Pastor Bugota and the realities of suffering and hope.

July 25th, 2015 Posted by Immersion Internship - 2015

In our world full of disasters, fallouts and conflicts, it can be difficult to know quite how to respond. A ten-minute perusal of a news website’s ‘World’ section can have people, at least me, totally overwhelmed by everything that’s going on. Where does an individual begin to pray or do something about all of this? Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of charities compete for our attention, loyalty and resources. They use everything available – clothing, media, even blogging interns, to make you aware of their cause and why it’s worth your precious time of day. There are certainly exceptions, but I have to believe that most of them go to such great lengths because they truly have been given a passion and drive for the work that they do. They believe in the cause enough to commit to and sacrifice for it – easy money can be made elsewhere.

My first semester at Wheaton, I wrote a research paper exploring how rhetoric is used in documentaries about third world Africa. It probably wasn’t very good, and I still have room for improvement, but I put in what I thought was a lot of time and effort uncovering how filmmakers use their craft to convince an audience that a certain issue matters enough for them to get involved. Think along the lines of Kony 2012. One of that film’s strongest attributes was that it made the viewer feel like he or she had a personal, relational connection to the violence in Uganda, and therefore a responsibility to get involved and ‘stop’ it. While we must be wary of those who would use this device to manipulate us on a large scale and misuse our allegiance, it’s tough to deny the truth in their message – that we as members of the human race, and privileged ones at that, cannot turn a blind eye to the pain and injustice experienced today, even if it’s far off or doesn’t directly impact our lives. It’s precisely that distance which softens our response and prevents us from acting on what we hear about, and it’s for this reason that activists try to bring issues close to home.

Over what’s become a little more than two months, my heart has gradually come to see Livingstone, Zambia as home. That calls for a disclaimer. The rush I feel when I imagine being reunited with my parents or my people at Wheaton is enough to show that I’m in a season of life where I have several homes, and it’s perpetually difficult only ever being able to be in one physical place. But even as we spend two weeks doing outreach work in Kalungu village, close to Isoka in Zambia’s Northern Province, our team is recognizing how our return to the base in Livingstone will feel like a homecoming. The crazy thing about this is while we’re comfortable at the base, what has really become home for us is our community – this small team of young adults that hasn’t been separated since the summer’s beginning. This will obviously make our rapidly approaching departure and separation all the more difficult. All this to say, my time here has brought issues I used to think of as far away past my doorstep, to the very bunk bed next to mine.

Our outreach in Kalungu Village has been in conjunction with FCE (Foundation of Cross-Cultural Education), a ministry that’s doing God’s work all over Southern Africa. Much of what they do involves sustainability and using agriculture to empower communities to attain higher standards. A huge part of this is mission and discipleship education that sends people out to do such work in their own settings. Doing life alongside the guys and girls enrolled at the Kalungu base has been an interesting experience as our EXP team compares their way of doing things with our own. We both have plenty to learn from each other, which epitomizes the value of relationships, especially cross-cultural ones. Because of the brevity of our time together, I haven’t strained myself to bond with each and every FCE student, but I do want to tell you about one of my new friends.

When our bus rolled in at three AM last Saturday morning, the welcoming committee had dwindled to three for obvious reasons. We were served dinner and quickly sent to bed. As we tossed our bags on the floor and sleepily claimed our bunks, Pastor Bugota, an elderly man in yellow flannel pj’s, rolled out of bed and shook each of our hands with a deep sense of hospitality and respect. Following our personal introduction, he animatedly told me how much he had been looking forward to meeting someone named William, and that goofy interaction has been the starting platform for a deep relationship with one of the wisest, most interesting men I’ve come across this summer.

FCE has kept us remarkably busy during almost all hours of the day, but I’ve done my best to capitalize on fifteen minute breaks in our schedule, as well as mealtimes, to sit with Pastor Bugota and gather bits and pieces of his story and the lessons he’s learned along the way. For whatever reason, we’ve hit it off from the start, and his presence has daily provided me with a fullness of life that can only come from Christ in both of us. In a time of life when most of my relationships, both here and at school, are with twenty-something’s still trying to find sense or direction in life, it’s been richly rewarding to be around one whose memories and tales go back decades before I was born.

Bugota has been a pastor in the Democratic Republic of Congo since his early adult life. Throughout that time, his nation has been one of violence and civil unrest. Consequently, he shepherds a flock that is intimate with death, suffering and grief. Many have fled as refugees, to the point where it seems like there aren’t any peaceful people left in the country. Yet Pastor Bugota remains faithful to the Lord, patiently waiting for the day when it’s safe for him and his people to return home. It’s the same somber, realistic hope we read about in Jeremiah’s account of a people scattered and longing to come back together. This great, real, living hope is alive in Bugota’s eyes when he speaks of this, so much that, though I’m not adequately informed on the situation in the DRC, I believe my friend when he says that there will be peace. It’s this sort of relational closeness, though, that makes me eager to learn more about that conflict and be in constant prayer for this man and his congregation.

Without the genuine relationships that Pastor Bugota pursues with every moment of his life, this man’s story and advocacy might fail to stick with me or anyone else. I don’t think my calling is to the DRC. In fact, I’m rather sure that I’ll make the States home while returning here every once in a while. But Pastor Bugota has taught me lessons about how I view and interact with the world around me, near and far, that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, wherever I go. I pray that you share in my learning this summer, but also that the Lord causes your paths to cross with people different from yourself to teach you lessons of your own.

William McCauley • 2015 International Immersion Intern