By Don Meyer
CHICAGO, IL (February 3, 2012) – A major partnership with World Vision that promises to dramatically impact the lives of people suffering the ravages of poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo was unveiled this morning during the closing session of the Midwinter Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC).
The new initiative – Covenant Kids Congo powered by World Vision – is built on World Vision’s established model of child sponsorship that raises funds in support of development work in critical areas of need.
Following a moving presentation to pastors attending the conference, a call to action culminated in the signing of a Declaration of Partnership by representatives of the four partnering ministries: World Vision U.S., represented by President Richard Stearns; the Evangelical Covenant Church, represented by President Gary Walter; World Vision Congo, represented by President Robert Kishyula, and the Congo Covenant Church (CEUM), represented by out-going President Mossai Sanguma.
In what both World Vision and the ECC describe as a historic and unprecedented agreement, the four entities are committed to raising needed funds to pursue major development in five areas in DR Congo, where the Covenant has served for 75 years and World Vision for 65 years: clean water, health and hygiene, food and agriculture, education and literacy, and economic development.
“God has placed Congo on the heart of the Covenant for 75 years,” said ECC President Gary Walter in introducing the new initiative. “Congo is the most desperate country in the world,” Walter noted, reciting numerous rankings that place the country at the bottom of every major measure of poverty – Congo is rated 187th out of 187 countries on the poverty scale.
The country has been ravaged by war, especially in the eastern portion of the region, with an estimated 5.4 million lives lost over the years. In northwest Congo, where the Covenant has centered its work, children are dying from preventable illnesses, especially malaria. Families walk miles to draw water from streams that are polluted. Families are fortunate if they can secure one meager meal a day. The area is remote – it takes two weeks to reach the region by boat from the capital city due to the lack of transportation infrastructure.
“In one church in Congo, 20 children died in just one month from preventable diseases,” Walter noted, his voice choking at times with emotion. Even with all that the Covenant has done over the years, “we need more than one organization in the area of Congo we serve,” Walter told the audience. “Our friends in World Vision feel the same.”
Trying to take on a challenge of this magnitude could be described by some as a bit crazy, Walter observed, noting that “either we’re crazy or we actually believe that the body of Christ is better together. I know that is what we believe in the Covenant.”
“God calls us to be a little crazy,” Stearns said in response, reciting examples from Scripture like the ‘craziness’ of a small David taking on the giant Goliath. “But, that is the kind of God we follow,” Stearns observed, “taking us to difficult places in the world.”
Kishyula admitted some level of concern when first approached with such a large undertaking in such a remote part of DR Congo where World Vision Congo had not had much of a presence. “We were reluctant to go into that area of Congo because they had no infrastructure there,” he recalled. “But, we visited and were encouraged by the work that the CEUM and the Covenant had built over 75 years.
“What gives us confidence (in this new venture) is that there already is an established foundation there – hospitals, schools, clinics, and developed leadership – which gives us a platform for what we do best. We have never had an opportunity like this, where an entire church denomination like the Covenant makes this kind of commitment. When we blend these two, we will make a difference like never before.”
“We are humbled to help build on that foundation,” Stearns added.
Walter outlined the challenge to local congregations throughout the Covenant, calling individuals in each congregation and the churches to support child sponsorships, following a model of $40 each month per child and continuing that pledge of support in ensuing years. The goal is to generate 15,000 sponsorships throughout the Covenant.
The real value on the ground in Congo is much more than the $40 each month, both Walter and Stearns stressed. Because of other international aid organizations that are looking closely at this new partnership and are prepared to bring additional resources of their own, a $40 investment will in reality produce at least $60 of benefit each month – and most likely, even much more, they said.
A monthly sponsorship does not go to a specific child, Stearns explained. Rather, the sponsorships are aggregated into a dedicated fund that supports the numerous projects that will be developed in each of the five core areas of need, benefitting entire communities and the families that reside in them.
Covenant Kids Congo will officially launch this fall with the Covenant-wide observance of Hope Sunday where individuals, families and congregations will be asked to sign up to sponsor one, two or more children.
Karen Hallberg in the Department of World Mission said that pastors also are being invited to join the team as local advocates.
It also was announced that Sanguma, who retires as CEUM president at the end of February, will assume new responsibilities as the regional director in DR Congo for this project.
“Imagine a worship service in one of the 1,600 churches in Congo,” Stearns said in closing. “The pastor stands there and sees the maimed, the sick and the dying. They sing praises to God, but they also offer their prayers of lament asking God to see their desperate need. They cry out for an answer to their prayers.
“God is answering those prayers,” Stearns suggested, “but he is using you and me to be that answer.”
Kishyula then noted how encouraged and challenged he has felt in hearing one of Walter’s – and the Covenant’s – favorite phrases: Hope shows up when people who care show up.
“Please bring hope to this country by showing up,” he implored his listeners.
Editor’s note: click here to see photos from this morning’s closing session, courtesy of Mike Nyman.