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Bread of Life

Renewing Hearts and Minds in the Congo

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As we drove through the forests of southern Congo, I felt I had stepped back in time. The villages, jungle environment and mountains brought back memories of growing up in Gabon, where my parents were missionaries. Yet as we entered Sibiti, the capital of the Lekoumbou region of the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), I saw lingering evidence of the 1997 civil war—many buildings were missing roofs, and much of the city’s infrastructure had been destroyed.

Filling a Need

Alliance pastor Charles Koumba invited me to Sibiti to speak to several groups about the biblical view of sexuality. Koumba leads BREAD (Bureau de Recherche et d’Etude et Appui au Development [Bureau of Research, Study and Support of Development]), which includes CAMA. Through a proposal Koumba submitted to the government, BREAD was chosen to lead the anti-AIDS campaign in Sibiti.

A government agency had determined through analysis of random blood tests that more than ten percent of Sibiti’s population is HIV positive—the highest level in the nation. The reasons are many. During the war, Sibiti was a hiding place for rebel troops, and rape was common. Also, the city is at a crossroads, and merchandise is traded at a huge market twice monthly. Unfortunately, sex is a commodity at these events. Prostitution is accepted, and a lifestyle of promiscuity is deeply ingrained into people’s minds.

BREAD has rented a building near the marketplace. Working with BREAD are three young men—Frank Loemba, Romuald Moutoula and Séraphin Ngoma—who train and oversee other nongovernment agencies in educating the people of this district about AIDS prevention.

As we toured government offices and greeted the officials, I sensed that BREAD had gained the government’s respect and the team was welcomed with open arms. One of the military leaders asked when we were going to come back to speak about abstinence to his soldiers. “They need to hear what the Bible says, too” he told us.

Heart-Wrenching Dilemma

I slept in a war-scarred building. My room was open to the outside, and since there wasn’t a roof, I heard bats flying overhead until dawn. Early in the morning I opened the shutters—a mist had crept through the trees, enveloping the Catholic church next door in a haze. I felt that God had given me this beautiful sight to show His greatness and perfect provision.

That day I spoke to 45 teenage mothers. These unmarried women often resort to prostitution because they have no other way to feed their children. As I shared what the Bible teaches about sexuality, they were solemn and thoughtful. I told them that Jesus Christ loves them and will forgive their sins; He wants the best for them.

As we ended the session with prayer, one woman stood up. “I have heard what God wants, but how will I feed my kids if I stop this lifestyle?” she asked. Her heart-wrenching question proved that CAMA small loans and training are desperately needed to help women escape this cycle of poverty and sin.

During my second day in Sibiti, I spoke to 80 young people at a Catholic mission under the auspices of “Jeunes en Milieu Confessionnel,” a group BREAD works with to raise AIDS awareness. The youth listened attentively and asked some great questions. Congolese parents rarely speak to their children about sex as this is a taboo subject in this culture. Myths abound. One is that abstinence creates diseases.

Young people are ridiculed when they try to maintain sexual purity. Many asked, “Is it even possible to remain pure?” I assured them that God doesn’t ask us to do something that is impossible, and gave several testimonies of other Congolese youth who had remained pure.

Daily BREAD

In addition to the lecture/question-and-answer format, BREAD uses creative methods to raise AIDS awareness. The BREAD team travels to villages around Sibiti with a TV and video player to teach about AIDS prevention. The group has also set up a cyber café, the first in the area. With four computers it is a huge hit in a town with limited resources and provides a forum for discussion of the virus and how it is passed.

Loemba and his team dream of bringing Christian radio to Sibiti, which has no station of any kind. As well as teaching AIDS prevention, BREAD would use the airwaves to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. The group also hopes to start a Bible study and evangelism program.

Prayers for the Future

I came away burdened for Sibiti. Although evangelical churches have been in the area for years, witchcraft is deeply ingrained, even among those who claim Christ as their Savior. Loemba told me that BREAD also wants to reach the Pygmies who live in the forests around Sibiti. Many from this people group were slaves of the taller Congolese and took the title of “Christian” because their owners were Christians. But most don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

While I was in Sibiti, at least three people begged for advice from God’s Word about marriage and relationships. There are no Christian bookstores in the region and no place to purchase Bibles. Printed gospel booklets Loemba took to the city sold quickly. An Alliance church, Bon Berger (Good Shepherd), has helped to provide literature, but there are no Christian resources available for purchase. After I taught the youth session, the teacher who does all the training in the region for the Catholic church asked for help. “All of our books were looted during the war, and I have nothing to teach with,” he said. When I returned to Brazzaville, I was able to mail him some educational materials.

I felt spiritually spoiled for the resources I have.The Alliance in Congo needs prayer support—the kind that tears down walls, breaks hardened ground and sets captives free. During my first day speaking to the teenage mothers, one of them said, “I have heard what God said, and I determine to stop now!” What an encouragement! We believe that God wants to do a great work in Sibiti.

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