By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (April 22, 2014) — Women Ministries has asked participants in its “Rip ’N Roll” ministry to stop making bandages, baby goods, and midwife kits due to the high cost of transporting them to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and violence in Central African Republic (CAR), which is along the shipping route.
Women in the Covenant have been rolling bandages for the Congo for nearly 70 years. But in a letter, Executive Minister Meagan Gillan says the situation also presents an opportunity to reconsider how Covenanters can best respond to ongoing needs in Congo.
Parts of CAR have been embroiled in largely sectarian violent conflict since more than a year ago. “Because the containers travel through Central African Republic and stay in Bangui for some time, we cannot ensure the safe delivery of goods to Karawa, Congo,” Gillan writes.
Shipping the bandages is expensive. Bandages and other items are first packed into a container in Maryland, shipped to Cameroon, transported to CAR, and then to Congo. The cost for shipping each container amounts to $30,000, Gillan says. “We must ask, ‘What could this money do if it were used directly to help in Congo?’”
The change may lead to partnership opportunities that might better serve the needs of the Congolese, who are considered among the poorest people in the world.
“When we send containers of goods made by women here, we help. That’s good.” Gillan says. “When we partner with our sisters and brothers in Christ on the ground in Congo, empowering them to help themselves, we help change a system that perpetuates poverty and helplessness. That’s better.”
Women Ministries has asked groups in the United States and Canada to come up with fundraising ideas, such as making and selling crafts to people in their communities, and then donating the revenue to ministries in Congo.
Women in Congo could be empowered to develop their own sewing businesses to make bandages as well as baby goods, for example. Women in the United States and Canada could raise money to support the seamstress.
“She earns a livable wage, the clinics and hospitals continue to benefit from the provision of the needed bandages, and women and their newborn babies receive needed baby items,” Gillan says.
The entire community benefits through a multiplier effect that results from helping women, Gillan says. “Her children can attend school because she can afford to pay school fees; vendors in the community profit because she is purchasing their goods.”
The change is part of the ongoing commitment of Women Ministries to serving Congo, Gillan says, noting, “The goods that are provided for the medical work in Congo are still greatly needed.”
Gillan says she hopes the groups that have met to roll bandages—some of whom have been doing so for decades—will continue. “There is great value in this fellowship, and we don’t want to see that end.”
In addition to providing additional opportunities for women in Congo, the change in approach also could lead to more participation in the United States and Canada, Gillan says. “We also think that there may be women or churches who have never rolled bandages or made baby goods or midwife kits who may now want to consider this new and marvelously missional way of engaging with the people of Congo.”
A team is being developed to provide further information and guidance to groups who want to provide assistance to the Congolese.
“Please keep us in your prayers as we work together on this,” Gillan asked. “And above all, please know how deeply we appreciate the incredible, generous, good work you have done over the years to bless the medical work in Congo. And thank you for your forbearance and goodwill as we move forward.”