Fourteen years ago, a partnership between Fellowship Missionary Church (FMC) in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and World Relief began. In 2005, no one could have predicted the transformational power this relationship would have. Today, it couldn’t be clearer that God was at work in majestic ways.
In 2005, FMC was spending time intentionally reflecting on the ways they could live “as everyday missionaries” in their communities, looking for an opportunity to say ‘YES’ to something bigger than their imaginations. An answer to prayer, it wasn’t long before that opportunity came in the form of a man named Pastor Marcel. At a meeting of church partners, Pastor Marcel shared about the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sadly, the instability of the region and sheer scale of suffering made it a high-risk choice for sustainable partnerships and Congo was frequently passed over again and again in favor of more stable African nations. As FMC’s now Senior Pastor Joe John listened to Marcel, his heart broke for this fragile nation and the intensity of its suffering. And in the familiar stirring of his heart, he recognized his church’s calling and said ‘YES’.
Fourteen years ago, no one could have predicted the power of that small three letter word and yet God grew the power of that ‘YES’ from mustard seed to mountain. Through 24-hour prayer vigils, an annual “Race for Peace: Congo” and a cross-country bike ride, FMC transformed its congregation, engaging and mobilizing their church family in passionate, sacrificial acts of generosity year after year after year. With the support of FMC, World Relief launched its peacebuilding program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009, which now consists of over 1000 village peace committees across the country.
But this was just the beginning.
As the relationship between World Relief and FMC flourished, so did the church’s desire to do more. In October of 2017, a small team traveled to Congo alongside Pastor Marcel to learn about World Relief’s work with victims of sexual and gender-based violence and the trauma healing program. Deeply moved by what they saw, the team began to wrestle with how God might be calling them to respond. Four months later, Steps4Healing was born—to the incredible tune of an $80,000 Christmas offering.
The following summer on June 4, 2018, FMC launched a 14-week summer campaign for trauma healing in Congo called Steps4Healing. The goal? For the congregation to take a cumulative 100 million steps between June and September. Everyone who signed up to participate was given a t-shirt, step counters and instructions on how they could log their steps online. They were also given toolkits with sample fundraising letters and ideas to help them raise money. Every week FMC published a new devotional to think and pray on, including stories from Congo, as well as publishing a Steps4Healing prayer guide that asked God to restore communities suffering from trauma—with an emphasis on Congo and Ft. Wayne itself. Over 400 members of the congregation signed up.
On Sunday, Sept 9, 2018, the campaign culminated in a 5k prayer walk with police escort through downtown Ft. Wayne. It was a cold, rainy day but that did not stop them. As they walked, they distributed flyers to let neighbors know what was going on and what Steps4Healing was all about—raising awareness of the suffering in Congo and inviting neighbors and community members to church. Following the walk, a vibrant festival of food, music and prayer continued. A wall of photos of beneficiaries and their stories from World Relief’s trauma healing program was on display, as well as a gallery with artist contributions for purchase. World Relief’s Country Director from Congo, Jean, spent time speaking to the congregation and answering questions about the trauma healing program in Congo. He thanked people for their vision of what could be—for their sacrifice, generosity and hope.
Here, Director of Care and Social Services, Becky Baker, answers some questions about FMC’s journey with World Relief:
Tell us about your goals and hopes for your church and community?
Our community is really special. It’s got so much to offer many people, and yes, it’s beautiful. But it’s also a really hard community to live in. We live on a side of town that lots of people have left. There’s a lot going on here, a lot of violence. And our church is very diverse—racially, culturally and economically. When we first got involved with peacebuilding, we wanted people to be praying for peace for communities both here, on the south side of town in Ft. Wayne and there, in Congo. Then when we started engaging in trauma healing, well that was just as relevant. There’s been a lot of trauma here in our community. One of our staff had a daughter murdered and, of course, it became very personal very quickly. We did a sermon series in the spring on healing the wounds of our own traumas. We prayed for personal healing for our church and for God to connect people to one another along their journey.
Steps4Healing was an amazing extension of our healing journey as a church and as a community. God used it really uniquely for everyone and the stories that came out of people’s engagement were amazing. We had so many new people come to church. It became a great on-ramp for them. On the final day we walked through the south side of town to pray for Congo and our community, and it was an incredible opportunity for witness.
What was the most powerful part of this experience for you?
I was amazed at how God awakened our church to start interceding for Congo in such a physical way. The way in which so many people were willing to really practice the sacrifice of their bodies—essentially laying down their lives in a small way to connect their struggles to the plight of those in Congo. When we heard about rebels using rape as a weapon of war, for example, we learned that most of the victims were women who were fetching firewood to carry back home. We started walking and running with a stick, as an image of solidarity. And countless people around town started asking us what the stick was for, paving the way for us to share stories and explain what was happening in Congo.
The way that God raised up so many intercessors for Congo, and provided so many opportunities for witness, was just incredible. We setup the program and the environment as much as we could, and were faithful to what he was calling us to, but God did the rest. Seeing people finish something they thought they could never do, seeing God answer our prayers, seeing Him move, over and above again and again. Well, only God could do that.
How did your congregation transform as a result of your engagement with World Relief and Congo?
There’s an incredible sense of unity in our congregation. We’ve had this great common purpose that’s included representatives from our whole body—runners, moms, artists, the disabled—the list goes on. We’ve given our congregation an invitation to be a part of something bigger than themselves. And God has really grown people’s faith through that. As we’ve sacrificed individually for something together, our culture of discipleship has also grown. We work hard at celebrating what God is doing and we’ve learned to see value in the process, recognizing that it’s just as important as the destination itself. It’s never been just about walking or running a race, it’s been about running THE RACE together.
When we said ‘YES’, we issued an invitation for the supernatural to be seen—and boy did we see it. In Congo, we witnessed the fall of the M23 rebel group. And here in Ft. Wayne, we had congregants who discovered life-threatening health issues just because they started running. God has moved in this partnership in such powerful ways. Ways we never could have expected.
What would you say to other churches considering a partnership with World Relief?
You know, for most of us, the call to sacrifice comes before the passion. And we have to be faithful in following that calling before we can discover what God might do with it. So I would just encourage you to ask the Lord what you can uniquely give yourself to. Then listen and persevere. We’re so grateful to World Relief and the team in Congo, probably more so than they are for us. We followed God’s call to that partnership and it’s really transformed our church community.
Francesca Albano currently serves as Director of Branded Content at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.