Blackman Bausi in concert, photo from his Facebook and used with permission

The world changers

I scroll through the staff page of another American missions agency and notice, not surprisingly, that the leadership is almost entirely composed of white men. From talking to some of these people and organizations, I know their intentions to share Jesus’ love are good, but the undervaluing of Christians of color in American missions disappoints me.

The commonly held idea that only white Westerners know the “true Gospel” is also heartbreaking, especially since Christianity was birthed in a region of brown people and is exploding in the Global South today. In fact, let me tell you about a few Congolese men I know.

Baraka. PC: KSB

Baraka, PC: KSB

A former English student of mine, my friend Baraka, told me about his passion for missions the very first time we conversed in the yellow painted room after a class. Quiet and earnest, he shared his heart to see Muslims know Christ Jesus. “I love them. I want to show them God’s Word,” he shared.

Baraka is studying theology in his country. Like many Congolese people, he knows over a handful of languages, including a bit of Arabic that he has learned in order to share the Gospel more effectively. He’s looking for missions agencies even as you read this.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Then there’s my best friend Dieum, whom I met through our church choir in Goma, eastern Congo. His dream is to be a doctor, pastor, and singer who uses his skills around the world and before the throne in Heaven. He is dedicated to seeing the sick healed and is particularly interested in the nervous system. His devotion to his studies is paired with a knack for making others laugh, and the atmosphere transforms when his fingers meet a keyboard.

My mentor-friend Dedi, who began Love of God Ministries under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and with encouragement his family, is perhaps the strongest example I have to give of a Congolese Christian with global impact. He is known in several countries for his faith and ministry, all through the Holy Spirit’s miraculous connections. Although his situation is humble, he has selflessly poured into me, teaching me about prophecy, the Holy Spirit, and faith. His life is wrapped around his ministry, the call God has placed on him.

Feed.bennett.Christ.18.01.15 Blackman1

Blackman Bausi, photo used with permission.

Of course, people do not have to leave their home country to have an impact in God’s kingdom. Blackman Bausi is another man of God working within his country of Congo. He has not gone out to do missions but is using his rap music to transform the lives of local, underprivileged youth through his foundation. He himself was born of rape, but Jesus redeemed his life and gave him a voice to speak for those without one, particularly women and the youth “heroes” he is now reaching. I am privileged to have collaborated with him and to join him in this work now as an international volunteer.

The meeting point of our five lives is Un Jour Nouveau, or Africa New Day, a Congolese organization that strives “to equip, educate, and empower each man, woman, and child in Congo to bring about cultural change, both individually and as part of a community, to enrich and provide opportunities for growth for future generations.” The goal is for change to come from within Congo, and the organization teaches Biblically-based principles of peace and leadership.

UJN also includes a Gospel-loving church. God’s work through UJN is showing incredible fruit, as the school and church have multiplied in recent years. As evidenced above, my friends from there are passionate about sharing the Gospel in their city, country, and around the globe.

And fun-fact: Although this blog post focuses on men of color, UJN was co-founded by a married couple, so one of the leaders is a woman. The principal of their primary school is a female friend of mine, and I know other incredible women in leadership there as well as men. Most of the Congolese people that I know who are interested in or able to pursue missions outside their country are these men, however.

UJN at night, PC: either Dieum or Daniel

UJN at night, summer 2016. It has expanded since I was last there. PC: either Dieum or Daniel

Some Christians go out, some stay put, and all have the opportunity to contribute to the work of God. Black men like these four gentlemen – Congolese men in their early to mid-twenties, dedicated to peace and Jesus’ Gospel though from a country that is torn apart by endless violence – are some of the leading examples of faith, ministry, and missions in my life. God is using them powerfully to impact other Africans, Asians, and North Americans.

God is using people of color, including those from the Global South, to renew the missions field.

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PC: KSB

God is faithful: a year-end reminder

Every day is an opportunity to thank the Lord. For his faithfulness to stay with us and to keep his promises and guide us in our call; for his goodness to want our best and warn us of harm, to provide for us, and to bless us with sweet gifts; for family and a hospitable American and Congolese community of faith; and for his love that never leaves even when we stray, we bless the Lord.

2017 was yet another crazy year. I moved multiple times and had the opportunity to travel in and outside of the United States while undergoing significant transitions in life. One of these transitions was graduating college, a huge testament to God’s faithfulness. God saw me through all this and provided incredible old friends to stick with me from college through the distance as well as new ones to love me in my Denver home.

It was also a year of creation, as I began writing for the Denver VOICE in June and released several song collaborations, which you can listen to here:

My favorite blog posts of the year from this site fell in September.

The call God has given me to live in Congo (three years ago as of this coming MLK Day weekend!) and my deep desire to work with refugees remain the same. My goals in this direction do as well, and I hope to make significant progress in 2018. Despite discouraging, disorienting, and downright dreadful circumstances in the second half of this year, I can see God’s goodness. I remember his promises to me.

As the hymn below declares, I know God’s hand will bring me home, even to Congo, by his good grace. He has brought me to where I am now, and he will remain faithful.

 

*Updated on Jan. 02, 2018, to include “Gatherer,” which was released just before the new year.

Cassava, PC: KSB

Good evening, Mr. Neighbor

He walked into our apartment wearing red suspenders and black gym shorts pulled up over his torso. Meet my neighbor, always good for a laugh.

Living in an African home has taught me a lot about loving the neighbors who live with me. I don’t yet know most of the people in my apartment complex, only a few by face and a couple by name, but the people I know well make my life a lot brighter.

Our primary neighbors, who are relatives of the people I live with, live in our same building. But because living down the hall was too far away, they moved directly across the hall from us. (Actually, they just needed more space.) We eat together daily, listen to Yemi Alade and Moise Mbiye together, even fall asleep in each other’s apartments. We’re tight.

Some might call that type of closeness intrusive – overstaying your welcome perhaps – but I think it’s fun. I love having lots of people around. Plus, they’re family to the people in my apartment, and the interaction goes both ways.

My one neighbor, who is my age, is hilarious. He’s constantly laughing and cracking others up with his conversation and antics once he comes home from work. He’s the one in the suspenders.

His mother is a gem, too. I can count on her to affirm me when I’m looking good and to comment on the good of something else she sees. We speak different languages, but we’re getting to the point where we can understand each other a bit even though we primarily speak our own languages aloud.

Without neighbor love, my apartment would contain less laughter, less food, less music, less of all of the stuff that makes life good. Without all the church members and other Congolese friends who pop over at random, there’d be less of these blessings, too.

So love your neighbors. Eat a meal together; heck, eat together daily. Share your home like the early Church did. You don’t have to live in one another’s apartments like I’ve described here, but if you don’t already, try inviting each other over more often. You might get to know some fantastic people.

PC: KSB

Who is my neighbor?

You hear a lot of talk about loving your neighbor, but what does that really mean? Neighbor love can be defined in three ways and about 450 words, so let’s go.

Neighbors are the people that live on your street. Americans in general are pretty bad about knowing the people who live proximate to them. My dad, cognizant of the importance of loving the people in your local community, always made sure he built relationships with these neighbors and served them. I grew up knowing a few neighbors but definitely failed at reaching out to the people across the street and next door once I began renting on my own. That’s something I’m working on in my new location and which comes into the story in my next post.

Then there’s the idea of neighbor that Scripture holds in the story of the Good Samaritan: your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with.

This requires compassion for anyone you meet, regardless of having a pre-established trust. This requires a bit of bravery and stepping outside your comfort zone because you might not like the people you meet – you might even be from conflicting religious or ethnic groups as in the story Jesus told – but still God commands us to love, to give of ourselves and resources, to those neighbors. (And honestly, God doesn’t ask much else of us besides to love.)

Plus, getting to know the people you meet might not be bad! Why fear when you could have a spirit of openness and a vision to see the good in others? You could meet some pretty fantastic people by looking up, and if you hadn’t chanced it, you never would have known them. That’s how I met my collabo and now good friend on the single “Astrogirl,” and you can listen to it to see how that went!

Finally, this concept of loving neighbor applies to loving those you haven’t met but still impact indirectly through how you take care of the earth, stand up against systemic injustice, et cetera.

Even if you don’t immediately see the effects, someone will be impacted by your putting milk jugs and soda cans, which aren’t bio-degradable, into landfills, and it will eventually come back to you too. Even if you aren’t personally impacted by immigration policy, the migrants and refugees who spent years searching for safety and even being promised a home here, are. And even if your biological son wasn’t shot because of his skin color, that son’s family and community are impacted by your choice to stay silent or to speak up against racial injustice.

No person is more deserving of human rights and a safe and healthy home than another. No neighbor deserves less love because of cultural, emotional, or social distance.

Cockroach. PC: KSB

Where do cockroaches go when they die? (A poem)

Behold a tale of myst’ry and woe

And the questionable fate of where cockroaches go

Upon their death, if they ever die,

(For nobody knows if they do…sigh.)

 

Heaven, hell, or the next door apartment?

Do they die outside or in a compartment?

They can resist a bomb scare, or so I’ve been told,

But doesn’t a cockroach ever grow old?

 

I once saw one fall down a drain;

Another in the fridge was fain

To take a nap, and never quite

Woke up from the cold, oh what a fright.

 

When cleaning to extinguish them

I found five exoskeletons

Atop the black refrigerator.

They died before; I found them later.

 

But most remain a mystery.

Many are born, oh cute babies;

They grow into teenager years,

And then their adult fuzz appears.

 

Brown and hairy are their legs,

And they continue to lay eggs

But rarely do I find them dead;

They only multiply instead.

 

I hope you enjoyed this poem! As you likely noticed in my last post and in this poem, I’ve had quite a few adventures living with Mr. Cockroach and his family. The German roaches are mysterious and plentiful neighbors, bold and full of life to be sure! If you cracked a smile at either post, be sure to like it and share through your social media. (I know you’re on it!) And don’t be shy; comment your own cockroach stories below, too. (No spider ones allowed though. Seriously, I can’t stand those creatures.)

God bless, and may your lives be

cockroach-free,

As mine it seems, may never be. 

 

cockroach. PC: KSB

Open letter to cockroaches

Of all the bugs with which I’ve shared a home, cockroaches are certainly not the worst. We have the German kind, so they’re really more like beetles, and they don’t seem to do anything except be everywhere, so it’s not that bad. I honestly find it amusing at points, though also a bit annoying. Because I am frustrated with certain things, I have crafted a letter to the king of the cockroach clan that resides in my apartment complex. Please enjoy and share this if you have similar issues with the cockroach community.

Dear Mr. Cockroach,

How art thou, O ruler of my apartment? I don’t know why I think of you as a mister, but I do. Evidently there are enough women in your bunch to multiply your offspring in this humble domain you have chosen to be your kingdom. That’s fine; babies are good, but I do have a couple things I’d like to discuss with you for the mutual benefit of Apartment 301 and the building as a whole.

  1. You reign in this apartment, in this whole building in fact, but you don’t pay rent. Do you know the cost of living these days? Since you use the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room more than I do and repose in the living room and bed room as well, I think it’s only fair that you do your part. With the amount of roaches in your clan, it really shouldn’t be that expensive. So please, I know you’re the king, but you have to think of the good of your people (meaning us four actual humans) in your apartment kingdom. Thanks.
  2. I don’t mind sharing with you. I really don’t. I like to think of myself as a friendly and hospitable person. But when you walk all over me (literally when I’m on the couch and you’re walking across my body), that’s too much. Let me maintain some dignity, and don’t abuse this relationship. I need some respect.
  3. This respect implies privacy as well. I’ve learned to close my eyes when you decide to sleep on the wall a yard from my face. I know you won’t hurt me. But when you are on the toilet seat and I need to use the loo, that’s unacceptable. I would appreciate space in my bedroom, though I’ve learned to share, but I absolutely need the privacy of a free toilet seat when I need to relieve myself. Just go on the wall. It’s only a few feet away. Don’t claim my chance to have a throne just because you’re king.
  4. And please stop entering the fridge to eat our food. It only ends up killing you anyway.

Thank you for hearing my complaints, O Mr. Cockroach, and considering my words. You know where to find me to discuss these matters further. Thank you again.

Sincerely,

Katelyn Skye Bennett (Skye)

2017 Solar Eclipse, PC: KSB

It’s been 500 years since the Reformation, and I’m calling for unity

Today my former evangelical church celebrated 500 years since the Reformation. My alma mater has made a whole semester of it. But even as a Protestant myself, I’m not so sure I want to be celebrating it.

Since moving to Denver (which is why I left my previous church), I’ve befriended a house of Catholic volunteers. A few months ago, I was volunteering alongside one of the folks doing this one year service program, and he invited me to their weekly mass and dinner. Now I’ve become a regular and call myself a friend of the house. I love going each week because it is such a place of peace.

And I’ve learned a lot about Catholicism since I became friends with them a couple months ago. But I realize that this might startle some of my family, so let me give some background.

I grew up with people who had “converted” from Catholicism to Protestantism, or evangelicalism more specifically. They saw and thus I heard of the dark side of the Catholic Church: the extreme focus on works over faith, where doing was all that mattered. To me, it seems like a hopeless task to reach the throne of God, coming from that perspective; just read Romans 3:23, 6:23, and John 3:16). I was taught that Catholics were not Christians, and indeed I knew several that were not.

I grew up in a pretty atheist state, although nominal Catholicism was prevalent as well, likely due to cultural ties and passed-down religion.

But when I went to college, I met Catholics who were Christians. These people believed in Jesus for their salvation. They were people with different traditions, more liturgical blessings instead of the freestyle prayers to which I was accustomed, but they were people who believed that Jesus is the Savior of the world and loved those around them as Jesus did.

Then, in a Social Change sociology class during my senior year, I read documents from both evangelical and Catholic leaders. The Catholic Church is well-organized and unified in its beliefs, whereas there is no one leader of the evangelical church making statements on doctrine. Thus, while is more difficult to define the global “evangelical” viewpoint on any issue, the papal encyclical for example, lays the Catholic stance out.

What I’ve noticed is that the Catholic Church does a lot better job of caring about social justice and for the earth than the evangelical church. It’s understood as a natural part of Christianity, although evangelicals in America generally have a harder time seeing that. I admire and agree with these things, however. I think the evangelical/Protestant church can learn a lot from the Catholic Church in these regards.

The Catholic Church also has a richer understanding of history and a lot more examples of faith since they do not skip the whole period between the early Church and the Reformation. Though all Christians are saints, the Church-ordained saints serve as examples of how to live holy lives. They’re not gods or idols, but they are examples in the faith.

(Now, the Catholic Church can also learn from the Protestant church, and we can both learn from the Orthodox Church as well. The Church is like a mixed media sculpture, and our diversity has the opportunity to strengthen and unify us as we are molded into the image of Christ.)

Because I’m friends with this house of volunteers, I’m now having conversations before dinner and hearing words at mass about Church unity. These Catholics in their twenties and the priests who are preaching have a heart for everyone who calls themselves Christian. As a Protestant Christian, I appreciate and agree with this too. And it is crucial to hear this as many celebrate the Reformation today, since the Reformation stands as a marker of division in Church history.

I’m still learning a lot. I don’t agree with everything Catholic, and I still call myself a Protestant. But I see a lot of shared beliefs in our diverse practices, and I don’t believe that we have to be exactly the same in order to have unity or worship together.

I’m also not ready to say that the Reformation was completely bad. Martin Luther called out some things that needed to be said in that day, such as paying for indulgences to save deceased relatives from their sins. It was a huge money making scam that hurt the poor and corrupted the truth back in the 1500s, and Luther was a prophetic voice in the Church to stop it. For what he did to restore the Gospel truth (that we are saved by grace through faith) and thus care for suffering communities in body and soul, I am grateful.

But I don’t want to glorify division in the church, as I fear is happening particularly at this 500 year marker of the Protestant Reformation. Today, countless Protestants are rejoicing at their Reformation from the Catholic Church, and many Catholics are looking on saying, “Are we not one Church?” Protestant Stanley Hauerwas writes an educated article about the Reformation, disunity, and sin here, which I encourage you to read.

We can have different practices, we can all celebrate truth and grace and the living out of our faith, and there is no getting around the fact that we do have different histories now, but are we not one Church with the same goal of building the Kingdom of God?