Jul 17, 2015 1:35 PM by Alyssa Deitsch
A pastor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is visiting Chico, thanking the community for supporting his country's widows.
Decades of war, political turmoil, and a devastating volcanic eruption in 2002 left the eastern city of Goma, a city of over one million people, with about 450,000 widowed women, according to Pastor Jean Gasore Bazungu.
"They live with [their children] in refugee camps," Bazungu said, adding they do not have enough food to eat. Some women in the refugee camps eat once a day, fewer only eat once every two days.
"In French there is a saying: vivre et vivroter. It means to live and not to live," Bazungu said. "Those widows, they live but they do not live."
Bazungu was visiting the United States back in 2012, for a Seventh Day Adventist convention. That's where he met Mary Jo Lauderdale of Chico. Lauderdale is the Women's Ministry Director for the Seventh Day Adventists Northern California chapter.
Lauderdale, a widow for 23 years and a bereavement counselor for widows at Newton-Bracewell Funeral Home, found herself drawn to Bazungu's mission.
Lauderdale translated her syllabus and seminar material into Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and French for the Congolese women.
Wanting to do more, she approached her church board about "Goats for Goma," a complete volunteer effort to get goats to the widows in the refugee camps. Bazungu says one goat costs $50 USD at the markets in the DRC.
Teams of people teach the women to milk the goats, make cheese, then clean, bottle, and sell the products for income. Living in a place where vegetables are abundant, it's also a way for the women to get some protein in their diets.
When the goats have kids, the widows give the offspring to other women in need.
"There's something in their heart that says, ‘somebody gave me a chance and now I'm going to give somebody else a chance,'" Lauderdale said. "For me that's the most exciting part of the program."
Since the project's inception, they say over one thousand goats have helped women in the Congo become self-sufficient. Many donations have poured in from Chico.
Speaking about an anonymous friend, Lauderdale said she told him "a little bit about the project" and he wrote a check for $5,000 for the program.
"I am amazed to see this town," Bazungu said on his 12-day visit to Chico. "People are peaceful here."
Bazungu will be sharing the women's stories at 10 a.m. Saturday at Chico Adventist Church on Hooker Oak Avenue.