By Pam Brokaw
May 16, 2016 | Portland, Oregon

You could call it a honeymoon in the Congo for United Methodist Global Missionaries Mary and Aaron Vandersommers. The couple, married a little more than a year, are coordinating multi-faith mission efforts assisting Christian churches in the Congo.

Mary and Aaron will be commissioned this week as they prepare to coordinate and support work caring for refugees, improving food production, hospitals, and other humanitarian issues. They are also beginning a new life in marriage together.

That new life has brought them to General Conference. As part of conference outreach, on Pentecost Sunday the couple visited Castle Rock United Methodist Church in Castle Rock, Washington. “We’re there to walk with the people,” Aaron said to the congregation that eagerly embraced the pair’s work with applause and questions after the service.

Mary and Aaron are among 29 missionaries at General Conference participating in training as well as formal commissioning of their missions. The couple already has been in Kinshasa, the Capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for several months. They will return after General Conference and time itinerating this summer in the United States.

Aaron, a former Goodyear executive, is the new Chief Operating Officer of the Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC) providing guidance for 18,000 schools, five universities, 85,000 churches, 137 hospitals and multiple assistance efforts to improve farming and resource refugee sites caring for up to 20,000 people.

From left: Rev. Pam Brokaw, Castle Rock UMC Administrative Council Chair Fred Mitchell, and Mary and Aaron Vandersommers.
From left: Rev. Pam Brokaw, Castle Rock UMC Administrative Council Chair Fred Mitchell, and Mary and Aaron Vandersommers.

A kind of mission matchmaker, Mary is working closely with churches, agencies and international organizations to create partnerships to move efforts forward. The work is similar to the work she did at home in Ohio coordinating local and overseas mission work.

The two met when Aaron was preparing to apply to begin overseas mission full-time. A former corporate communications manager and District Lay Leader, Aaron had made several mission trips to Guatemala and Cuba. “I felt God call me to full time mission,” he said. “I felt like Elijah in the cave and God was saying why are you standing there?”

As Aaron moved forward with his new life in full-time mission, he was given Mary’s name as a contact who could help him prepare his paperwork. The two, both active in United Methodist mission work, lived 100 miles away from each other in Ohio but had not met before. While Aaron initially applied for mission as a single person, he needed to change things when he and Mary decided to begin marriage and mission work together.

“I said I need to change my form to married,” Aaron said. “They asked me why I filled in single and it took some time to explain my new status,” Eventually the forms were updated and the newlyweds were on their way to the Congo. However, they promptly needed to come back after three short months to complete training and commissioning.

Mary describes her mission responsibilities as matchmaking in which she finds the people and the resources to support multiple programs involving hundreds of partners. She holds an MDiv from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. About the same time Aaron felt called to a life of mission, Mary, not too many miles away, was considering devoting her life in the same way.

It came as quite the surprise that call to mission and falling in love were kind of simultaneous.

Now, home base is far from the life they knew in Ohio. Home is an apartment in the largest city in the Congo with a population of 12 million. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is about two-thirds the size of the United States.

While much of their work involves coordination with partners in the city, they also are committed to spending two days a week in the countryside getting to know the people they are walking with. The people of the Congo, they said, have a growing interest, in caring for air, water, land and all of creation.

Aaron and Mary have begun working with a local Baptist minister who comes to see them every day. “He is very passionate and he gets very excited,” Aaron said of the pastor’s work as part of an agency called “Safeguarding of God’s Creation.” The agency takes its call seriously from a biblical perspective. “They are very much committed to doing this work,” Mary said of the pastor and his small church that is seeking to care for children living in the streets as well as improving drinking water quality and sanitation.

The Vandersommers mission team is also fully committed to assisting this and dozens of other pastors and organizations in their new role as missionaries and as a married couple. “We are disciples finding out what needs to be done,” Aaron said.

Pam Brokaw serves as pastor at the Castle Rock and Winlock United Methodist Churches in Washington. She is a member of the PNW Media team serving at General Conference 2016.

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