Generosity lives

When God bursts into the room, things tend to get turned on their head.

People at Constance Free Church (EFCA) in Andover, Minn., found that out firsthand on Feb. 26. That’s when, in response to a challenge to give $60,000 for Tandala Hospital in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo, the congregation of 1,400 people poured $227,000 into the offering.

In one day.

That original goal was $17,000 more than had ever been given on the church’s annual Global Outreach Sunday. Gaping at the final tally, the church’s leaders couldn’t attribute the response to anything but God’s hand.

“First of all, it’s obviously the Holy Spirit and the work of God there,” Senior Pastor Randy Discher says. “But it’s a cumulative work in a lot of ways.

“It’s kind of our vision statement that we want to be a community that’s compelled by Christ to bless our world,” he says. “I think people feel a sense of responsibility and of love; and other than that, I can’t say why it would happen, because I would have never predicted it.”

The financial campaign at Constance is just one recent example in a long history of partnership between the Evangelical Free Church of Congo and the EFCA that dates back to 1923. Since 2007, Constance has been working with the EFCA’s Congo Consortium (see sidebar) to prioritize projects and try to complement what other churches are doing to minister there.

Broad base = big gift

The gifts raised in February didn’t just defy expectations, but also national trends.

A recent study of 32 U.S. denominations by Empty Tomb, Inc., a research organization that studies church giving patterns, revealed that the average church gave 2 percent of its budget to missions from 2003-2009. A report cited in Getting Sent: A Relational Approach to Raising Support, noted that, in general:
•    60 percent of a nonprofit’s finances come from 10 percent of its supporters.
•    The next 20 percent of the budget comes from 20 percent of supporters.
•    The remaining 20 percent of the budget is spread among the remaining 70 percent of supporters.

Not this time: 350 of Constance’s 580 families – 60 percent – raised the $227,000. That’s an average of $391 per family, if you’re counting. In Executive Pastor Jim Scott’s mind, that marked the tipping point for a cultural change he sees all around Constance.

“It’s gradually grown, and now it has kind of created a buzz,” Scott says. “With that broad of involvement, it starts taking on an identity. It starts to become a currency of language.”

Jerry Hibma, a Constance member who helps lead the church’s Congo effort, was excited to watch God grab people’s hearts that day.

“It reflects the stirrings that are happening and have been happening in people’s hearts for wanting to help the least of these,” Hibma says. “The number of families that were involved in giving that – small, medium, large, whatever it was, they were so engaged.”

Big gift, big need

This year is the first of a three-year partnership that Constance has forged with Tandala. (For the past three years, Constance has been using its Global Outreach campaign to fund another Congolese ministry, the Elikya Center.

Missionaries with the Evangelical Free Church Mission, now ReachGlobal, built Tandala in the mid-1950s. The 185-bed hospital – entirely staffed by Congolese doctors and nurses — is located in the Ubangi area, a corner of the DRC (about 900 miles north of the capital, Kinshasa) so remote that it cannot be reached directly by car from outside the country. Average per capita income in the Ubangi area is less than $100 per year.

Since the 1960s, workers at Tandala have trained many other local nurses and doctors. Today Tandala doctors also oversee a network of 30 rural Congolese health centers.

This first infusion of cash from Constance will fund:

•    $25,000 toward ReachGlobal’s 1:4 match of a $375,000 grant from the Canadian International Development Agency. The money will pay to re-establish electrical service and running water at the hospital. “It’s hard to imagine a hospital without water or electricity, but that’s how it’s been,” says Dr. Tom Cairns, a retired chief medical officer for ReachGlobal who served at Tandala from 1970-1989 (when it did have those services).
•    Lump-sum payments to several retirees who, because of cultural and legal obligations, were still being paid a sort of pension by the hospital. Settling those obligations allows the hospital to free up more monthly cash for purchasing medication.
•    Initiating the remodeling of the hospital’s four wards. The hospital has done little or no repair work to the buildings since their original construction decades ago.

A newly trained team is currently digging wells with a rig purchased a few years ago by Constance. In the next two years, Constance also hopes to help fund construction of a new surgical ward in anticipation of the arrival of a Congolese surgeon currently in residence in Cameroon. Preliminary estimates on the surgical unit project peg the final cost at $750,000.

“There’s massive need, but need is not what drives us – it’s the call of God and the desire of partnering with an existing national church that we’ve had a relationship with for almost 90 years now,” Cairns says.

Scott says that he hopes people can see the impact they can make together as a church when they tackle the needs of a particular corner of the world.

“We can make a difference,” he says. “We are in a position to make a difference.  We’re just putting faces to the need.”

What You Can Do

To learn more about joining the Congo Congo Consortium as a church, contact Jim Snyder with ReachGlobal.

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