The Dawsons Follow Calling to Eastern DR Congo

By Valerie McArthur '18
Thursday, July 27, 2017

For Mark Dawson,’07 graduate in outdoor leadership, defending his right to drive during a random police stop is normal. He’s been stopped over 30 times in the last 15 months.

Stories like this are commonplace for Mark and Karen Dawson, ’06 graduate in both family and human services and children and family ministries, after having moved to the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) in October 2015.

Both Mark and Karen, U.S. citizens, found themselves drawn toward ministry while at JBU. Karen said her experiences at JBU “opened her eyes to the world!” For two and a half years after graduation, Karen lived in Zambia, teaching 11 missionary kids while ministering to native street kids. Mark studied abroad in Fiji and later traveled to Africa with JBU, where he connected with an orphanage in Kenya and visited with his then-friend Karen.

“Karen and I were very good friends while at JBU,” Mark said. Both were resident life staff, both played ultimate Frisbee, they had classes together and numerous mutual friends.

The two began “online dating” about 10 months after Mark’s graduation. In 2009 after 15 months of dating, Mark visited Karen in Zambia for 3 months, where he proposed.

The couple moved back to Denver, where Mark become a lawyer focusing on human rights and anti-corruption, and Karen earned her master’s degree in conflict transformation.

In June 2015, Karen received an email from the Mennonite Central Committee with a job listing for a Seed Program co-facilitator in Eastern DR Congo. Thinking the work as a peace builder on both the individual and community level sounded like her dream job, Karen forwarded the email to Mark.

But because they didn’t speak French, Karen said she quickly dismissed the job. “Mark, on the other hand, came home from work and asked if I had applied yet!”

Mark had felt God leading him to learn French, and had even been reading a lot about DR Congo while recovering from a knee surgery in the few months prior.

Four months later the couple arrived in Eastern DR Congo with a three-year contract.

“It is so beautiful here,” Karen said. “There are big, green mountains; there are huge, beautiful lakes. The climate is incredible, never too hot or too cold. The world’s largest gorillas live in the region, and the world’s largest lava lake is found here as well.”

The two hit the ground running, starting their life in the Eastern DR Congo with a weekend retreat, a bathroom flood and the first of many police stops.

The Seed Program, a two-year commitment, enables young adults from both North America and different countries in the region, called seeders, to develop personally and professionally as leaders. Through serving, reflecting and learning, seeders build peace relations between the tribal and economic groups, break stereotypes by working in a wide variety of organizations and programs, and engage in the community through dialogue, education and awareness of prejudices and conflict resolution.

Karen Dawson with her Seed group“We built this program from scratch with very little organizational support, and we have learned a lot of things the hard way,” Karen said, describing it as “building a plane while flying it.”

Karen makes supervisory visits every two to three months to the five to six different locations where the seeders are working, and co-leads each team in reflection and learning activities. It often takes her two days of traveling just to arrive at the placements.

“It’s rewarding to be part of a new approach to development and peacebuilding at the community level, based on personal relationships and modeling non-violent responses when conflict arises,” Karen said. “The seed program tells communities that they have something to offer us by helping our participant learn about the local context.”

When the couple first arrived, Mark worked with the local Congolese church on election monitoring. Currently Mark is looking for opportunities to help local organizations who specialize in human rights or anti-corruption work, and is considering lecturing at local universities. Even though his job is less clear-cut than Karen’s, Mark finds it rewarding to have confidence that he is where God wants him. He hopes to work alongside other Christians in the developing world to fight corruption and human rights abuses.

“The reality is that the most vulnerable people in these situations, whether in Eastern DR Congo or in the States, are the uneducated and poor who are living day-to-day,” Mark said. “I want to work on behalf of these people to try to create a more just society, an attempt to bring the Kingdom of God to earth now, even as we wait for Jesus to do so in a full way when He comes.”

Despite the sudden nature of their arrival in Eastern DR Congo the Dawson’s are content to be on an “as needed” basis with God about their future.

“I am passionate about this important part of our testimony, that ‘the world will know we’re Christians by our love for one another,’” said Karen.

Indeed, this love is evident in the way the two are living out their lives serving and working in the Eastern DR Congo.

 

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