Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fresh Eyes

You know how going to a new place, especially a new culture, makes you pay attention to everything and notice all the things that are “different”? Well, one of the reasons we were grateful for the two brave American pastors who came to participate in ministry with us in Kasai recently is because they gave us the opportunity to see with fresh eyes and also expose church members here to life and church that is very different from their own context.

I call them ‘brave’, because getting to Congo and surviving here is not a piece of cake! The 30+ hour journey to Kinshasa, dealing with the daily lack of electricity and running water in Kananga (think ‘indoor camping’), and a regular diet of food that you are not used to takes a lot of flexibility, grace, and perseverance. Perhaps one of the hardest tests was the arduous drive from Kananga to Mbuji-Mayi. We got stuck deep in the mud the first day, which meant we had to spend the night at Munkamba (half-way to Mbuji-Mayi). The lurching and rattling and leaning of the vehicle over those remarkable swaths of sand and mud called roads was truly an endurance test, but Ken and Dale survived, and we hope that their backs continue to be intact!

vehicle stuck in the mud

Trying to navigate the mud, with plenty of advise from villagers!

One of the significant things they did, though, was participate in the teaching of two different seminars and also some other meetings. Laity from a broad geographic region came together for two days of teachings to empower them in their faith and leadership in the church. Ken and Dale, who have each served more than twenty years in church ministry in different capacities, were able to share some of the challenges and lessons learned in ministry in the U.S. While the context is vastly different, it was enlightening and encouraging for our Congolese colleagues to be exposed to different perspectives and experiences.

Pastor Dale taught everyone several short worship choruses taken from verses in the Bible. He unpacked what it means to intentionally develop disciples of Christ and empower others to grow in faith and leadership. He also taught people the value and importance of studying the Bible together in a group – that each person’s voice should be heard and that we can learn from each other. In this hierarchical culture, people are used to being told the right answer by the authority and learning is almost always didactic, through lecture. While we don’t want to discount those values, it can be very helpful to be exposed to other forms of learning and recognize that each of us can learn directly from Scripture.

Dale teaching 2Dale teaches in Bibanga, with Kristi translating

Sm group Bible study during seminarA small group looks at a passage of Scripture together,
as a practical exercise during the seminar

Pastor Ken, who has spent his career in youth ministry, shared how youth ministry resembles ‘cross-cultural ministry’ and requires intentional observation and learning of their cultural values, language, and activities. Ken played a couple of songs popular among American youth, and shared how his youth group has listened and discussed the lyrics of those songs as a way to connect Scripture with words or topics that are already on the minds of youth. Seminar participants got a big hit out of dancing with him to these rap songs – a culture shift for them! People were really inspired and moved by his admonition to reach out to youth on their terms, to take an interest in them and build relationships with them, rather than simply expecting youth to conform to the structures and patterns of the older people in the church.

Ken dancing in seminarParticipants join Ken in dancing to some rap music during the seminar

In a meeting with youth leaders, Ken talked about his philosophy of youth ministry and answered questions. At one point, he said “We are all created in the image of God, right?” “No!” was the response from a few participants. Surprised, Ken asked for them to explain. “Man was created in the image of God. Then woman was created in the image of man.” A little taken aback, Ken suggested a few scriptures to look at like Gen. 1: 27 and Galatians 3:26-29 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek,…, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”). It was good to see these youth expressing their opinions and feeling free to contradict the ‘teacher’; but it also affirmed to me the need for discipleship and resources in the church for learning the Bible well!

Bibanga seminar 2014All of us together at the seminar in Bibanga

A big ‘thank you’ to Ken and Dale, and to their churches who supported them coming. Their presence was a great encouragement and help to our colleagues in Congo. Anyone else up for the challenge of joining us in Kasai?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Have faith in God


A fellow missionary in Kinshasa recently said, “Getting a new vehicle clear across two oceans to Congo is the easy part; getting the vehicle from the port city of Matadi to the capital of Kinshasa, that is the hard part.”  I would perhaps add, “Getting the vehicle from Kinshasa to Kananga is the even harder part.”  

Four weeks ago Mukulu (Elder) Shambuyi Ngoyi, a CPC driver, and I flew to Kinshasa to pick up our department’s new vehicle to be driven the 1,200 kilometers back to Kananga.  As one can only imagine, the process was anything but simple.  Let me name just a sampling of the challenges we faced:  our colleagues were forced to twice pay a duty due to “changes in the system,”  a computer glitch forced us to pay extra days of storage in Matadi, a colleague failed to buy a license plate in Matadi for unknown reasons, tensions arose between church leaders regarding insurance.  At times it felt like getting the vehicle to Kinshasa and then to Kananga was a herculean feat beyond possibility. 

Yet we serve the risen Lord, who tells us, "Have faith in God.  Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you” (Mark 11: 22b, 23).  Jesus was specifically talking about the destruction of the temple system and Jerusalem when he counseled his disciples as such.  He was sure that God’s will would come to pass (as it did in AD 70).  Likewise, despite the challenges we faced, Mukulu Shambuyi and I were sure that God’s will would come to pass.  In Kinshasa, each morning and each evening we would pray for God’s assistance and intervention.  Time and time again, we saw God’s faithfulness in action. The vehicle was finally released from Customs in Matadi. We finally saw the vehicle in Kinshasa.  We finally purchased a license plate.  We finally got insurance for the

New Land Cruiser (2), Congo    

proper amount.  Mukulu Shambuyi and Tatu Arsen finally started the long journey from Kinshasa to Kananga.  After six days on the road, four river crossings without bridges, paying a fee at multiple “barriers” and a 250 kilometer detour, the vehicle finally arrived in Kananga fully intact with all original parts a week ago Wednesday to much jubilation. 

CPC women gather early one morning this week to worship God and give thanks for the gift of the
new vehicle for our department of Evangelism; they decorated the vehicle with flowers


A few churches and individuals in the US gave generously to the purchase of this new vehicle.  To them and to others who have prayed, we express profound thanks.  Next week we will celebrate in proper fashion with colleagues and friends here who keep exhorting us to “kuela tshiayi” and “kutua tshianga” – expressions which carry the weight of throwing a party.  May God be glorified as this vehicle be used for His purposes. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Support from all corners

Last Sunday we worshipped with a congregation on the outskirts of Kananga, in the village of Kambote. The green rolling hills and the trees provide refreshing scenery, which I got to enjoy on the one hour walk from the main road in town. The Ditekemena (hope) kids were visiting the church that Sunday also, in the effort of raising awareness and local support for this program to rescue children from the streets. The Ditekemena kids have a choir that is a big hit wherever they go, and Pastor Mukendi, a member of the leadership team, made uniforms for all of them that they wear on church visits.

Snapshot 2 (9-11-2014 3-54 PM)

Near the end of the service, several women brought in food items – a large basin of corn flour, a jug of palm oil, several bunches of greens, a basket of cassava roots, several pineapples, a pot of beans and a large sack of charcoal. All of this was their contribution to the food needs of the Ditekemena kids. This is not a wealthy congregation – most of their members earn their living by farming small plots. Only three members of the congregation have salaried jobs, and those are low-paying positions as cleaning staff at a university. But they are compassionate and generous with the resources they have – the produce from their fields.

The leadership team for Ditekemena, which Bob is part of, has determined that it would be best for the kids to stay together at the center through the school year. They all started school this week – two in a normal secondary school, and the rest so far in an accelerated program to help them recuperate the years they have missed in school. This prolongation of their time at the center incurs significant extra expenses for feeding and caring for them that were not anticipated. A few churches and individuals have already responded to help cover expenses for the accelerated education program and the rent of the center. One of the biggest needs now is for food for the next few months. If you would like to make a contribution (think of it as joining with the congregations in Kananga in their support!), please let us know!

We have also recently updated our page of current priorities. The list has grown some, so we are calling it our “Top Ten Project Priorities” (linked on the sidebar of this blog). If you would like to participate in any of the projects we’ve talked about, including Ditekemena, you can find descriptions and instructions there.

And, just to round out the list of updates, our August newsletter gives a general update on several of our activities. If you haven’t received it, you can find it on our Missions Connections Page.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Culture and “Critical Contextualization”

 

Recently Kristi and I were having dinner with about a dozen missionaries.  An interesting conversation erupted regarding perspectives on culture.  One outspoken person degraded Peace Corp volunteers, pitying them for “being brainwashed to accept the cultural mores of a native group, not seeking to change them but only to respect their culture.” A woman added that as “Christians our role is to change people from the inside out,” presumably leading towards cultural transformation. 

As a missionary having served for six years in two central African countries, I would say that the perspective of the Peace Corp volunteer and that of the missionary are helpful but incomplete.  There is definitely the need to respect culture.  Our ethnocentrism can demand that cultural variances from our own are inherently wrong and need to be uprooted and replaced.  Swathes of missionaries over the last 150 years have regrettably equated the gospel with their own culture, thus judging negatively other cultures outright (Hiebert; 1985).  That is a real problem.  Indeed, each culture has values that need to be honored, preserved, and celebrated.  For instance, in Rwanda, the notion of “Impfura” implies self-sacrifice for the sake of others; it implies character.  This person will go hungry and not steal.  He will look after your children when you die.  She will be patient when things aren’t going well.  In Congo and across Africa greater emphasis is placed upon people, community and relationships.  Concern for family and friends often outweighs concern for self.  Community and communal life are central.  An African modus operandi for life could be summed up as, “I am because we are” (Kapolyo; 2005); this corporate nature protects individuals from the vicissitudes of life.  Our Peace Corp sisters and brothers do well to respect culture and lift up traits such as these.  How tragic that many time-honored African cultural values are now being trodden upon by modernism, individualism, and consumer mentalities imported from the West.              

Yet to accept all components of culture carte blanche is na├»ve at best and destructive at worst. Culture can be a palace, but it can also be a prison.  Tribalism, in African cultures, can become a destructive form of worship.  Joe Kapolyo writes, “So strong is the feeling [of tribal identity] that, if need be, one is prepared to malign, maim and perhaps kill in order to defend such an identity.”  The Rwanda Genocide epitomizes the dangers of ethnic and tribal allegiances.  In our experience in Congo, tribalism also divides the church.  True Christian fellowship across tribal lines can be elusive and at times seemingly impossible.  It is one of the most discouraging components of our work.  The sin of tribalism is one of the major weaknesses in the African church today.  Spiritism and the fear of “spirit beings” or the “living dead” also binds the peoples of Africa.  These spirit beings are wrongly believed to be intermediaries between people and God.  Even leading church members consult diviners regarding issues of sorcery and witchcraft.  The missionary spokeswoman at our table is right; we need to be changed from the inside out by God’s Spirit so that there can be the possibility of needed change in the broader culture where change is indeed demanded.   

But how is this done?  Unfortunately it isn’t simple.  It requires a critical interaction with culture.  In the words of missiologist Paul Hiebert, we need “critical contextualization” (Hiebert; 1985).  Beliefs and customs should not be accepted or rejected without examination.  An individual or church must learn to approach all aspects of life from a biblical perspective.  Customs of the past must be examined in the light of biblical understandings and truth.  For instance, if one understands the power of Jesus and that He is the one intermediary between people and God, there is no need to fear diviners and witchdoctors and spirit beings.  Jesus has become our peace (Romans 5: 1).  Moreover, if we truly take the words of the Apostle Paul to heart, that Christ has broken down the walls of hostility between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2), we can equally surmise that God has also broken down walls between the Bajila Kasanga and other tribes of the Bena Lulua of the Kasai of Congo.  Jesus has indeed become our peace, and His peace brings together all clans, tribes, peoples and tongues.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German who lived under the oppressive shadow of the Third Reich, knew the importance of following Christ with every ounce of one’s being and every part of one’s life.  He and other brave souls rejected elements of their culture because of it’s brutal oppression and desire to annihilate Jews and other groups.  They resisted the idolatry and barbarism of their time, emphasizing that Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and culture.  Our faith must be free of mere religiosity.  One’s faith must be shining and robust and must engage critically with culture (Metaxas; 2010).  Indeed, let us who wear the name “Christ follower” and “Christian” critically interact with culture –whether in the US, Africa, or elsewhere.  Every culture is a palace and a prison.  May we keep the good, reject the bad, and invite Christ to transform us and our culture for His glory.  Hallelujah - Amen!          

Sources

Kapolyo, Joe M. 2005. The Human Condition. Edited by D. Smith, Christian Perspectives through African Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Hiebert, Paul G. 1985.  Anthropological Insights for Missionaries.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Metaxas, Eric.  2010.  Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, A Righteous Gentile vs The Third     Reich.  Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

BereanSafari

We just finished the week-long BereanSafari conference. Safari means “journey” in Swahili, and the Bereans were a group of people around the time of Christ who searched the Scriptures for understanding and also to verify teachings they heard (Acts 17:11). So, literally BereanSafari seeks to be a “journey of discovery” in the Scriptures using the method of Manuscript Bible Study. A diverse group of people spanning a variety of vocations, aged 20 to 70, from several African countries as well as Europe and the U.S. converged for a week of concentrated study. Since we studied the first half of Mark two years ago at this conference, we got to do the second half of Mark this year. Six days, approximately 40 hours in study sessions, just to do half of the book of Mark? You have to experience it to realize how fast the time can go when learning together! So, I want to share the experience of just one page of Mark to give you a taste.

DSC_0446

First, we start with about 30 minutes of personal study – looking for themes, repeated words, questions that come out, and also looking up unfamiliar words in a Bible dictionary, places in an atlas, or looking for Old Testament connections in a concordance. On page 23 of the manuscript, we are in Mark 9. I highlight the three references to “in my name” or “name of Christ”. I note the actions and consequences involved in the “giving a cup of cold water” and also the “causing one of these little ones who believe in me to sin.” Then I underline in orange “enter life”, “enter the Kingdom of God”, and “reward”, since they appear to all point to the same result. I put a question mark by “their worm does not die”— What in the world does that mean? I tried looking up “worm” in the Bible dictionary, but that is not one of the entries.

DSC_0294Page 23 of my manuscript of Mark

We move into small group discussion. Our group has the lowest average age (about 30) in the room. There are three members aside from myself – all young Kenyan adults, working as a teacher, investment advisor, and Christian rap singer. Mercy notes that Jesus’ teaching in line 1 (“anyone who would be first must be last and servant of all”) is a “new” and countercultural teaching for his hearers. Peter notes that even though John changed the subject, Jesus comes back to children and their value. Chacha (the rap singer) helps us imagine how painful and debilitating it would be to have your hand or foot chopped off – did Jesus mean that literally? Regardless, we agree that Jesus is emphasizing the seriousness of sin, and his call to deny ourselves in our pursuit of Him.

DSC_0335

My small group discussion – from left, Me, Chacha, Peter, and Mercy

Now, we move into large group discussion. Our facilitator, Cyd, walks us through the text, asking questions and hearing from each group about what they found in the text. With her prodding, we realize that the person casting out demons in the name of Christ (who the disciples wanted to rebuke) was acting like the child that Jesus was just holding up as an example. He saw, he heard, and he imitated in simple faith – and apparently it was working! Farther down the page, when Jesus says “if your hand causes you to sin…” Cyd asks “what causes us to sin?”. We remember back on page 17, when Jesus describes sin coming from what is inside us – the cleanness of the heart, not the body. The “cutting off” of a limb, though, is essentially what repentance looks like in our hearts. Manuscript Bible study involves a lot of making connections – trying to see the text as a whole, as it was written, rather than just looking at a couple of verses. Another group that had a concordance contributes that Isaiah 66:24 is the source of the phrase “their worm does not die”, in a prophecy about judgment. A few other Old Testament references also help to flesh out the picture, including Malachi 3:1-4 about God “refining with fire” and Numbers 18:19 about the “covenant of salt” (Did you know there was a covenant of salt??).

The session where we looked at this particular page of Mark took about 2 hours. I came away with a heightened sense of God’s call to humility and faith, as well as the gravity and abhorrence of sin in God’s eyes. Nothing life changing, per-se, on this page, but as we soak in these words over the course of six days and slowly make our way through Mark we gain a much deeper appreciation and understanding of Jesus’ life and mission as Mark portrays it – to bring life – including eternal life, restored life to the hurting or marginalized, and the salvation found through losing our lives for His sake. We are so grateful for this week of soaking in the Words of Life, and left invigorated, inspired, and refreshed, hoping that we can introduce Manuscript Bible Study someday in Congo!

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The “Mark 2” study group, including our facilitator, Cyd (far left)