Driven by Faith: Jacques Bahati and His Mission for Africa

“I have, therefore we have,” is the concept that drives 35-year-old Jacques Bahati. He is a Policy Analyst for the Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN), which brings the concerns of the people of Africa, especially the impoverished majority, to policy makers. AFJN is a member of the Executive Committee of Congo Global Action Coalition, an organization that is especially important to Jacques because he grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His involvement in DR Congo goes beyond AFJN; he has alsoCo-Founded Healthy Congo, INC, an organization that strives to bring HIV awareness in the rural Congo. In addition he works with his home parish in the DR Congo to improve education and health. Jacques involvement in all these organizations comes from his strong desire to help others. He guides his life by the principles of the Bible and holds a masters degree in theology. To learn more about Jacques and the many organizations he is involved in, read on in this week’s Non-Profit Spotlight.

About the non-profit

Africa Faith and Justice Network is an Africa-advocacy organization that works to promote a more responsible US foreign policy in Africa. For the past 25 years, AFJN has been engaged in high-level advocacy in Washington, DC to bring about a shift in American policy and mentality. As a Catholic-based organization, we work with Catholic communities and other on the ground in Africa and in the United States to promote our message of peace and justice transformation.

Inspired by the Gospel and informed by Catholic Social Teaching, AFJN has conducted policy analysis and advocacy on issues such as hunger, conflict resolution, international debt, trade, and food security. Currently, AFJN is focusing its energies on three new areas of concern:

  • Promoting restorative justice as an element of conflict resolution,
  • Opposing the harmful goals of the new US-Africa military command (AFRICOM)
  • Preparing for the 2009 African Synod.

As a member of the Executive Committee of Congo Global Action Coalition, AFJN has also committed itself to urging the US government to end the war in Democratic Republic of Congo. AFJN works to bring information to policy makers that will enable them to make decisions respecting the concerns of the people of Africa, especially the impoverished majority. For that, we are called at times to lobby members of Congress in Washington and in the districts. Other times it means writing letters, marching in the streets or organizing activities in schools and parishes. At all times it means praying for wisdom, strength and moral courage for those both in and out of power in our world. 

Members of AFJN receive regular newsletters geared to inform and to stimulate reflection and action in solidarity with the people of Africa. The members also bring their own experience from Africa to the network and to the policy makers. The AFJN website offers updated information on our activities and on urgent African issues concerning human rights and justice. In addition, it suggests actions that members can take in the short and in the long term. Annual meetings of members are occasions to meet with like-minded concerned activists to discuss focus topics in workshops and to interact with eminent speakers.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Researching and writing analysis on African issues that AFJN is involved in such as HIV/AIDS, violent conflict prevention, peace, Justice, debt, good governance, restorative justice, trade, water, The catholic Church African synod and much more. As an advocate for African nations to the US government, I attend meetings that are offered on Capitol Hill, the state department and a wide variety of organizations which have the same concerns as AFJN.

I am also a resource person for our membership on the issues that we are working on. I attend African summits organized by communities with a focus on African issues throughout the US. These are either events sponsored by the dioceses or parishes within dioceses, or universities. I attend conferences on different issues to deepen my understanding of different issues for a thorough analysis and personal formation and information gathering. This is also a way to network with other organizations, find other members and create awareness of the African people’s faith, strength, hopes and challenges.

Most notable milestones

From a 10-year-old boy in the countryside of Kazuba in the DR Congo walking to and from school for an hour and half to holding three degrees and several certificates is humbling.

Being married to a loving, caring, great, intelligent and beautiful woman Felicia R. Wells from Chicago, Illinois is a blessing.

Having been a co-founder of (AVA) Association Des Vieullards Abandonnes (Association for Abandoned Elderly) that became a ministry in many of parishes in the Bukavu city is humbling too.

What’s the niche?

AFJN is the only Catholic-based, non-profit, advocacy organization focused on Africa. Though our network is open to people of all faiths and persuasions, much of our support and methods of advocacy stem from the Catholic Church.

What’s the biggest challenge?

To emotionally stay detached from the horrible stories of injustices, oppression, exploitation and other kinds of victimization that African people are subjected to from local and foreign powers is the biggest challenge. At some points I wonder if these people doing harm to others have a heart. My faith that teaches me to be hopeful is my great help in dealing with such frustration.

What’s in store for the future?

I hope that one day, at God’s time to bring people from the margin to the center I will be chosen by him to hold an office that would allow me to be part of this job that God entrusts to many, but they turned their back against him serving themselves and making friends with those in power only.

Also, I am involved with the St. Anne Catholic Parish in Barrington, IL in a partnership with my home parish in the DR Congo. We are focused on education and HIV among the many things. I hope to see the Nkokwe and Kanyabusoro schools building project completed and much more.

In addition, with Steve and Anne Hall, a couple from Connecticut, we are finalizing paperwork on “Healthy Congo, INC” a non profit that is to bring awareness on HIV/AID in the Rural area forgotten by all in the DR Congo. I hope to make this an experiential opportunity for people to go to the Congo for a short or a long term to share their talents, give and receive blessings working with the people of the DR Congo. The end of January 2008, my friend Jackie Griffin, a Registered Nurse who works at the University of Loyola Hospital in Chicago and a member of the St. Anne church project is going to the Congo for a year. A group from St. Anne will be going late April and my wife and I will be going early 2008 to contribute personally on the work on the ground in addition to what we do here.

Finally, I will submit my paperwork to be certified as a chaplain with the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) to be certified as a chaplain.

Please go into more detail about your other non-profit organizations

Association des Vieullards Abandones is an organization born to respond to the growing number of elderly bagging on the streets of Bukavu as a result of the war in the D.R. Congo that begun in 1996.

Anowin Center is a Native American Catholic Church community in Chicago.

South West Chicago PADS is a homeless shelter in Chicago.

Best way to keep a competitive edge

The best way to keep competitive in the domain of working for justice and peace is to “have the information” for a better understanding of what is going on and take appropriate action in opposing and exposing the evil of oppression, corruption, self-service, war, injustice and much more. It is also to have faith that there is a future for those who survive the victimization. From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I keep these words as a way to help me stay on the battlefield for justice and peace: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, but the one of violence is tragic bitterness.”

Also he said that “the privileged group rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance.” At AFJN, we resist any kind of policies that aim to put people of Africa down. For example, many African leaders want to be eternal leaders even if they are not helpful in any way. When they finish their mandates, they change the constitution to continue to enjoy the privilege that comes with their position. Nations such as the US supported many of these behaviors for their interest. Our goal is to do all that is in our power to change such ways of government.

Guiding principle in life

“Humility is the key to every door.” With this I am able to relate and find my place among the poor and the weak in our society as well among the rich, the powerful and the influential.

Yardstick of success

The number of people who benefit from what I do is my yardstick. For me it is unacceptable that wealth is in the hands of a few. In the DR Congo, my county of origin, the rich, the powerful, the influential even want to take what little that the poor have. This is why bringing about equality is key to my work and mission. Some people suffer as a result of others. I know that we can do better than this. At AFJN, as we draw our inspiration from the Gospel.

This is why in my best guide in my work is Matthew 25: 35b-36 “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” This for me is success, not the money you make a year. I have an example from my other nonprofit organization activities.

My friend Jackie Griffin an RN working at the University of Chicago Hospitals is leaving the big money she makes to go to the DR Congo work on our school and health care project. She will volunteer to live on the minimum amount possible to pay her health care insurance, food and be able to go back home once a year to reconnect with her family. The good news is that the number of people she will touch is greater than the money she would make. At AFJN, I make no much money, but the impact I make in advocating for people whose voice has been ignored is exceptional.

Goal yet to be achieved

To be a peacemaker by negotiating peace where there is violent or possible violent conflict. I believe that God had blessed me with a forgiving heart that cares and that through my work and me he can bring peace where there is war and conflict.

Best practical advice

Time heals. In serious matters please take time to think before you speak and be slow to anger. I learned this from my transformational book, The Bible. One who follows this advice puts first values instead of might, mercy instead of revenge, love instead of hate, hope instead of fear, converses instead of shouts, is moderate instead of extremist, is humble instead of proud, listens instead of being indifferent and helps instead of hurts.

Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture

My father, Ntamabyaliro Maheshe Edouard, always said “providing you with education is my obligation. Take it seriously and you will never be anyone’s slave, refused it and you will even be a servant of your brothers.”

From my professor at Catholic Theological Union Dawn Northwehr, O.S.F, after reading a paper I wrote, she said “You should enroll in the Master’s in Ethics program. You have good ideas.” She nurtured me and what she saw in me happened.

From my mother, the day I was moving from the Congo to Cameroon, she took me aside, said a prayer of blessing and said: “Just do good and you will find your family everywhere you go” It has been true and on my wedding day, many were surprised the number of people I knew who attended.

Mentors?

My parents for being hospitable to who ever came to us from anywhere, for whatever reason. My father would wave debts of some people because they were not able to pay.

Rev. Georgio Agustini, a Xaverian Missionary who was my formation director when I was in the seminary in Bukavu. For him, life can happen if we make it easy for those we live with and those we encounter or work with. He lead our effort to bring relief, bring the wounded to the hospital, feed the hungry, provide shelter to weak and the poor during the war in the DR Congo in 1996. He is a model of being and lives a positive life for me.

Finally, my father for loving my mother who was ill for most of her life. He never left her even under pressure of many of his associates to find a healthy wife, but he took her to the best doctors we could afford in Uganda, in the Congo etc. Today we are a family, happy and all together.

What motivated you to get started?

I am involved in so many things that I do not know what to speak about. I co-started many things namely the Association for Abandoned Elderly in the Congo, networked with the St. Anne parish in Barrington which led to the school building and health care project in my home parish, on the way is “Healthy Congo, INC” to bring HIV awareness in the rural Congo. The motivation is my passion for the poor. I would summarize this motivation in these words: “I have, therefore we have” I will never feel fully happy if there still people who are poor, under served, fearful and marginalized because of injustice, greed or militarism, tribalism, and all the -isms.

Like best about what you do?

Letting the world know other people’s struggles through my writings and advocating for change on their behalf. Also, when people get help as a result of my networking and advocacy, I feel happy.

Like least about what you do?

The editing work before publishing is my disliking. I have ideas, but I am not the best writer. However, the good news is that the world needs people with ideas as well as those with best writing skills.

At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a teacher like my father. Later I wanted to be a priest. I went to the seminary for 10 years. A year before I was to be ordained, I decided to take the road of a lay minister involved in social justice.

What was your first job?

I worked at the Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, IL as a chaplain Resident. My interest in medical ethics and my passion for ministry lead me to doing chaplaincy. It was a humbling experience in addition to learning skills in clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I supported people in different situations and their families. Those who suggest to not take life for granted are right. I saw the limitations of our bodies and the power of our spirits. How can one be so much in pain and with no hope for quality of life and still find meaning to life? Many gave up, but some held on. The people I served are in my memory for ever to be remembered.

Biggest pastime outside of work

Watching documentaries, talking to friends on the phone, networking, listening to music.

Person most interested in meeting?

Bill Gates, I would like him to fund some projects that I am involved in.

Leader in business most interested in meeting?

The CNN television channel director so that I can ask them to dedicate some time in covering African stories.

Three interesting facts about yourself

  1. Peacemaker and fighter for justice
  2. Charitable
  3. Family person

Three characteristics that describe you

  1. People person
  2. Forgiving
  3. Hopeful in all things

Three greatest passions

  1. Religion
  2. Reading to educate myself on any subject
  3. Traveling to network

Favorite book

First, the Holy Bible for personal transformation and second among many I like “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire. Like The Bible, books and other resources are empowering for me in getting the information for my intellectual and some times human formation. With a book like “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” I am inspired and become creative as I build up my personal opinion and approach. This becomes my contribution to all kinds of oppression that is going on in the world. It allows me to expose what some people are hiding and oppose and confront them to the truth not for myself, but for the common good (Justice and peace for all).

One of my favorite quotes from this book is “… the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity…, become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.” (p 44)

Favorite cause

The rule of law, justice, peace and end of corruption in leadership in Africa.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Eternal thanks for asking me to be part of this great initiative.

Who would you like to be contacted by?

Senator Barack Obama so that we can talk about common interests and US foreign policy, justice, and peace.