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Short term mission trips can make use of some surprising skills.
Christine Kennedy, a member of Brookhill Wesleyan Church, found that the skills she employs with Lynchburg's chamber of commerce were helpful. Kennedy runs Leadership Lynchburg.
"I went over there and taught on leadership," she said, referring to her first trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2003.
Along with doing that, she caught a vision for a local dream. Some folks in one village, Likasi, took her to a hill and told her they wanted to build a school there. Kennedy thought it would be impossible, but she came home and shared her photos ? and the Africans' dream.
"We started providing long-term support," Kennedy said. "They caught the vision with me."
Brookhill provided $24,000 in support money. It doesn't sound like much, but it allowed people in the dusty African village to build a small brick school. It isn't big, and the interior is spartan, but the village's children had no source of formal education before it was built.
The school opened in 2006 and Kennedy went back last summer to see it.
"It was very rewarding to see something big done there," she said.
French is Congo's official language for government purposes and the school was named Ecole Primaire Christine Kennedy (Christine Kennedy Primary School). The school's director, Mukenge Kabela read a proclamation in her honor when she got there.
The school consists of grades one through four. It has 208 students and has a faculty consisting of one director and four teachers.
Kennedy has a continuing vision for the school. An additional $5,000 will allow them to build two more classrooms. This would accommodate 200 more students. She said that this is an investment in something that the recipients will use long term. It's going to bear fruit in a decade or so when these small children become adults.
"It's about helping them do it themselves," she said.
Kennedy was impressed by the people she met. In addition to French, there are a number of tribal languages spoken. She said that between five and 12 tribal languages are used in the area where she was. This means that the people she met could speak more than one language.
"You feel so stupid because they know at least two or three languages," she said. "You feel so uneducated because you only know one."
Kennedy's first trip to Congo came about when she joined her church's missions committee. She wanted to go, but wasn't sure what she would do. A missions speaker visiting the church suggested that she could use her skills to help with organization.
Her husband was a bit skeptical of the wisdom of going there.
"My husband said, 'You do know there's a war there'," she recalled.
This was her first trip out of the country, other than trips to resorts. Likasi was not a resort. A 21-hour flight, not counting layovers, took them to Zambia. From there, it was a five hour drive, across the border, into Congo and to their destination. That five hour drive covered only 150 miles, but the roads didn't allow for fast travel. They were mostly dirt and the paved sections had potholes that were like lunar craters.
"A pothole here is not a pothole," Kennedy commented.
The slow travel gave her plenty of time to view the landscape. In the area where she went, it consisted of tall grass with scattered trees. She saw villages with thatched roofed clay huts, but not much wildlife.
"I wanted to see big game," she said. "All I saw was a goat."
She saw lots of children. The village that she visited rarely sees foreigners. Her camera made her a big hit with the kids.
"Once word got out that I had a camera, kids came from everywhere," Kennedy recalled.
Some of the children had never seen themselves, other than their reflection in water. Nobody had mirrors, so seeing themselves in photos on Kennedy's digital camera was a real treat.
The village men work in mines, leaving at the beginning of the week and coming home on weekends. She often saw 100 men riding a small bus. In addition to riding inside, some were riding on the roof.
Some had bicycles.
"There would be two or three men on that bicycle," she said. "Along with that, they would have a goat strapped to it."
She would also constantly see people carrying loads.
"The women could walk with 50 pounds balanced on their heads without touching the basket," she said.
The first trip was a life changing experience for her. She said that after that trip, she decided never to travel to a resort again. She also stays in communication with some of the Congolese people she met. Major cities have Internet cafes and this allows her and these African friends to exchange e-mail. They communicate via a missionary who translates their e-mails from French into English and her e-mails from English into French.
Kennedy plans to return. She said that there is a huge surge of micro-enterprise in Africa and the Wesleyan Church has done a good job identifying opportunities.
The trips also gave her a chance to bring back some special items, African coffee and chocolate. The shrub that produces coffee beans is actually native to Africa and Kennedy said the chocolate she bought in Zambia was top grade.