Reflections From the Congo

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It has been several months now since we returned from Africa. I know that I had planned to write this final reflection within days of returning, but to be honest I was just too tired. I apologize to everyone for that. Since then I’ve had work, school and swimming. And while I’ve had no time to sit down and write this last impression of my summertime Scouting mission, one thing has remained true: it has always been on my mind.

If I’ve found one thing to be constant between all three of my missions, it is that I’ve always felt a desire to do even more; to continue what we started and to “return to the scene of the crime,” so to speak, because God’s work is never truly done on Earth. In this trip in particular, I felt like there was more to do. Originally, we entered the Congo as a team with the idea that we would be setting up a camp for Scouts who had no idea what camp was, and imparting all of our wonderful wisdom to them so that they could simply come back the next year and run camp themselves. In the end, our concept of what we had really been called to do had changed dramatically. As I’ve written before, these Scouts were more than capable of completing skills and organizing themselves. They were intelligent, organized and strong. In working with them, we discovered they really needed something else. They simply needed encouragement and excitement.

As a group, we were there to support our brothers in Africa and to let them know that the fire of Scouting was still burning bright all over the world. These kids lived in a place where even their local Scouting center in Kamina refused to send them supplies and help. There were lots of uniforms and books in Kamina and yet despite all of Tenke’s requests, not a single one was sent out. We needed to ensure them that we cared and so should they, and that even in America, Scouting was very important. We needed to spread scouting throughout the country as well. Our chaplain in the camp was actually not a huge supporter of Scouting, but had agreed to come share the word with us anyway. By the end of the week, he was one of our biggest backers. We’ve heard that since the Jamboree, he has been traveling and spreading the message of Scouting throughout his region. All of these things we definitely accomplished.

We learned something too. In talking with people, we found that our conception of Africa as helpless was completely wrong. These people do not need us to come fix their problems for them. Instead, they need us to come help them fix their problems according to their plans. We can provide the tools and the work, but unless they own the problem and own the fix, it will not last. I think this is something that will be key in my mission efforts going forward. We want to enable the Africans to help themselves. We are not the solutions; we are tools for them to use to make solutions.

Finally, I learned that sometimes you could travel halfway around the world and still really make one of the best impacts back at home. I’ve heard countless times from people who have read my blog posts and have been inspired or motivated themselves. They’ve grown simply as a result of the things that we went through and the difference that we made. Again, thank you to every single person who has read my posts or who helped to make this whole thing possible. You have truly changed lives.

Through all of this, we did still impart some knowledge to the Scouts. Nikki definitely revolutionized their concepts of women in society, and Dave and I were able to teach them newer, more powerful methods of youth leadership. We were there to teach them how to change their leadership to be catalysts for future leaders. We were there to share our expertise in the few areas where they were not yet experts themselves. And in reverse, I think we can learn a LOT from them about being 100% dedicated to Scouting and to truly doing our best.

In the end, I discovered that this mission was not just for me in any way. In fact, it was for the Scouts only. In my past experiences, I have gained something personally from each experience in the way of a spiritual epiphany. In those times, it seemed like the mission was about me. I was constantly searching for that moment on this trip, but it never quite came. I think that this is because I was already spiritually prepared for this journey. This is not at all to say that I didn’t have the time of my life, because I couldn’t be more thankful and overjoyed for the experiences I had! And as I’ve said, I learned SO MUCH, about how to help others in the future, how we can make huge impacts on people everywhere, and how to dedicate myself. The cultural experience was irreplaceable. I’ll never forget the time I played soccer in Africa with the Africans and almost won! The friends I made still put a smile on my face, and I almost tear up thinking about how much I miss them after knowing them just a week. Actually, the personal epiphany comes to me now just as I write this. God works in mysterious ways.

I personally plan to go ahead with my own brand of mission effort. Over time I’ve developed the concept of reaching out to others in Christ through sports. My mission will be the G.A.M.E., or Global Athletic Mission Effort, which will look to instill life lessons and create positive environments for people through sports. I know that the impact of sports on my life has been huge and I want to share this with others. I think that my experiences in Africa will better prepare me for this because I have actually seen what life there is like, and I have a more concrete grasp on the most effective way to help people and to reach out to what they need.

With Scouting, there is always hope. And with us, these Scouts could truly see that. As a group, we realized that as missionaries we would go to the ends of the earth just because. We need to real reason, we need to incentive or money or prize. We just need to know that we made a difference for one person. That’s why I can rest easy when I think of this trip. As my pastor put it one time, “if we give money to 10 beggars and 9 of them were cons, we still helped one person and that makes all the difference in the world. “While I always want to go back and do more, what we did still makes all the difference. What you did to support us was key. Again, THANK YOU ALL.

-Mitch

Photos From The Congo

For those of you following along who were anxious for a few images from Mitch’s trip to the Congo, here you are! If you’re just now reading through the blog posts from the summer, be sure to start at the beginning of Mitch’s journey by reading his first post.

We’d like to thank Mitch for his contributions to the blog this summer. Without his vision, dedication and perseverance we would not have had the pleasure of following along on his journey and learning of the impact that he helped make in Congolese Scouting.

Photo of camp. On the left is the school where the kids stayed. In the middle is the flag pole, the “headquarters” for the adults (which they did Scoutcraft behind) and the kitchen near where they camped.

Mitch and the SPL, after exchanging neckerchiefs.

Mitch with several of the older Scouts after the first church service. Taken outside the DS house.

 

 

Last Day in the Congo

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It’s Thursday, and it’s nearly time to go home. Wow, I can’t believe that happened so quickly! And yet, with all of the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had, it almost seems like I’ve been here all summer. In fact, we have been here in Lubumbashi an extra two days as a result of construction on the airport runway. It turns out the the airport had scheduled construction three days a week, but forgot to tell the airlines that they would be shutting down the airport for this construction. So the airlines sold us tickets for days that the airport wouldn’t be open…We did get replacement tickets though, and we are heading out tomorrow! Our plane leaves around 1:00, I think. With the camp over, Monday in Tenke went quickly. David, Nikki, and I slept through breakfast until around 11:00, because sleep had been hard to come by and walking everywhere had been hard to avoid the past week.
Plus, the night before we had stayed up late watching the World Cup Final at the DS house. That was a really fun experience! There was a projector out back onto a big whitewashed wooden screen behind the church, and the congregation was all out there watching together. So after we woke up on Monday, we had lunch and then walked around Tenke. David, Nikki, and I had already been on a tour of the small town with our interpreter/friends Joseph and Douce when we first got here, but Art and Fred had been checking out the camp at that time. Before the tour, however, we stopped in to the Tenke village Chief’s office. This was another big deal for us, because he was the most senior leader of the town we had just spent a week serving. He was a very nice man, and he gave us his phone number, saying we should call him if we ever needed anything. Basically it was a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The walk through town was very nice, and then we headed back to the guest house to organize our things so we could be ready to go Tuesday morning. We would be leaving Tenke at 7 in the morning. The rest of the night went very well, dinner was delicious as usual, and we went to bed early. Tuesday morning was bittersweet, as we would be leaving behind all of our friends and wonderful hosts. Amos, the DS son and the goalie for the soccer team I played on, gave me one more present so that I “could always be saved in heaven”. I gave him a big hug. He was a great guy, and I could see him doing a lot for the Scouts there. We loaded into two taxi vans, one for us and one for our stuff, and then went down the dirt roads out of town to the place where the bus would be picking us up, about 6-7 km away.
The bus back to Lubumbashi takes about 3 hours, so I had a lot of time to think on the way back. I thought about what we did, about what I learned from everything, and about my own mission efforts in the future and what I can do down the road. I had plans for my own mission organization already, but I think I got some valuable lessons from my experience in the Congo to help guide me. It was nearly lunch time when we got to Lubumbashi, so naturally the first thing we did was search out the closest pizza place in town. It was the same one we had been to with Bishop Ntambo on our first day in Lubumbashi, and it was even more delicious this time. We went back to the guest house after that and crashed for a while before we heard that the Bishop was actually on his way over to see us! He was only there for about 5 minutes, but it was really nice to see a friendly familiar face again (we were being taken care of by Baba Innocent, who had been with us in Tenke the whole time as a translator and is a wonderful friend, but we hadn’t seen the Bishop in a week and he is such a great guy). We told him we had gotten pizza for lunch again, because we really liked it, and he thought that was funny. I guess he really took it to heart though, because he told us that he couldn’t eat with us tonight but he would have someone bring us food, and sure enough there was more pizza for us when we came into the kitchen for dinner! After we were stuffed again, we played some euchre and went to bed.
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Govenor Moise

Wednesday was a pretty busy day for us. When we met the governor back on our first or second day, he had invited us to come to his personal park sometime after our mission before we left for home, so we had scheduled to do that Wednesday. Originally, we would have been boarding our plane Wednesday, but the delay meant we didn’t get on until Friday. The park was about 30 minutes outside of Lubumbashi, although when we asked Baba Innocent where we were, he told us it was still a part of the city. That’s why Lubumbashi is the second biggest city in a country that is as big as the U.S. east of the Mississippi. Being at the park was an unsettling experience. As it sounded, this really was the governor’s “private” park, and there was no one else there visiting or walking around. We got a personal tour of his vast land on an open safari Hummer, and saw all sorts of exotic animals roaming. The thing that bothered me so much was the stark contrast between the park and the town we had only just left yesterday. I had gotten so used to seeing people everywhere, and to a general level of poverty that appeared commonplace in Tenke. But here in this park, the governor was having a new swimming pool built just to entertain his other equally rich friends and politicians. There was even a road that we took on the safari which ran along the border of the park. There was a wire fence indicating the edge of the park, and on the other side was another road that was used for the maize workers and their trucks. We saw the maize fields, and we saw women and men bent over harvesting the maize with torn clothes and dirt in their hair, as we drove by in extreme comfort. It was a wake up call, another example (just as the mine had been) of the true wealth of this country versus the real life that it lives.
Something needs to change for these people so that they can all have the standard of living they deserve. So with all of that in mind, we traveled back to the guest house to hang out for the rest of the night. We made our own dinner that night, which was really good, played more euchre and up-and-down-the-river, a card game Art taught us, and then went to bed. Today was our last full day in Africa, and so we had decided to spend it walking all up and around Lubumbashi to do a little shopping for souvenirs. I had a few specific things on my list, which included different malachite items, a T.P. Mazembe soccer jersey (Lubumbashi’s soccer team, of which Gov. Moise is actually the president!), and an authentic African shirt. We found all sorts of stores and shops and roadside stands to chose from, which was an experience within itself. I actually was able to make a pretty good bargain on some malachite figurines, which I was proud of! I got the guy to go from asking for $10 for one figurine to $5 for two! I also got some rolls of cloth, which Innocent said we could take to the Methodist Center downtown to have hand tailored into cloth.
On the way there, however, we ran into some trouble. As we were standing in a group waiting to cross the road, three or four African men surrounded us and started jostling into us. Amid the confusion, one of them tried to pick-pocket Art. At the time, however, Art had already identified the situation and was reaching for his wallet to protect it anyway, so he felt the man’s hands in his pocket. He was able to grab his wallet back, and we hurried into the Methodist center. We were all a little shaken by the experience, for us because we had been so used to the wonderful hospitality and honesty in Tenke, and for Innocent because he was in charge of making sure we all stayed safe. It was definitely a wake up call to the way that real life in a struggling city could be. We had already been robbed earlier that day by a bank teller during a currency exchange, and lost around $200. But I was still determined to finish shopping and simply see the city, so we ventured out again after leaving the cloth to be tailored and kept having our adventure.
By the end of the time, we were all back at the guest house safely, but David and I had to go back out to pick up our shirts. It was getting close to dark, and we took Baba Innocent with us. The trip to the Methodist Center was uneventful, but when we got there our shirts weren’t ready yet. In Lubumbashi, and almost anywhere in Africa, the power is less than unreliable and the tailors had been unable to operate their sewing machines for much of the day. We sat and waited for nearly an hour before finding out that only two shirts were done, and we would need to come back the next morning for the other two. Innocent said he would take care of that since we would be getting ready to catch our flight.
By this time, it was night, and the lights were on in the city. It was a really cool night life atmosphere, so David was taking some pictures. I had left my phone back at the guest house to charge. Halfway back, he took a picture of a supermarket, and as we crossed the street we were immediately stopped by two men. They explained themselves to be government intelligence agents, and they talked with Innocent for at least 10 minutes. In the end, he explained to us that we were about two blocks from the governor’s place, and it is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, so we were being accused of being spies. It was totally ridiculous, and we had no proof they were even government agents, but I wasn’t in a position to argue. These men were very aggressive. They then explained that our choices were to either be arrested, or to pay them $50 and give them David’s iPhone. Innocent was highly annoyed, and argued our way out of it, thankfully! In the end, it cost me all of the money I had in my pocket (about $5), and we had to delete the picture in front of them. I don’t think we were ever going to be arrested, firstly because we were on a mission from the governor, who personally knew us, and secondly because they really just wanted money. But it was frightening, and another wake-up call. We are back now though, and safe, and ready to leave.
I’ve loved Africa, but it may take a little bit before I’m ready to come back. Maybe that’s just the feelings I have now after our two harrowing experiences today, who knows. But no matter how much love I have for Tenke and the people there, my home will always be in the U.S.A. I’m an American boy at heart, born and raised in the Midwest. It’s wild that we will actually be leaving here tomorrow though. I’ll be reflecting on it all the way home, and writing one more post when we get back. It’s been great. Everyone here, from the Bishop to the DS to our translators, Innocent, Nhoris, Douce, and Joseph, to the Scouts and the people themselves, has been so nice to us. The Congo needs a lot of help. There is a lot wrong here that shouldn’t be. But it has unstoppable potential, too. I really pray that it finds that physical and intellectual wealth very, very soon.
From Africa, one last time
-Mitch and the DRC crew

Moviemaking Highlights Week 3 at Ransburg

Week three of camp at Ransburg Scout Reservation shows off all of the water activities that the camp has to offer. In addition, the archery program gets quite a plug and Scouts share about their favorite counselors, various merit badges, FireCrafter, robotics and leather work!

 

 

Parents of Boy Scouts Enjoy Summer Camp

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I have been active with my son’s Boy Scout troop, Troop 199, since he started in 2012. I may have been a little hesitant in the beginning to get involved, only because I didn’t know anything about Scouting. My husband went to all the Cub Scout meetings and I only went to the ceremonies when my son earned an award or to the Blue & Gold ceremonies. As a girl, I was a Brownie for a short time, mostly because we didn’t do anything “fun”. I remember going to the parent meetings for Troop 199 and telling my husband that I would only go the first campout, I wasn’t going to go to all of the campouts, I wasn’t going to volunteer and be involved with the troop, and I most definitely was not going to buy and wear the uniform! Well, I learned very quickly, never say “never.”

I now do everything that I said I never was going to do! I enjoy the adults in our troop, and most importantly I enjoy the Scouts – learning from them and watching them grow individually and together as a whole. I camp monthly with the troop and have only missed a few camping trips and have been to every summer camp so far. This year, Troop 199 went out of council for summer camp, to Camp Buffalo in Monticello, Ind., which is part
of the Sagamore Council. We left on Sunday morning with 106 Scouts and 16 adults; four of which were females. Once we arrived at camp, the gear was unloaded and the Scouts set up their hammocks and shelters for the week long visit. We also had a few shelters and large tents for those who did not want to sleep in hammocks.

It would seem that with that many Scouts who heavily outnumber the adults, there would be chaos during setup; but it is a well orchestrated plan that is done quickly. Scouts jumped into action and knew what needed to be done. The older Scouts helped the younger Scouts and adults pitched in as needed. Everyone, Scouts and adults, had a chore during the week. Scouts and adults both served as hoppers, some cleaned the showers, some passed out mail, some took care of trash, some handled Scout medication and some directed the showers (much like a traffic cop!). Others were in charge of the money for the trading post. I know I have missed some of the other chores, but it is something to watch all of this come together and work throughout the week.

It was hard to believe that it was mid-July. The temperatures were so low. During the day it was under 80 degrees and at night, under 60 most. We wore our sweatshirts during the day – in July!! Our troop was the largest troop, which is usually the case, so we had several campsites to accommodate everyone. Because there were only four females we had a campsite to ourselves. But, we held several meetings with the other adults around the
campfire ring where we did everything from just hanging out and talking to providing updates on what was needed. During the day, the adults would find things to occupy their time and if we were at the trading post long enough, we would see Scouts from our troop come through.

On Monday, we had a nice long, rainstorm; long enough to keep everyone in a shelter until it passed. I, along with another adult, happened to be at the trading post when it started to rain. Before we knew it, there were at least 20 other Scouts taking shelter with us. There were various aged Scouts including a younger Scout who was very concerned about the weather. The other Scouts took notice of this and made sure to make the younger Scout feel more comfortable and help take his mind off of the storm. Trust and friendships were formed that day and what a great way to get to know Scouts – just hanging out talking about life!

Camp Buffalo has a large campsite, 500 acres and has plenty to offer. Several adults took advantage of riding an ATV during the last day of the merit badge class. Also, because the Tippecanoe River runs along the camp, canoeing and tubing were offered as activities to the adults. I, along with two other adults, took advantage of the leather works shop. I was impressed with how easy I could make something out of leather! Earlier in the week, I attempted to wrap a couple of bottles with paracord. The first bottle was a challenge, as I couldn’t remember what direction the paracord was supposed to go, maybe with practice I’ll get it! The second bottle was much easier to remember which direction to wrap, so I haven’t entirely ruled out using paracord.

Summer Camp is also an opportunity for Scouts to advance in rank. That meant that we held about 30 boards of review for Scouts during the evening. Talking to Scouts is an chance to learn more about them while offering valuable tools for success. During summer camp, we always offer the Scouts the opportunity to earn Camper, Woodsman or FireCrafter. The Sagamore Council does not currently have a FireCrafter program, but we had several Firecrafters in our troop and were able to offer it to the Scouts interested. That being said, we had eight Firecrafter candidates that completed their requirements during summer camp. And, our Scoutmaster was presented with a Sagamore Council FireCrafter belt buckle by the staff at Camp Buffalo during the closing campfire on Friday.

The staff at Camp Buffalo were very friendly and excited, from the time we pulled into camp until we left. You would not know that our week with them was their last week at camp, you would have thought it was their first. This was my third summer camp and each year I am amazed at how well run
and how fun camp is. This was by far the best summer camp yet and words simply cannot explain it. I have five more years until my son ages out to experience summer camp again! Did I mention that I barely saw my son at camp? He was so busy having fun that I only saw him in passing and took just one picture of him. That is the way camp is supposed to be – having fun, learning and building friendships.

-Jennifer

Thank You – Mitch & The DRC Crew

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Hey America!

Thank you so much again for following along during my journey to the Congo. I really hope that everyone has been gaining something from reading my posts. I apologize for not sending the last few posts in time, and I know that is not very good of me at all. I have had a tough time readjusting to my work schedule. Copying the blogs from my personal journal to a computer has been tough, but I’m getting caught up again! There should be two more posts on their way at some point soon! Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you want an almost play-by-play account of our trip, head on over to Art’s blog: http://aefenglommung.livejournal.com/. He does an incredible job of documenting our trip in 7 separate posts, pictures included. There are so many perspectives on our trip, and so much that happened that one blog is never enough to do the experience justice. I can’t wait to send the rest of my thoughts soon, so we can finish this journey together! Have an awesome day, everyone! I’ll talk soon.

-Mitch