Related Posts by Tags
Okay, quick, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Congo? Give yourself a few seconds and then I’m going to guess. Was it conflict? Perhaps war? Or maybe it was that 1995 movie with Laura Linney. Whatever it was, I’m pretty sure it was something along those lines, and the picture in your mind was grim. I have to admit, when we finally decided that I would be coming to the Democratic Republic of the Congo this month, I was a bit hesitant. I’ve been in my fair share of dangerous places, but the unknown of going to a country where all I had ever heard coming out of it was rape, war, and death…well…my level of excitement left a lot to be desired.
Nonetheless, five days ago, I boarded the plane in Atlanta, bound for Entebbe, a small town just south of the Ugandan capital of Kampala. After a nine-hour layover in Amsterdam and a two-hour layover in Nairobi, I stepped onto the small plane that would make the quick trip to cross the border into Uganda. I was so exhausted from two full days of flying, I literally fell asleep between when the flight attendant told me to put my tray table up and when the plane touched down.
I managed to get myself through customs (they checked my temperature before I’d even walked ten feet…they wanted to make sure no one was bringing in Ebola, and I, for one, am glad they are on top of that) and bought my Ugandan visa. In all of my travels, I have only had my bag delayed one time, so I always have high hopes for the process. But, alas, my little black suitcase never made it out of Kenya and I was forced to wait eight hours for it to arrive on another flight.
So I made my way to a hotel near the airport to wait (I’ll use the term “hotel” loosely…more like African hut…which makes sense) and of course, as it does when things aren’t going quite your way, the skies opened in a torrential downpour. So, you know, I’m getting my things out of the car, into the room, back and forth between reception…and by the time I was settled, I was soaked. I couldn’t wait to take a shower, even if it was a cold one (which I assumed it would be)…and it was. BUT, not only was there no hot water, there was no shampoo, no conditioner, NO TOWEL (which I didn’t realize until it was too late). So I washed my hair with bar soap and wrapped myself up in a fleece blanket my parents gave me for Christmas.
Anyway, I’m seriously digressing. About five thirty in the evening, I finally got on the road, little black suitcase in hand, with my Ugandan driver, Musa. The countryside was breathtaking – jungle-y and lush – and it was that perfect time of night, just as the sun was setting. I was transfixed – window down, cool breeze blowing through my not-so-freshly washed hair. After five or so hours on the road, we stopped to spend the night about two hours from the border of the D.R.C.
The next morning, after a breakfast of pineapple and coffee (oh, thank goodness for my never-too-far-from-me Starbucks Via) we drove the rest of the way to the border where I was met by my host (a previous World Next Door intern!). We made it through Congo immigration without a hitch. This was the part of the journey I was most concerned about (Would they want bribes? Would they ask for paperwork I didn’t have? Would I find myself simply at the wrong place at the wrong time?). The border was nothing like what we envision a border to be in the West…it consisted of a bamboo blockade and a cinder block hut. Nevertheless, the system worked, the Lord was gracious, and we made it through without any issues at all.
The road between the border and the town I’ll be spending the next three weeks in was less like a road and more like a riverbed. It was muddy and rocky and difficult to navigate. Thirty miles took us two hours. I was thankful when at last we arrived in Beni, a mini-metropolis of several hundred thousand.
So now (!) let me introduce you to Congo Initiative (talk about burying the lead…), my host for the next few weeks. I am so pumped to be sharing this amazing organization with you – even though I have only been here for a few days, I can already tell it will be one of those places I’ll never forget and will hold dear to my heart.
Congo Initiative was started by Drs. David and Cassie Kasali, a Congolese couple with a heart to transform this broken and war-torn country from the ground up. In 2002, after years of living very comfortable lives between the United States and Kenya, David and Cassie felt the call of the Lord to return to Congo. If you’re not up on your Congolese history, 2002 was not a year when people who were nicely situated elsewhere returned. There continued to be violence and widespread instability, especially in the eastern region of Congo, which was and continues to be home for the Kasalis. But they felt in their hearts that they had the opportunity to be hugely influential in the region, and had a responsibility, as Congolese, to be involved in bringing about lasting peace to the D.R.C.
Congo Initiative is an all-encompassing organization, which has six separate initiatives under its umbrella. When David and Cassie began to formulate their vision, they prayed fervently about what the biggest needs were in the region and, over time, crafted the following:
• Creative Arts
• Church Renewal and Global Mission
• Community and Family Renewal
• Partnership and Development
• UCBC (The Bilingual Christian University of Congo)
• Professional Development and Vocational Training
While all of these initiatives are important for bringing about renewal, peace, and reconciliation to the eastern region (and ultimately the entire country) of Congo, the university (UCBC) and Professional Development and Vocational Training are what have gained the most traction in the last decade (more on each of these to come!).
I have been deeply encouraged by what I have seen already in Congo and I hope that those of you who are reading this now will continue to follow my journey here, as I am excited to share about what the university is accomplishing and what is happening right now as we speak – the International Lawyer’s Conference (trust me, it’s awesome!).
We are often afraid of what is unknown, and so I hope to change that paradigm, bringing joy and hope into the context of what is happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Until next time,
About the Author: Sarah is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She has her undergraduate degree in Business Communication from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and is currently working on her Masters degree in Organizational Leadership. Sarah recently finished a two and a half year assignment working for an anti-trafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she had the opportunity to mentor and lead college students in ministry abroad. She is mildly obsessed with Jeopardy, coffee, running, and the Atlanta Falcons.