The days have been full and they have been long. Building a relationship with the locals can be such a blessing some days and draining the other days. African culture is almost completely the opposite of American culture at times. So just when Rew and I are ready to give each other a pat on the back for “cultural sensitivity,” we realize that there’s a whole lot more to learn: from handshakes to dressing to basic table etiquette. Creating a healthy relationship with the locals is so key to a long term work.
All over Africa there are different languages, dialects, etc. But so far, the only word I have noticed that remains the same through all languages is "myzungo". Myzungo means white man or person with light skin. It is no respecter of culture, or education, or wallet. It is blanket statement to everyone. There are two things you need to know about a myzungo, since most of you who are reading this are in fact “myzungo”. All myzungos are rich and all myzungos are powerful. Breaking this stereotype is probably one of the hardest obstacles missionaries face. A healthy relationship means getting past the idea the myzungo stereotype. Many Congolese pastors that mean to be pure hearted still find themselves hoping we’ll be able to pay for some church projects.
On our part, we’ve had to be genuine and loving but very stern at the same time. Getting the point across that there are no free rides, we are here for sustainability, not relief. Too often western missionaries have put a band aid over the gaping wound of Africa. We can’t allow our emotions to contribute to these poorly put on band aids.
The other day Andrew made this point very clear at a large gathering by explaining, “If I give you a biscuit today, what will you need tomorrow? Another biscuit… What happens when I run out of biscuits? We are all out of luck. I will fail you, because I can’t provide for the needs of the DRC. But God is your provider and I can direct you to him.”
It was so crazy, because after he was done teaching—It was like a revelation had taken place in the crowd. They all began rejoicing that they need not have faith in the myzungo, but in God. The gathering became a large prayer meeting. Evidentially there had been rumors being disbursed in the church about us giving things away to accomplish evil things. By Andrew saying simply, “We have nothing to give you but the word of God,” it disbursed ALL rumors.
When we told some of our colleagues that we would begin working in the DRC, one of them said… “You’ve seen that Zambians are beggars, Congolese are demanders. They will demand that you give them what they want.” I see how that can be said, but God has given us confidence in Gospel. That it is what needs to go forth first, not handouts: only then can we create a lasting relationship with the locals. Please pray that we can stay consistent and loving, continuing to build upon the relationships we are making with pastors, leaders and fellow aid workers.