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Welcoming the Stranger: the Congolese community we could all learn from

Their past was riddled with conflict. Their future is about security and abundance.

Nobody would consider Kakumba an easy place to live. Simply getting to it takes extensive climbing up steep hills and mountain sides, on trails that are often inaccessible due to rain… or worse.

It wasn’t long ago that the conflicts that have plagued many parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) throughout the past decade had also taken root in Kakumba. The effects of poverty worsened the prevalence of violence. Many young men, lacking opportunities and productive activities, were conscripted into armed groups. With farming mostly left to young mothers, desperate measures were taken to try and get a few extra meals out of exhausted land. Farmers cleared forests. People burned land.

The severity of these issues drew Plant With Purpose to DRC five years ago. The remoteness of the location, the recent problems with violence, and the prevalence of forest clearance would pose unique challenges. But thanks to the dedication of our local partners, we saw things in Kakumba change substantially.

After partnering with Plant With Purpose, families in Kakumba were able to reduce the amount of poverty in their area by 57%.

Many were able to go from eating one meal a day to two. The entire watershed experienced improvement through new habits and practices that they’ve been learning.

We knew we were on to something special when on a team visit, community elders told us not to take the moment for granted. “A few years ago, the idea of this group of people and all the groups they represented being in the same room would have been impossible.” It was a miracle that those from the area could appreciate best.

The environmental and financial change in Kakumba would already be good news, but even more incredible has been the amount of spiritual transformation over the past few years. This transformation comes to life in the way the people of Kakumba have responded to neighboring communities.

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The people of Kakumba were able to help 78 displaced families

Families in Kakumba offered shelter and help to strangers arriving in their community.

While things had improved significantly in Kakumba, there were still many challenges lingering in DRC. Conflict still persisted in remote areas where poverty was extreme.

While Kakumba cut its poverty down to a fraction of what it was, other areas saw poverty remain static or slightly increase.

One day, a group of unfamiliar families arrived in Kakumba. After taking count, there were 78 of them in total from other remote parts of the country.

Community leaders reached out to the families. They quickly learned that these were displaced people. The families, including hundreds of children, had to leave their home villages because conflict had threatened their safety.

The people of Kakumba still had considerably modest resources. However, they did not hesitate to do what they could do to help.

Local pastors quickly opened up their churches to help provide shelter for the new arrivals. The community was unified in their attempt to help families reestablish their lives.

They also took a stand against violence worsening. When the older community members encountered young men who had been invited to participate in armed groups, they quickly stepped in to dissuade them. Many of these older adults had once been in armed groups themselves, and were able to talk from experience about the futility and horror of that way of life. Instead they invited them to participate in community groups designed to empower members.

With something more productive to focus on, the appeal of armed groups and conflict dissipated. Community development that empowers its members can be a strong impediment against violence and displacement.

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Hospitality to strangers reflects spiritual growth in Kakumba

The actions of Kakumba’s leaders reflect spiritual transformation

Hebrews 13:2 reads: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” It parallels the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 where He explains that “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me… “ When people asked him, “Lord, when …?” He replied, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The actions of Kakumba’s leaders seem to embody these words very clearly and directly. They also offer an encouraging and challenging example to the rest of Christ’s followers.

The community of Kakumba seemed to have every excuse for not wanting to open up their land. They worked hard to overcome both violence and poverty to become a place of security. There may have been many questions over whether this would create the risk of a return to violence. Could they really vet the arriving families? Families in Kakumba still had limited resources, in spite of the fact that things had improved. Would there be enough food or opportunities to go around for 78 new families?

Would they understand the land management techniques that had helped heal the degraded soil of Kakumba?

As the men and women of Kakumba met to discuss community forest management, they resolved to offer help to the new families. They decided to love their neighbors, while solving their problems. They invited their new neighbors to part of the solution.

Their example reminds us that there are always uncertainties and there are always risks that come up when it comes to loving our neighbors from elsewhere, but the command to love our neighbors anyways will also always be in place.

We are moved and inspired by our partners in DRC. Their example shows us that the outcome we seek goes beyond healed land and reduced poverty. It goes down to the roots of transforming hearts and outlooks.

When communities see abundance, it overflows onto those who are around them. For 78 families fleeing danger, it leads to a new beginning.

To help bring spiritual renewal to a community like Kakumba, while addressing problems like deforestation and poverty follow this link.

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