DR Congo: Heaven has Come to Hell on Earth

It happened again. This time it was 33 women.  While people around the world celebrated the beginning of a new year and the hope of change in 2011, 33 women in Eastern Congo went through hell on earth as armed men took their turns raping and brutalizing their bodies, some in front of their children. Chaos erupted and sent residents of the village attacked on a running spree.

In Eastern Congo, in the surrounding areas of the city Goma, which sits along Lake Kivu on the boarder of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, rape is used as a weapon of war. This war has been raging in this area for 15 years. The result? Over 5 million violent deaths, countless rapes, a nonexistent education system and a lack of trusted, secure government officials. This is the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII.

Fortunately, Jesus is alive and on the move in the midst of the devil’s playground in Congo. Fortunately God has eyes and sees what’s taking place. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is blowing through the land and working hard to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down on top of the evil that exists.

I know this because last night I had the honor and privilege of spending some time listening to dear friends of mine, Camille* and Esther Ntoto share stories of reconciliation, surrender, forgiveness, love, unity, resilience and modern day miracles all taking place right now in this land. The Ntoto’s live in Goma and see the struggles of their own people day in and day out. The devil never takes a day off unfortunately. But neither does God and he has the last word.

I sat and listened to Esther and Camille go on and on about stories of the Kingdom come to Earth and people transformed by the Word of God and by the power of the risen Christ. I felt a host of emotions as I soaked it all in. I was saddened by the reality of life for so many in Eastern Congo it made me physically hurt. At the same time, I was in awe of hearing of the ways God’s glory is shining through the darkness. It’s a weird concept to be hurt, angry and confused knowing that other people are experiencing such pain, despair and hell at it’s worst while also knowing and believing God’s kingdom work being done regardless.

The idea that the kingdom of God has come to Earth, even now before the return of Christ, is incomprehensible to me. Sure I believe it because I see evidence of it in my life as well as in others such as with the Ntoto’s. But the significance of that is humbling, overwhelming and in the words of the rainbow guy, intense!

So tonight I’m still heartbroken and a little tore up about the pure ugliness happening to the beautiful Congolese people. And I’m also praising God for his compassion, his caring acts of mercy and restoration and for friends like Esther and Camille who live out the hope they have received in Jesus and who are witnesses to Christ in a broken place in much need of healing.

I’m stripping the academics from the kingdom of heaven and reveling in its reality tonight. I’m longing to have both feet in the kingdom opposed to one in and one out in this world in this moment. I’m believing that God has already called Congo his nation and the Congolese his people and he will continue to usher in his will, his goodness and his plans of greatness into that land.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours.
Now and for ever. Amen
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Glad Tidings and Great Mourning

A daughter of a friend of mine passed away this month. Since then I have been acutely aware of those who are mourning this season. People I normally don’t think of much have been coming to mind---my sister’s friend who lost her husband, my friend Kari for whom this will be her first Christmas without her mom. Last year I met my sister’s friend on Christmas Eve and now he is dead--leaving behind a wife my age and a small son. 

Kizzy is getting through Christmas without her husband and another friend too because of a divorce.  Others are mourning job losses and being far from home.  And now today, millions of students mourn the defeat of the Dream Act--a law that would make a way for people raised in the United States to earn their legal residency by going to college or serving in the military. After ten years of work, advocacy, and the bill passing the House of Representatives, we missed the vote by five votes. I feel disappointed and sad.  I feel my friends’ grief and loneliness.

It is awful to be surrounded by rejoicing and parties and festivity when you are grieving and mourning.  I have wondered how my friends could possibly relate to the Christmas season this year. Yet, it was in the Christmas Story itself that I found words of mourning, and so somehow of comfort. Matthew’s gospel recounts the Escape to Egypt when Jesus parents fled to another country. As they left, Herod was leaving a wake of destruction and death. Matthew quotes the prophet Jeremiah to describe the scene:

                A voice is heard in Ramah,

                Weeping and great mourning,

                Rachel weeping for her children

                And refusing to be comforted

                Because they are no more. 

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Have you Heard the new Freedom CD?

“To be honest, I don’t understand how anyone could not be excited about the work that IJM is doing. We feel that we are called to rescue,justice and mercy, and it moves our heart to see how effectively and passionately IJM exhibits all three. Since God broke our chains, we want to be involved in breaking the chains of others.”
— Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North, who contributed the new song “All I Have” to the compilation.

Tenth Avenue North is just one of the 40 artist you'll hear on Freedom, a new CD benefiting the work of International Justice Mission (IJM).  Every purchase of “Freedom” helps support IJM’s work tobring rescue, justice and long-term aftercare to victims of violence.The collection, which retails for only $5, also equips supporters to become advocates for the 27 million children, women and men held as slaves today. Each album includes a bonus DVD featuring IJM’sdocumentary At the End of Slavery,designed as a tool to introduce others to the reality of modern-dayslavery and the hope for a final end to this crime, and an introduction to Family Christian Stores’ James Fund in support of orphans and widows.

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The Orphan Crisis, and What You (Yes, YOU), Can Do

I’ve written pretty passionately about the global orphan situation recently, and several commenters asked: “What can I do if I’m not in a position to adopt?”

I’m so glad you asked.

Adoption is not for everyone.  Nor is it the answer to the world’s orphan crisis.  In the best of circumstances, adoption creates a loving family for a child who has been orphaned.  But it does not address the root causes of why a child has been abandoned or orphaned to begin with.  It is a band-aid on a much larger problem.  It is estimated that 99% of the world’s orphans will not be adopted.  Adoption is an answer for some orphaned children . . . but not for most of them.

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Ugh! My Electronics are Hurting People

Two passions of mine collided this week in my email; Congo and ending slavery today. I received an urgent email message from Free The Slaves, an anti-human trafficking organization that I follow to stay updated on the movement here in the US and abroad. The subject of the email is Urgent Action - Help us stop Conflict Minerals from the DRC. According to Wikipedia, conflict minerals refers to minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by the Congolese National Army and various armed rebel groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. My email said minerals that come from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo turn up in electronics, in light bulbs, batteries and other everyday items. It would be hard to escape our connection to slavery and conflict in Congo. 

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Together we can change the world

Bestselling author Max Lucado has done many things to put God's Word into action over the years and has inspired many others to do the same. This year, in commemoration of Max's 25th year of inspirational writing, he has made it his personal goal to help World Vision raise up sponsors for 25,000 children, in conjunction with this fall's Make a Difference Tour.

One hundred percent of Max's royalties from Outlive Your Life products will benefit children and families through World Vision and other ministries of faith-based compassion.

Christians and Adoption

I have a confession.  I was a little ambivalent about attending my first Christian adoption conference.

I read a lot of blogs.  (Too many blogs). Some of them are very critical of adoption.  I am an advocate for adoption, but I read with interest because I also think the system needs massive reform, and because I think it’s good to get the perspective of others.  Usually I have a pretty high tolerance for listening to viewpoints that differ from my own.

(Usually).

One of the things that has been heavily criticized in the adoption blog world is the Christian movement of “orphan care”.  The group of missionaries in Haiti that tried to take a group of children to the Dominican only fueled the sentiment that pro-adoption Christians are wreckless, short-sighted, and self-serving.  I like to think I remain objective when reading stuff like this, but I admit I entered this conference with some skepticism. 

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Pepsi Refresh Results & GAD? Update

So after three months in the competition, thousands of votes from you and all our friends, we are officially out of the Pepsi Refresh Competition:( At the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank all you who stuck by us these past few months and put up with our repetitive messages. Our supporters are incredible, everywhere I went people were letting me know that they were voting for us daily. It was so encouraging to see everyone's support. Honestly, thank you!!!!

The focus right now is to finish this film. It is close to done and we have been doing a number of test screenings in St. Louis and getting excellent feedback and encouragement, but have also seen that we still have a little ways to go.

As far as Sundance, we submitted the film by Sept 25th deadline and we don't hear back if we are accepted into the competition or not until early December . Many of the festivals require that you premiere your film at their festival, so it will be a while before we do a public premiere with red carpets and all, but we do hope to do one of those someday. First, we are going to be entering the film into a number of the major festivals. It will be long process but sure to be a rewarding one and hopefully a way to secure some form of distribution.
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So what's the scenaRIO ...

Today's my first day back. For the past week, I was in Rio de Janeiro working with two organizations -- one focused on church planting and the other on social justice. In a profound way, both are working for the Kingdom of God. 

Restore Brazil is an organization run by Jay Bauman, who is both a prolific leader as he is a social media nut. You can find him on Twitter at @baumanjay and on his blog. Please check out his organization, Restore Brazil.

Rio de Paz is an unabashed human rights organization run by Antonio Carlos Costa. They work for human rights for prisoners and social justice for the poor living in the favela. They're organization focuses on three main plagues of Rio: violence, poverty, corruption. Antonio is also has a strong social media presence, albeit, in Portugese.

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Operation Narnia

Operation Christmas Child is partnering with the upcoming film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, set for release on Dec. 10. Through this partnership, Narnia fans will be encouraged to participate in the world’s largest Christmas project by packing shoe box gifts that will make a difference in the lives of needy children.

In Narnia, it was always winter and never Christmas until Aslan arrived with hope. In the same way, simple shoe box gifts filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items can bring hope to children around the world by reminding them they are loved and not forgotten.

“We’re very excited to participate in the upcoming release of the movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” said Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse. “We want children around the world to know the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—and the joy ­­­­­­­­­­­­­and hope that this brings.”

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