals in western Congo. Menno-Paix (peace) provides humanitarian aid to people displaced by fighting in the eastern part of the country. Our job is to work with the service workers, church and community leaders, and others “on the ground” to make good plans for these projects. We also negotiate within the MCC system for money to support the plans, rejoice in the implementation of the projects and make sure that good reporting is done after the projects.
To do this we develop relationships with MCC service workers (there are currently two service workers in DRC in addition to Tim and me), national church leaders, local church and community leaders, and staff at the local organizations with whom we partner. This is the best part of the job! We travel to the project locations, study the context and gather background information. And we talk, talk, talk with a wide variety of people who are working passionately on issues and problems related to poverty, health, violence and who are trying to follow God’s call to peace and well-being.
There are more total Mennonites in DRC than anywhere else except North America, and they are divided into three different denominational groups. It is important that MCC be in good relationship and work closely with these churches, so our office is often a meeting place for pastors, church leaders, women, youth and students. Hospitality, relationship-building and fun friendship are joyful, and at times exhausting, aspects of our work. It is hard for Mennonites in DRC to believe that MCC cannot fund all the excellent project ideas that a church of 20,000 members can generate!
We also partner with other Protestant church groups through the national council of churches. Particularly in eastern Congo, this expands our pool of connections and increases our awareness of the complexities of working in an area rich in resources but destabilized by fighting. As we accompany our partners to visit projects, to discuss with other organizations and to deliver aid, we encounter amazing people doing remarkable things. We also become painfully aware of political realities that force us to seek ways to expose the complicity of the international community (particularly the role of Canada and the United States) in creating and sustaining the violence in eastern Congo. Aid without advocacy is not an option. We work closely with the MCC advocacy offices in Washington, D.C., Ottawa and New York to inform the MCC constituency of opportunities to influence lifestyle and legislative choices in North America.
Then there are long hours at the computer. MCC loves forms, charts, reports, plans and reviews. There is a monthly financial report to prepare, a database to maintain. Tremendous amounts of correspondence come and go via email. We are fortunate to live in a section of Kinshasa, the capital city of DRC, which has electricity most of the time, and where we have good internet access. This is not true for the vast majority of the nine million people in the city.
All of this takes place in a hot, humid, sunny, noisy city environment. Or in calm, breezy villages along dusty trails. We travel the potholed streets of Kinshasa, avoiding traffic police who can always find a reason to slap a fine on any vehicle. Or bump over rutted country roads, eating fresh pineapple and bananas. Walking home from the office we buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and just about anything else anyone could need, at little stands along the street. We greet nearly everyone we meet wherever we go, and shake hands in firm, warm grips many, many times a day.
It’s a great job. I get to do the things I love most: talk, listen, talk, travel, talk, write, talk, listen.
- Suzanne Lind