By Frank Ramirez and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
“Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you”— Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”
For the first time during the week at NOAC the fog usually hovering over Lake Junaluska cleared quickly, before the sun rose over the mountains. Around 120 Brethren gathered to walk around the lake early that Thursday morning–together with those who were seen on the path beside them, and together with those who were unseen among the Twa people in the Great Lakes region of Africa. It was an opportunity to go to “outside” places where life is going on in earnest.
The walk sponsored and organized by Brethren Benefit Trust raised $5,960 to support Brethren work in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to offer Twa, or Batwa, young people an education and a lease on a new way of living.
True, the two-and-a-half mile walk did put a few steps on an activity tracker, or worked off some calories from the excellent meals and ice cream socials served up at NOAC. But if Brethren are known for their love of ice cream and good conversation, we also find it natural to use exercise as an opportunity to support a ministry of service in the name of Jesus.
The Twa people, sometimes referred to as Pygmies and often misunderstood and mis-characterized, traditionally have been hunter-gatherers living in the forests of central Africa. In recent years they have seen their habitats and traditional livelihoods destroyed by deforestation and development, have suffered from wars and violence, and have been persecuted. They often are excluded from social services and educational opportunities afforded others in the countries where they live.
Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC
Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service is working cooperatively with emerging Brethren churches and Brethren-related nonprofits in Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC to provide aid and educational opportunities to the Twa.
In Rwanda, the work is led by church leader Etienne Nsanzimana. Church of the Brethren mission workers Christine and Josiah Ludwick, who with their two children recently returned to the US from a term of service among the Rwandan Brethren, also made the Batwa a special priority. The program is seeking to graduate three people from university–the first Batwa in the country to attain university degrees. The three students receive $1,200 per year, for a total budget of $3,600.
In Burundi, donations from the walk will help provide education and meals for Batwa students in a program hosted by THARS () with leadership from David Nyonzima. that costs a little more than $5,600 per year. That current budget provides 50 children with 180 meals over the course of the year, plus administrative costs. The program is carried out by THARS () with leadership from David Nyonzima.
In the DRC, the Shalom Ministry for Reconciliation and Development led by Ron Lubungo, who also is a leader for the Congolese Brethren, is supporting the attendance of Batwa children at primary school. The project involves helping 28 Batwa students pay for school fees, school uniforms and shoes, and school supplies like notebooks, pens, and briefcases. The students are among the Batwa most affected by poverty in Ngovi, in the province of South Kivu. Total budget for the project for a year is a little over $3,000.
“Our program is still small and we could grow it if we had more funds,” says Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer. The NOAC walk has contributed half of the $12,000 he is seeking per year to keep the program going.