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Alumni In the News
Reflections of an MCC representative
November 12, 2013
People often ask, “But what do you actually DO?” when I tell them that my husband Tim and I are the MCC representatives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo). I sometimes tease them and I say, “I administer and represent.”
The MCC program in Congo includes projects related to health, humanitarian aid, peacebuilding, youth exchanges and organizational capacity-building. Our job as reps is to work with people “on the ground” to make good plans for these projects, to budget for funds to support the plans, to rejoice in the implementation of projects, and to make sure that good reporting is done during and after projects.
To do this we develop relationships with MCC service workers, national staff colleagues, national church leaders, local church and community leaders and staff at local organizations with whom we partner. The best part of the job is travelling to project locations; studying the context; gathering background information; and all the talk, talk, talk with a wide variety of people who are working passionately to follow God’s call to peace and wellbeing.
There are more Mennonites in Congo than anywhere else except the combination of Canada and the U.S. Our office is often a meeting place for pastors, church leaders, women, youth and students. Hospitality, relationship-building and friendship are joyful, and at times exhausting, aspects of our work. It is hard for Mennonites in Congo to believe that MCC cannot fund all the excellent project ideas that 200,000 members can generate!
As we accompany our partners to visit projects and to deliver aid to lost and hungry people, we encounter amazing people doing remarkable things. We also become painfully aware of the complicity of the international community, particularly the role of Canada and the U.S., in helping create and sustain the violence in eastern Congo. Aid without advocacy is not an option. We work closely with the MCC advocacy offices in Washington, D.C., Ottawa and New York to inform the MCC constituency of opportunities to influence consumer and legislative choices in Canada and the U.S.
Then there are long hours at the computer. There are reports to prepare and a database to maintain. Tremendous amounts of correspondence come and go via email. We are fortunate to live in a section of Kinshasa that has electricity most of the time, and where we have good Internet access. This is not true for the vast majority of the 9 million people in the city.
All of this takes place in a hot, humid, sunny, noisy city environment and at other times in calm, breezy villages along dusty trails. We travel busy streets, stopping occasionally at one of numerous coffee and pastry shops, or bump over rutted country roads, eating fresh pineapple and bananas. Walking home from the office we buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and just about anything else anyone could need, at little stands or grocery stores along the street. We greet nearly everyone we meet and shake hands in firm, warm grips many, many times a day.
Congo is huge, varied, colorful and energizing. For me it is endlessly interesting, often full of intriguing ambiguities and layered complexities. As the old adage says, “the more I learn the less I know.” And I would add: the more I know that I don’t know, the closer I am to useful participation.
If you are interested in these or other MCC assignments please visit MCC’s website at serve.mcc.org.
Service and celebrations in Asia
June 28, 2013
The relationship of Janet and Stan Reedy with MCC spans five decades and several milestone events.
Both Janet and Stan, who attend Shalom Community Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, lived overseas before they were married. So international service with MCC at some point was a given in their minds. When Stan got drafted following his first year of medical internship, that time arrived faster than they may have anticipated.
The Reedys served with MCC in Indonesia, in rural Java, from 1967-1971. Stan worked as a medical doctor, and Janet taught English and helped develop a foster care program. Following their three-and-a-half years in Indonesia, they returned to the States where Stan finished his medical training.
By 1987, Janet and Stan were ready for overseas work with MCC again. They had kept up their contacts in Indonesia, so were initially interested in returning there. However, Janet was offered the position of Thailand Country Representative and Stan the position of Vietnam Representative, both based out of Bangkok. While on their service term in Thailand, the Reedys celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
After the Vietnam War ended, all MCCers had to leave Vietnam and no NGO was permitted to have an office in Vietnam. But in the early 1980s, Louise Buhler, an MCCer, began regularly visiting Vietnam in her work with MCC.
By early 1990, MCC was one of the first NGOs that re-opened offices in Vietnam. At that point, Janet and Stan became Co-Country Representatives for Vietnam and moved from Bangkok to Hanoi.
“Things were very tightly controlled in Vietnam at the time,” said Janet. In fact, an MCC service worker was mysteriously deported after teaching an English class. Remembering the event is still emotional for the Reedys, and for several weeks they lived in fear that they too would be deported.
“We developed a lot of relationships with a lot of different people, especially working in health care and education,” said Stan. “Things began to unfold and more trust was developed.” They completed their term in 1992.
Stan continued to return to Vietnam to do some consulting for MCC over the next several years. “As we approached retirement, we told MCC that we would be available for a short term MCC assignment in Indonesia,” said Janet.
In 2008, they served in Papua, Indonesia for four months, where Janet taught English in a theological school. “It was good for us, because it was a very different view of Indonesia than in Java,” said Janet. “Indonesia is made up of so many different ethnic groups.”
In 2011, the Reedys returned to Vietnam on their own, to see the place where they had served 21 years earlier. “We realized we wanted to see Vietnam again, perhaps for the last time,” said Stan. “We planned a nostalgia trip. We thought it would be our last trip there.”
Little did they know, they would indeed end up in Vietnam again. In April of 2012, they were asked to fill an interim country representative position in Vietnam. “We were really excited,” said Janet. “It didn’t take us very long to say yes.”
So on August 25, 2012, Janet and Stan again found themselves celebrating a milestone anniversary in Asia – this time commemorating 50 years of marriage in Vietnam.
Reflecting back over their service in Vietnam, Stan said, “The providing of hope to people who are in desperate circumstances, that’s one of the real gifts.”
“After the war, Vietnam was isolated,” said Janet. “But MCC hung in there with them. When we visited people, that’s what they said. ‘You did not forget us, and we will not forget that.’”
Their years of service with MCC remain etched in Janet and Stan’s lives as well. “It’s hard to imagine how we would see the world if we hadn’t had these experiences,” said Janet.
Jennifer Steiner is MCC Great Lakes Communications Coordinator.
July 10, 2013
This past year, through the SALT program, I worked as a teacher at Chimwemwe Trust Community School in Lusaka, Zambia. The school is tucked in a low-income, high-density compound and provides education to orphans and vulnerable children.
The educational system in Zambia is in dire condition. Many children are packed into small classrooms that may or may not have a textbook or a teacher. Chimwemwe is a unique school because it offers smaller, more manageable class sizes. This allowed me to be able to connect with many students and hear their fascinating stories.
One student opened up to me about the trial of attaining school fees from her family. I have learned that many female students not only face financial problems but also deal with discrimination due to cultural traditions.
It is a tradition in Zambia for men to pay labola, a large sum of money, to the bride’s family before getting married. Labola was initally intended to repay the family for losing such a valuable person, but today the tradition has lost some of its original intent.
My 15-year-old student told me of how her father is putting pressure on her to find a husband and get married instead of pursuing an education. This bright and eager student had been waiting at home, pleading with her father, for two years until she was able to continue on from seventh to eighth grade. Unfortunately, her father has still refused to pay her school fees for this term. Since Chimwemwe is sponsored by Global Family, it is able to accommodate such situations, although the school still struggles to adequately pay staff.
This year I have had the privilege to work toward seeing justice in the lives of many students at Chimwemwe. It has been a challenging but fulfilling experience.
Learn more about SALT at salt.mcc.org.
Tiffany Ankrom recently finished her MCC service term with SALT (Serving and Learning Together) in Zambia. She attends Hartville Mennonite Church in Hartville, Ohio.
Golden reunions in diamond country
By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
TSHIKAPA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Meetinghouse) – In July, 2012, Ray and Ruth Milhous simultaneously celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and a century of Mennonite presence in what is today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.
Fifty years before, Ray and Ruth Milhous headed for a honeymoon in the tropics – not to glimmering beaches, but to Kalonda where they helped establish a Mennonite mission hospital in a zone of interethnic conflict.
In 1962, the newlyweds were among the first workers placed by MCC in Congo. Ray Milhous, a conscientious objector and a doctor, was given the option of serving in Labrador or Congo.
“I wasn’t a conscientious objector because I wanted to escape danger,” Milhous said. “My colleagues from medical school were being sent to Vietnam, so I knew I had to go to Congo.”
Ruth Milhous, a nurse, wasn’t daunted by her husband’s courageous stance.
“Missionaries have been part of my family tradition for a long time,” she said. “We were taught that we need to be faithful to what God calls us to do and God will take care of the rest.”
At the time of the Milhous couple’s arrival, violence between local ethnic groups and Luba immigrants from the eastern part of the country caused a famine. Belgian rubber and mining companies attracted Luba laborers to the Tshikapa-Kalonda area through well-honed policies intended to incite ethnic rivalries that assured a stream of cheap labor. The Congolese government responded to the bloodshed by dividing the feuding groups and closing the bridge across the Kasai River; established ethnic groups on the Tshikapa side and Luba on the Kalonda side.
Ray and Ruth Milhous said that they didn’t have the training for the responsibilities assigned to them, but, now, they realize that God was able to use their openness to serving despite their inadequacies. As the first medical director (Ray) and the organizer of the maternity and pharmacy (Ruth), the Milhous couple helped to set the tone of the hospital for the years to come. They valued the contribution of each person, no matter what educational level they had attained.
The two years that Ray and Ruth Milhous served in Congo made an impact on how they lived when they returned to the United States.
“Our time in Kalonda changed us,” Ray Milhous said. “We worked at mission awareness in each of the U. S. congregations we have attended. Congo influenced our values, so that we live differently than most North Americans.”
The nearly three-week visit to Congo with 26 delegates from three continents representing seven Mennonite agencies was the most precious gift the Ray and Ruth Milhous could think of to give each other to celebrate their 50 years of marriage and service.
When the Milhous couple walked up the path to attend the graduation ceremony of the Kalonda Bible Institute, they were astonished by warm greetings from René Ntumba, a nurse who had worked alongside them for two years, and another nurse, Mudiandambu, who had repaired Ray’s shoulder that had been dislocated in a bicycle accident nearly 50 years ago.
These sorts of reunions were the highlights of the trip for Ray. What brought Ruth the most joy was again worshiping with her Congolese brothers and sisters.
“After 50 years of difficult life, the vibrancy of the church is a great reminder of God’s faithfulness,” Ruth Milhous said.