After six years without reliable transportation, 15 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will once again have access to a railroad following the completion the newly rehabilitated railway linking two vital provinces in Africa. The train will depart today, June 25, from the Lumbumbashi in Katanga Province, and head for Kindu, Maniema Province on June 29.
The USAID-funded project to restore nearly 300 miles (490 kilometers) of railway destroyed by war, came to completion after the efforts of Food for the Hungry, a Christian nonprofit relief and development organization and its partners--CARE International, Catholic Relief Services, and its local partner Caritas-Congo and Concern Worldwide.
The Christian Post was fortunate enough to speak with Mr. Benjamin Homan, president of Food for the Hungry about the new railroad, as well as the direction of the organization and its current efforts. The following are excerpts taken from the interview with Mr. Homan.
First of all, what would you like to say about Food for the Hungry?
Food for the Hungry began in 1971, and currently we’re in 37 countries. We’re in those countries because we believe God calls His people to go to the hard countries. Our belief is that it’s God’s design--the way Jesus did his ministry. He saw all people and understood that their physical and spiritual needs were intertwined. We believe that whether it’s the Congo, Iraq, or Cambodia, the way to impact those places is by seeing those countries comprehensively. That’s the best way to show the fullness of Gods love, by seeing.
Recently, Food for the Hungry has been working to restore a railway in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And today, the first official train will cross the newly rehabilitated railway. What are some of your thoughts on this?
Today is the Inaugural Day for railway. It’s a tremendous time for the people of the Congo. We’re thrilled to show Gods love in such a tangible way. [This railroad] impacts 15 million people. Working on the railroad, it’s restoring transportation and hope.
Many are calling it the Peace Train. Can you explain why?
The Peace Train is what we like to refer it as. The Congo has been so full of conflict and war, the peace train is a symbol of peace needed in the land. A transportation network really unifies a country and brings people together. I was in the Congo last year, and it’s a very emotional place because of the devastation. The whole country has literally shut down. It’s difficult to estimate exact numbers because the country was in disarray, but there is about a 95 percent unemployment rate there.
Transportation is such a critical issue. There are people in the Congo who desire to work and be productive, ready to plant their fields. But in order to make a difference, they need to get their crops from their fields to the marketplace so their families can be fed.
In the past, has Food for the Hungry ever embarked on a task such as the railway?
This was our first time building a railway. In each country, we implement a myriad of programs on different levels, helping communities be self-sustained. The critical thing is to go into the community and ask what will make a difference there. In the Congo, the railway will make a difference because the road system is just falling apart and different armies are fighting across the land. This building project is extremely significant for the recovery of the nation.
When we go into communities, we try to work off the agenda for the community not our own agenda. We want them to identify what the problems are. We’re frequently involved with basic health care.
We work very closely with churches. We believe churches need to rise up to the needs of the community. Our presence in the community is only temporary. The church will be there long-term. So we do a lot with church development. We also work with families. Food for the Hungry doesn’t come in to replace the family or the church, but to empower the church and empower parents to be all that God intended them to be--help them live up Gods design.
Food for the Hungry has also been organizing relief efforts in the Dominican Republic following the recent flood. What is the current status there?
The Dominican Republic is one of the places we’ve been at work at for 20 years. And the communities we're serving were impacted by the flooding and the rains, so we’ve continued to reach out to those areas. The immediate impact of the flood has passed, but people are going to be dealing with the aftermath of the flooding for many years.
What other current efforts are being made by Food for the Hungry in the world?
Right now were doing many things to countries impacted by HIV/AIDS. The devastation in Africa is hard to image. Meru, Kenya for example, is a region that has an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 38 percent. It has impacted every part of the community. There’s hardly a family that has not lost someone to HIV/AIDS.
We go into places like Meru, Ghana, Mozambique, and we emphasize what we call an “A,” ”B” approach.
The A stands for abstinence and the B for being faithful. Uganda has been a wonderful example of a very significant drop in the rate of infection for HIV/AIDS. I believe it’s a direct result of abstinence and being faithful. We're continuing to advance these in places impacted by HIV/AIDS.
One of the things I’d like to say is that when people follow God’s way, there is hope. When we go into communities, God’s plan--abstinence and being faithful--offers real hope for people. How can the church make a difference in a child’s life? Offer hope.
The place where people should be, should not be held out in comfort. God's people should be reaching out and offering comfort. We should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Something that comes to me is the importance of prayer. It’s important for people in the United States to know how to get involved, and get educated about what’s going on. They can, for instance, join our prayer network for prayer updates.
I think we are vulnerable to focusing on our own comfort. I don’t see in Scriptures any call focusing on comfort. The book of Micah for instance, is focused on God indicting the religious people who were focused on it. God has some very stern words for the religious people who lived in that time. And I think some of those same words can apply to us today
In Micah 6:8, God says basically that He’s had enough of sacrifice and lip service. What He wants is for us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly. And that embodies what Food for the Hungry does.
In closing, what else would you like to say to those who will be reading this?
Get involved. Don’t be so self-absorbed. You can make a difference. Even if you impact one person, each person is made in the image of God and is valuable. People die one at a time, so we can help them one at a time.
Since joining Food for the Hungry in March 2001, Mr. Homan has traveled to 20 developing countries, experiencing firsthand the problems faced by people in developing nations.
Prior, Homan was vice president at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis where he led teams in alumni and church relations, long-range planning, missions and communications. Previously, he worked with Campus Crusade for Christ and taught at the University of Nebraska, University of California-Irvine and Biola University.