Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


About a decade ago, former Baker City resident Nathan Habbyshaw was looking for something meaningful to do with his life.

Habbyshaw, now 31, was taking community college courses in Bend and had worked in a pizza shop and for the U.S. Forest Service.

Then, he said, "God kind of opened my eyes."

What Habbyshaw could see in front of him next, spiritually, was Africa. He ended up in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the age of 22.

In 1998, Congo was invaded by forces from nine countries and 20 armed groups. The Second Congo War has resulted in 5.4 million people dead.

"It was the deadliest conflict since World War II," Habbyshaw said.

And it's far from over.

He said that when he first arrived Congo was still "basically a war zone." This is a partial description of current conditions in Congo on the mission's website:

"Despite the signing of peace accords in 2003, fighting continues in the east of the country. There, the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence is described as the worst in the world."

During the years Habbyshaw has been threatened, shot at and, even, kidnapped.

He was taken hostage for nine hours by Hutus and he only obtained freedom after promising "they could be our body guards," Habbyshaw said. "They didn't know why I was there."

Habbyshaw is operating an orphanage on a 35-acre compound in the eastern part of the country, at a location north of Uvira.

He was working with only a single local assistant until he met his wife, Nicole. Her grandparents were missionaries working in the Congo decades before and she was eager to serve God in a similar manner.

The couple married in 2010 and now conduct their Christian mission together.

The ministry "took a piece of the jungle and turned it into a tremendous asset for the people," said Gene Habbyshaw, Nathan's father.

He is pastor of the New Fellow Baptist Church in Slippery Rock, Penn. His son is the assistant pastor.

Gene was the pastor of Elkhorn Baptist Church in Baker City previously. The younger Habbyshaw attended local schools during that time, including Baker High School.

The projects the Habbyshaws choose in Congo are meant to help the surrounding community operate and function independently.

For instance, after rebels destroyed the local rice mill, the ministry obtained another one. Having a mill helps the entire community because farmers can mill their crop and sell it for a higher price. And proceeds from charging for use of the mill go to the orphanage and ministry, Habbyshaw said.

They farm, raise chickens, pigeons, and tilapia all within the orphanage compound. Some of the food is sold.

Children once forced into soldiering for the rebels are invited to play soccer. They've organized a team and use the sport as an outreach tool.

"Finals matches are attended by over two hundred people who are very open to listening to a message at halftime. This outreach has been a great tool for people to hear the Gospel and be saved," according to the Habbyshaws' website.

The couple also operate rebel and children's ministries.

Construction of a hydroelectric turbine has allowed them to have electricity throughout the compound. This allows for lighting, refrigeration, power to run the rice mill and present outreach activities, such as showing Christian films. It also provides additional security for everyone within.

And they've constructed a pharmacy and clinic for the community at large. An area doctor has consented to volunteer time four days a week and an array of equipment has been secured.

Profits from the sale of medicines also are to benefit the orphanage and ministry.

It's also needed because the orphans were "getting sick from malaria, typhoid," Habbyshaw said.

The vast majority of Congolese who have died since the war began lost their lives because of diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition, he also pointed out.

Future plans include starting a Christian school and radio ministry -- other endeavors possible only because of the electricity source.

Another goal is to create a mission hostel. The mission has some beach property at Lake Tanganyika, only a couple of miles away for Uvira. They plan to build a hotel there. It -- and money raised by serving vacationers -- will be used to host people taking short-term mission trips.

Individuals and groups could stay at the hotel and also work in the jungle. They envision providing a place for people of all ages seeking to serve God.

Though the specific mission Habbyshaw has taken is dangerous sometimes, missionary work itself can be extremely exciting and rewarding in other parts of the world, he said.

Habbyshaw encourages young people in small towns such as Baker City to seriously consider missionary work as a career. You get to help others - physically, mentally and spiritually - and live a life that's anything but routine, Habbyshaw said.

"Don't close yourself in a box," he advised.

Much of Habbyshaw's progress is documented on video and available to watch online. Visit http://www.christforcongo.com/ or go to Nathan Habbyshaw's Facebook page by typing in his name.

Videos about the ministry are on Youtube as well.