At Tearfund we spend a lot of time talking about Church and Community mobilisation. Our vision is to be part of a global network of 100,000 local churches that are working to serve their communities. We believe that local churches living out the mission of God is the way to bring sustainable hope, help, healing and reconciliation to a world in need. We think that is true anywhere but I wanted to share this story from the DRC partly because not a lot of good stories come from there!
Meet Jaques (white shirt) with his mother Evelyn (blue headscarf). Jaques from Bunia town decided he wanted to enrol to do Development Studies at the University of Shalom (peace) in Bunia (USB).
His mother Evelyn was very sceptical ‘this is nothing’ (ie no use to us). Things were very hard for them, particularly with her husband. He is a mechanic and his life was about cars. She had often asked him can we buy a plot to build a house but he had refused – preferring to spend any money on cars.
Jacques enrolled on the course. The University uses an approach based on a Tearfund programme called Umoja along with theological and practical reflection. As part of this he took part in an ‘internship’ of 35 days living with a community of forest people. In this approach small groups of students live with a community. They bring no food or water with them and walked 9km to get there.
They slept of dried banana leaves, worked with them, ate the basic forest food with them, danced with them and were eaten by the many insects. They then held ‘University around the fire’ discussions to reflect with the communities about their situation.
This forest community in Atalahulu has encountered a lot of discrimination. It was very important that we showed love to them.
They prioritised their needs as: 1) water (9km from clean water source) 2) replacement canoe for worn out ones and 3) a school.
Over a period of time the community were mobilised to protect a water source using a small contribution of $85 from the University to transport in some cement and a technician. The cost of the cement and all the materials and labour were provided by the community.
They built a canoe which they all pulled 5km to the river. It is the largest canoe they have ever built – and can carry 25 people. This process brought together two estranged communities from opposite sides of the river.
The forest people’s children had never stayed at school – doing a maximum of one month. However with new community ownership they have built a school from local materials including using a door for a blackboard. During the day it is a blackboard and at night the owner comes and uses it as a door!
Reflecting on the course Jacques commented:
We learned development from the Bible and saw results. People understand it when it comes from the Bible. I was joyful seeing the forest people having clean water.
Jacques decided to practice these ideas with his family. For example he helped his father reflect on the challenges of not owning a house for instance by showing him how much he was spending on rent ($80/ month). Eventually his father was convinced and sold a car which enabled them to buy a plot and build a house (pictured). His father wanted to remove the banked soil from the house to make the plot flat but Jacques counselled to instead use this soil to make bricks which they are about to do.
Jacques is now friendly with his Dad. Evelyn says ‘I was amazed by all these changes. Now I want Jacques sister to study development too!’