KNOXVILLE, TN (July 16, 2015) — When Annika Steib was in fourth grade she heard someone at Portage Lake Bible Camp talk about missions—and she knew right away that she wanted to be a missionary. “I like people, and I like helping them. Since I made that decision, I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things,” she says.
So when her congregation at DeerGrove Covenant Church in Palatine, Illinois, hosted a Hope Sunday to sponsor children through Covenant Kids Congo (CKC), Annika was quick to tell her parents that she wanted to sign up.
Her youth pastor, Alicia Vela, says, “I remember that day and Annika telling me that she wanted to be a missionary. She picked that child. Not many students think like that.”
That was more than two years ago. Annika and her family have been corresponding with eight-year-old Delivrance, who lives in the remote Équateur Province in DR Congo, since then. They knew she had several siblings and they knew her favorite color. “She loves dolls, and she always draws a fish on her note,” Annika says.
But here in Knoxville Annika unexpectedly gained a clearer understanding of what Delivrance’s daily life is like. Step into Congo, one of the experiences offered at CHIC, provides students a glimpse into a day in the life of Congolese people.
“First we took off our shoes,” said Annika, “to walk past our sleeping mat. It’s symbolic of humbling ourselves. Then we had to carry a jerry can to fetch water with broken flip-flops in socks. It was hard.” Her guide explained that a sixteen-year-old student might have to walk two miles to the nearest water source. She might put on her plastic flip-flops for the walk, but if they broke once she reached the well, she’d have to walk the two miles home in broken flip-flops.
“That was the hardest part,” Annika reflected. “The broken flip-flops really caught me off guard. They seem really disposable. We could get those at Old Navy.”
Other steps of the experience included having their hair braided by a friend and a dance lesson and playing drums with other participants Congo style.
At the Lycée Congo, participants learned what it’s like to go to school. Congolese students place a high value on their education because they have to work hard for the opportunity to stay in school. “We got to meet a woman who grew up in Congo. It was so cool to hear about her story. She taught us the French verb aimer, for ‘to love,’” said Annika. Lidia Sanguma, who grew up in Congo and currently lives and works in Minneapolis, was the teacher for the day.
The model school, which was constructed on-site for the event by Scot Gillan, pastor of Naperville (IL) Covenant Church, and Meagan Gillan, women ministries leader for the ECC, replicates schools in Congo like Lycée Vanette School, which is part of the Educate the Girls Project of Covenant Women Ministries. Students had an opportunity to write messages of encouragement to their peers at Lycée Vanette. Many wrote in French, aided by translations made available, saying, “You are loved,” or “We are praying for you!”
Students also were encouraged to take action. Because many phones and laptops are made with conflict minerals from Eastern Congo, students wrote letters to their tech company, asking them to stop fueling war in Congo through the use of such minerals. Katie Isaza, Covenant missionary serving in Colombia, said, “Some students asked if they could write to more than one technology company. In fact, Ella and Megan from Woodbury, Minnesota, took twenty minutes to sit down and write to every company on the list. It was pretty amazing.”
Covenant churches are invited to host a second Hope Sunday for CKC if they’ve already had one. “We need the participation of every single congregation in order to reach our sponsorship goal of 10,000 children,” Christine Buettgen, project manager of CKC, said.
Reflecting on the experience, Annika Steib said, “I saw how life in Congo was really different from my life. Besides loving God, we live in completely different places.”