Bishop Bickerton's Congo Journal - Day 1
Our team arrived safely in Lubumbashi, Congo this morning after a long series of flights. My particular journey took me from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC (one hour), Washington to Senegal (7 hours), Senegal to Johannesburg, South Africa (8 hours) and Johannesburg to Lubumbashi (3 hours). Counting layovers I left the house at 8 a.m. on Monday and arrived at 5 a.m (EST) on Wednesday! Whew!
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a difficult place to get to and a difficult place to get around in once you do arrive. The Congo looks, from the air and the ground, like most of Africa: stark poverty, sparse living conditions, women with buckets of water or food on their heads, men selling charcoal or other hand-me- down goods on the street corner, etc.
What makes Congo so unique is the amazing absence of any form of sustainable infrastructure. If you are considering not voting for the mayor of your town because of potholes, make sure you come to the Congo before passing judgment. Travel here is slow and meticulous as you navigate huge craters every few feet. The lack of infrastructure has made land travel across this country nearly impossible, rendering some of the more isolated places helpless for care, goods, and services. Our trip will involve visiting three places in the DRC and will require us to fly to each. There simply are no roads suitable for travel.
The purpose of our trip goes well beyond the supportive function, however. Tomorrow we are privileged to be a part of a unique and what we hope will be a project we can replicate elsewhere in our work to end malaria on this continent. Tomorrow is the kick-off of a major mosquito-net distribution by a new agency called “Coresa.” Coresa is a massive ecumenical collaboration involving The United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Muslim Community and the Jewish Community here in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Episcopal Church has purchased this particular set of nets (30,000), the United Methodists are paying for the training of those who will distribute them, and the Methodists, Muslims and Jews will do the actual distribution. It is a huge achievement here (it would be at home as well) for these ecumenical bodies to come together.. People from far and wide are saying that they have never seen these varied groups cooperate before. We have played a key role in pulling these faith-based groups together for the distribution.
Thousands are expected at the public launch tomorrow. Click here
to see a slideshow. The net distribution begins all across this region tomorrow afternoon and continues through next week. Such a concentrated net distribution is critical since this part of the DRC was not included in a first wave of net distributions done previously.
Tomorrow will be all about the power of partnership and collaboration. It’s the only way we stand a chance of eliminating malaria. It cannot be done just by the United Methodists or the Episcopalians or the Jews or the Muslims. It’s about putting aside the things that separate us so that we can concentrate on spreading the message of God’s love through a demonstration of cooperation and collaboration. We need this project to succeed because it needs to be replicated all over this continent. It’s the first of its kind and we want to learn from it so we be successful in future distributions. Really, it’s the key to our success.
Honestly, the same concept is the key to our success back home too: We have to find a way to move through the “muck” and find a way, both within our own denomination and with those of other faiths, to show the world that the church is not about creating animosity over things that divide us, but about finding the heart of God together.
The next stage of our trip will take us to Kamina, in Eastern Congo. There we will dedicate and witness the unfolding of a standing water removal project that is, once again, a unique project we hope to replicate in other places.
Many of you have said that you would like to be a player in eliminating malaria. You have donated several $10 bills along the way and saved a life each time you did. But to truly eliminate malaria-related deaths, we have to rise to another level of commitment. That involves the development of a concentrated, coordinated, collaborative effort that involves Methodists AND other faith-based partners. It means that we have to distribute nets AND train people to follow-up and monitor their usage. It means buying a net AND endorsing creative projects that involve removal of standing water.
All of this is to say that this is trip involves some really big work on a really big continent, in a really big country with a really big goal: to eliminate malaria-related deaths.
It is very clear to me why Africa occupies such an important place in my life and calling. In 1986 a six-week trip to Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe reframed my entire life and the manner in which I thought I was being led to live out my calling. Africa re-shaped, re-worked, and rocked my calling to ministry. It was a life-changer as I experienced people who had little in the way of material goods, but much faith – a faith that sees them through the major obstacles that impact their lives. The people on this continent transformed my life. The least I can do is work as hard as I can to transform theirs.
That’s why I’m here.