By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (December 21, 2012) – Byron Miller grew up on a farm, served in Tanzania and Egypt with the Peace Corps, worked with major medical-related corporations doing international business, sat on boards of directors, and started his own companies.
But his time as executive director of the Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP) has been by far the most rewarding, he says.
“The exciting thing about Paul Carlson is that every part of my life prepared me to do this job,” Miller says. “Every issue I’ve run into working with projects in Congo, I’ve seen before.”
Miller began working with PCP in July 2008 and will retire at the end of this month.
Although his previous experience prepared him to lead the ministry, Miller says he had never set his sights on the position. He had never even been to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Still, when the job became available, he felt led to apply.
Since taking the job, Miller has traveled to the African nation multiple times, sometimes spending five to six weeks there. The trips to one of the world’s poorest countries are physically demanding. Good roads are almost non-existent as is running water and electricity in most areas.
Miller says it was important that he spend a lot of time in Congo. “If you’re not there and participating and involved with them, I don’t know how you can be helpful,” Miller says. “You could be harmful.”
President Gary Walter said Miller’s work was inspiring. “Byron has done a remarkable job both measured by tangible results and preparing the way for the future,” he said. “His work ethic is second to none. He exemplifies a pure motivation to simply serve God with his considerable gifts. He is a disciple first and foremost.”
Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, praised Miller’s many contributions. “We as a Covenant are indebted to Byron Miller for his tireless and sacrificial service in the Paul Carlson Partnership over the past four years,” he said. “His passionate vision for ‘investing in sustainable communities’ has strengthened the ministry of PCP and helped it fulfill its mission with new energy and potential.”
Peterson made special note of the leadership Miller gave to launching the Farmers to Market program, which he developed in cooperation with the Congo Covenant Church (CEUM). The program develops a chain of farmers, transporters, and markets that enable farmers to grow and sell more crops at better prices.
“It is impacting over 2,200 farmers and over 10,000 people in their families who live in the Loco and Bumba areas of the Equateur Province,” Peterson said. “Through the assistance of a major U.S. AID grant, Farmers to Markets developed farming and marketing methods that quadrupled the average income of farmers in the region this year.”
The ministry also has expanded medical care. “Byron has effectively encouraged the formation of PCP Medical Ambassadors, a volunteer team of medical professionals who provide training and resources throughout the extensive CEUM medical system,” Peterson said. “Lives have been saved through the support efforts of the Paul Carlson Partnership, and Byron has provided the leadership and personal supervision to see that the most people are helped with the resources available.”
Among the most important resources has been electricity at the hospital in Karawa. The ministry supplied solar panels that have enabled much of the hospital to operate without generators, which require expensive fuel and supply electricity for only several hours a week.
Dr. Eric Gunnoe, president of the PCP Medical Ambassadors, lauded Miller’s work, saying, “He has done an amazing job. He has really helped move the ministry forward.”
Gunnoe and a team of other physicians recently returned from Karawa, where they taught medical personnel at the Karawa Hospital how to use breathing techniques to help save infants’ lives. Click here to read more of that trip. Paul Carlson Partnership paid for the 125 breathing apparatus units and training that will dramatically reduce the number of children who die immediately after birth. (The ministry must raise its own funds because it is not funded through the Covenant’s general operating budget and does not receive money through Covenant Kids Congo.)
The biggest challenge during his tenure has been overcoming cultural differences, says Miller. The ministry has tried to set up micro-enterprise loans, help farmers establish their own businesses, and grow extra crops that can be sold at distant markets.
But the Congolese view time differently, and they tend not to look far in the future, Miller says. “When you’re poor, all you can think about is today. What money you have is spent right away.”
“The concept of saving money truly is a foreign idea to them. So also is the idea of borrowing money – and paying it back. Most farmers have never even thought about the possibility of growing extra crops and using the money to purchase needed goods.”
All of these are cultural obstacles that the ministry has worked to try to overcome. Change comes slowly.
It is happening however. Women traditionally do most of the farming work, but in some areas, as Congolese see the benefit of growing extra crops, men are becoming more involved.
Miller says that although Westerners teach the Congolese a lot of skills, there is much to be learned from the Congolese. He says he has learned three basic but major lessons – the importance of presence, the reality of angels and demons, and total reliance on God.
Miller had what was sometimes an insufferable habit for the Congolese – he kept wanting to talk about business even through meals. “So they chastised me,” he says, adding that they explained that he needed to simply “be with” the people and enjoy time together. “I needed to hear that,” Miller says.
Incidents Miller says could only have been caused by supernatural forces have helped him to believe in their reality. “We in the western world are so caught up with our scientific methods that we’ve almost ruled this out. We have effectively banished the thought of angels and demons.”
The abject poverty of the Congolese means they also must trust in God. “They are teaching me that faith is more than knowledge,” Miller says. “We all own Bibles, even several versions. But few Congolese people have Bibles – in fact, many adults cannot read. But they have a strong and sustaining awareness of God in the world and in their lives. God has been revealed to them in ways other than through the words of Scripture.”
Miller plans to be active in his retirement. Part of what he hopes to do is develop grant proposals to help fund PCP, which operates on a shoestring budget. After all, it’s what God prepared him for.