We began our journey in eastern Congo (DRC) in Aru, a place spared much (though not all) of the violence that is so typical of this country.
Anglican Relief and Development Fund helped establish a project in this diocese that we had the chance to see and evaluate, and as is the case so often (though not every time), to be deeply encouraged by.
It’s hard to overstate how critical the role of the church is in Africa, and especially in these less developed or ravaged regions in countries whose central government just doesn’t function, or worse, makes matters more difficult. Failing to notice any signs of government help in education or medical facilities as we drove, I asked the bishop if the Congolese government does anything at all for the people in this far off corner of the country. He replied, “The central government has not really been doing a lot for the people. The church is doing a lot. Without it, people would die.” I believe it. I’ve seen it.
Realizing the problem of problematic men in this society, the church here in Aru with the bishop’s vision started a training program in carpentry specifically targeting those men and boys who had been identified by the community as ‘troublemakers’, were former soldiers, or are already into drugs. The program is designed to develop them spiritually in Christ, and also offer a trade whereby they could make a good living versus squandering their lives or ruining the lives of others.
Our grant made most of the project possible, including building the carpentry shops and classrooms, acquiring the tools and machines, and the first round of wood. Sixty men at a time (there’s already a waiting list) go through a year long training, and in the end walk away being able build tables, desks, beds, chairs, and other items. There is so much expansion in the diocese in the development of schools and other projects sponsored by the church alone that there is a steady market for their products, and already the program is self-sustaining after just two years. In a wonderful example of the sort of partnership that ARDF hopes to engender and see, initially when our first grant wasn’t enough to complete certain elements like more equipment and a roof to over it, the church simply made up the difference from their own funds without ever asking us for more help. As for the community impact, the neighborhood was so supportive of the project that they donated the land on which the carpentry shop is located and gave 10 more acres for further expansion.
I asked one of the young man who had just completed the full year training how the program had made his life better, and got a different answer than what I was expecting, a better answer. I had expected him to say it meant that he could make money and have a better future because he now had a skill. Well, that’s in fact true. But what he said was “Spiritually, I am OK, because being here I am under the church and all the behaviors that I used to have will be changed. I was just baptized.”
For the part of ARDF, that’s money very well spent indeed. For the sake of Congo, this is one sign of hope, out of sixty that we saw in Aru. We met men learning to be carpenters, and even better, learning to be disciples of the Carpenter.