Friday, June 20, 2008

Swimming for Waku Kungo

Swimming the English Channel is a difficult challenge. But it is nothing compared to the challenges that the vast majority of people in Angola face on a daily basis. I will be swimming not only for myself, but for the church and the children in Waku Kungo. (This post gets a little long, so before I lose you, I invite you to donate here - through the green button on the left side of that page.)

It is, admittedly, something of an indulgence to attempt a Channel swim. It will take hundreds of hours of training and thousands of dollars. That is time, energy and treasure that could well be directed toward something that is a little (or a lot) less about me. When I swim the Channel, however, it will be part of a three month time of personal and professional renewal. As scheduled when I was called six years ago, I will be taking a sabbatical from my ministry at Second Congregational United Church of Christ. During this extended time away, I will engage in worship, service and play - all key elements of deep personal and spiritual renewal. The time of renewal will allow me to begin a new chapter in my service to my church, and remain vital for long term ministry at Second Con. The experience of pastors and churches through the years has shown that this kind of renewal is tremendously valuable for both the pastor and the church. So, while I don't discount the "indulgence" aspect of this, I see my Channel swim more as a "gift" that am receiving from God and my congregation: a gift for which I am tremendously grateful.

Through some serious work I did for my Doctor of Ministry degree, I discovered that the Bible has a vision of how God's people best experience true renewal: worship, service, and play. The Sabbath is a weekly day of renewal, and those three things are what the Sabbath is really all about. As sort of a "super-Sabbath," worship, service, and play also are key to what a sabbatical is all about.

As a way to experience a deep and faithful type of renewal I wanted to make service to others a key part of my sabbatical. So with my Channel swim I will be raising money to build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola.

I first visited Angola in 2005 as part of a "relationship building" trip with the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ (our regional grouping of UCC churches). We have an ongoing partnership with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (or IECA, pronounced YAY-ka). During that trip I saw first hand what amazing faith and joy the people of IECA have in the midst of economic and social challenges that most of us cannot imagine.

Angola suffered through a horrific civil war (what other kind of civil war is there?) from 1975-2002. It was based in an internal fight for power as colonial Portuguese rule came to end, and inflamed by the involvement of the Soviet Union and the United States. It was a hot-spot in the euphemistically named "Cold War." It may have been "cold" for us. But millions of people died because of it.

In 2002 the civil war ended. Ironically, the "wrong side" won (the side supported by the Soviets early on - although in the 27 years of the conflict the politics of the whole thing changed several times), but Angola came out of it with a free market economy and a (marginally) democratic government. Since 2002, the country has begun to make economic progress, but the vast majority of people live in what we would call "poverty." For them, it is just everyday life, and nearly everyone around them faces the same situation. The average family income (which is skewed because of a wide gap between rich and poor and a very small middle class) is about $3000 U.S. dollars (that's actual purchasing power). And that is with no government social support. Just try to imagine meeting every need of a family on $3000.

Because of my 2005 trip and our ongoing relationship I knew I wanted to devote the service part of my sabbatical to the social ministry that IECA is doing. They do so much with so little. In conversation with IECA leaders, and following their lead, we decided that the funds I raise would go to build a school in Waku Kungo. In their social ministry IECA places a huge emphasis on education, realizing that education is critically important in both personal and economic development. Waku Kungo is one of the most under served areas in which IECA is active. Children in Waku Kungo now learn in a "building" of mud blocks and a grass roof. They have no educational materials: no books, desks, paper, pencils. And the kids who face these conditions are the lucky ones. Many, many children get no schooling at all. By building a new building, of better materials and larger size, the church will be able to accommodate many more children and provide a much more positive environment for learning for these children who eagerly long to learn.

You can help make their dream of a new school building a reality by contributing now (through the green button on the left side of that page).

Come back soon for more information about the challenge of swimming the English Channel.