Bakers return from Congo mission with praise reports

Donna and Jonathan Baker returned March 24 from spending 40 days in the Democratic Republic of Congo and have much to report on the Peter D. Weaver Congo Partnership that includes the Eastern PA Conference.

Bishop Peggy Johnson encourages churches and members to support the Partnership’s vital efforts through ongoing giving and through the special missions offering to be received at Annual Conference on Saturday, May 16.

Here is Donna’s report, adapted for this article, and photos from their visit.

Drilling a Fresh Water Well – One of the highlights of the recent mission visit was the initiation of drilling and digging a fresh water well in the mission village of Diengenga in the Kasai Province. This village was founded in 1934 by Methodist missionaries and is still populated by persons of deep faith.

Although the village had running water and electricity, a rebellion in the 1990s destroyed many of these amenities. In all of the schools, churches and other public structures, the rebels removed and burned all furnishings, while nearly destroying the entire village. Now having access to fresh, clean water will provide a much healthier environment and be a blessing to the people of Diengenga.

Using the UMC’s logo, Papa Godé, the Director of the Miner Trade School, designed and painted the insignia on the water cistern that will provide water for the public after it was been pumped from the well. The water is coming out of the cross, symbolizing a witness to Christ making all of this possible. This image will be seen by everyone who comes to get fresh water when the well opens.

We were so deeply touched by this witness. Every day someone here teaches us about faith and trust in God and reminds us that God truly is the source of all blessings.

Cape Lodja Farm Project – With the goal to provide sustainable agriculture to reduce hunger and malnutrition, the farm is flourishing. Using animal traction, larger parcels of land are being tilled and planted to produce beans, soy, corn, peanuts, manioc, pineapples, rice, bananas, and avocados.

A new garden is producing highly nutritional crops like squash, spinach, string beans, turnips, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, and many others. We spend time teaching them to prepare these vegetables in ways that maintain their nutritional value.

Both Donna and Jonathan love to cook; so it has been fun working together with the women who enjoy learning new things. They have learned how to cook with many challenges. We sit on the floor around a small charcoal burner stir-frying vegetables and laughing together.

Josey, our Farm Coordinator, and his team have dug by hand four large fish ponds which will become a “cash crop” to help support the other farm projects.  When we saw what they accomplished we were astonished.

Mama Tolla Social Program for Young Mothers – Education is expensive here. Even primary school requires tuition. Therefore, many children will never have the opportunity to receive even a first-grade education. Several of the mature women provide a program for very young women who have already become mothers. They teach them such things as sewing, cooking, childcare and even family planning to ensure that there is sufficient time between births and careful decision-making for smaller families.

The group visited us to bring greetings, including the gift of a live chicken, and to show evidence of the skills they are learning, such as sewing dresses and shirts. They walked up the street singing a song of praise to the Lord and then, upon arrival, paused to pray for us. The hospitality we have witnessed and received is amazingly generous!

We invited the women to return with their children the next day so we could share with them dresses that Prospect UMC in Delaware sewed for us to bring to Congo. We had been struggling with when and to whom to distribute the dresses; but God answered our prayers by presenting this adorable group of women and children. We had such fun watching the mamas selecting dresses for themselves and their children. They immediately put them on, and we have a sweet photo of them all in their “Delaware Attire.” They thanked us profusely and were so grateful for the opportunity to have fresh, clean, new dresses to wear.

Distribution of Reading Glasses and Sunglasses – Upon returning to the U.S. after the 2014 Cataract Surgery Mission, Donna struggled with how to afford and provide the many more eyeglasses that patients needed here in Congo. “Out of the blue” (we know better: yet another “God-incident”!) Donna received an email from www.RestoringVision.org, who had seen the Congo Partnership’s Website and offered amazing prices for reading glasses and sunglasses.

“YES!” Donna immediately responded, and this NGO (non-governmental organization) sent samples that were obviously of good quality, and the pricing was amazing. The Partnership ordered a very large quantity of both styles in multiple levels of vision correction; and the glasses traveled with us this month.

Because the pastors had been tested and their refraction levels documented during the Centennial Celebration in August, 2014, we decided to begin with this group. In Wembo Nyama and in Diengenga the pastors have been so joyous that they now can read their Bibles.  And a teaching opportunity emerged when we explained how exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays leads to the development of cataracts in the eyes, and that wearing sunglasses can prevent this impairment. They prayed, sang praises and were so grateful to God for their eyesight improvement.

Sewing Projects – Many of you have seen or even purchased hand-sewn dresses and shirts from the Congo. Currently, four groups share the sewing machines housed at the secondary boarding school in Diengenga: the Mama Tolla Boarding School, Mama Tolla Young Mothers Social Program, Pastors School Wives, and the United Methodist Women.

They decided that sharing the machines would be the most collegial and cost-effective way to continue creating beautiful garments, and it’s working! They schedule the sewing room for multiple groups throughout the week; and the “team approach” has been quite efficient and successful. Thank you, Lord! The amazingly beautiful embroidery embellishing the garments requires a special sewing machine, as well as the finishing of hems and seams by a serge machine.

The people here travel into Lodja and pay a large amount of money to borrow the machines there. But now, due to the generosity of several UMW contributions in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, the sewing groups here in Diengenga have their own machines and can delete this additional cost for their sewing projects. When presented to the women, they trilled and hooted with joy when the new machines were unveiled. Thanks to many UM women for making this possible!

Most of their machines are “hand treadle” because they have no electricity. They need more “foot treadle” machines, and three need repairs. We’ve already begun to pray that God will bring forth money for this purpose. The goal is always to provide people with life skills so they can be productive and self-sustaining.

We’re bringing home MANY shirts, little girls’ dresses and placemats with matching napkins to sell to in order to support these amazing programs. Let us know if you’re interested in assisting us by providing an opportunity within your church.

Miriam’s Table – This newly launched feeding program for indigent children is thriving. The plan was to serve 200 children five days a week. They are now feeding over 300 and having to turn some children away due to the size of the brand new building and the budgetary constraints. These children live among the “poorest of the poor” in grass huts. They bathe in the dirty stream nearby, with no running water or electricity. But they sing their praises to the Lord as they prepare for the one meal they will consume that day. Hopefully, with additional support, the program will be expanded to two feedings daily so that more children can not only be fed nutritionally, but participate in devotional time together with the awesome staff.

In Conclusion — We’re sure that you are able to understand that the projects in Congo are many and quite diverse. Although these projects still require support from the Partnership, the Congolese encourage us with their passion and joy and their desire to be self-sustaining, independent and proud of their accomplishments. We now truly understand what it means to be Partners in Christ. Together we develop a farm. Together we begin self-sustaining small businesses. Together we worship our Lord and Savior, and give God all the glory. Therefore, we would like to conclude this update with the following scripture.

“There will always be poor people in the world, therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

  • You (The Congo Partnership) responded by coming to Congo to teach us to farm, so we can eat.
  • You responded by coming to Congo to give to us medicines, so we can be healthy.
  • You responded by giving money for salaries to give us a doctor, so we can survive illness.
  • You responded by buying food, so we can feed our children.
  • We (Congolese) responded by opening up hearts to enable you to come.
  • We responded by teaching you to be patient, and gentle like our people are.
  • We responded by loving and holding you up in our prayers.
  • We responded by giving you all that we had to give.

Together we work now side by side sharing with each other the gifts God has given us all. Multiple teams will be returning to Congo beginning in July and so there will be follow-up reports provided for the conference communications media. Blessings to you!