Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bible news from Congo

Our colleagues in Congo have written recently with updates about the Bible subsidy program, which continues while we are in the U.S. this year. So far this year 155 Bible have been sold in Kasai at the subsidized rate. There is a gathering every April of lay leaders (elders, deacons, women and youth leaders), and people come from all over Kasai for that gathering. Our colleague Pastor Mukenge was able to bring 2 boxes (56 Bibles) to that gathering this year, and people from very rural regions who were overjoyed to finally have a Bible. Susanne Meta was one of those people, who said that she had a Bible, but it was so tattered that it was missing the first 2 books in the Old Testament and the last several books in the new Testament. She is a leader in the women’s ministry, and said that having a Bible will help her when they gather for Bible Study and worship.

Another colleague, Pastor Mboyamba, was teaching a seminar in June at the pastoral institute in Bulape, a rural village far from Kananga. He encountered Pastor Mafuata, from another rural village, who described the dire lack of Bibles in their village. He has a Bible, but it is old and ragged and missing many pages. Sometimes when he is preaching, he finds a song in the hymnbook that resembles the passage he wants to preach on, and uses the song as the text since he does not have that part in his BIble. Pastor Mboyamba felt so moved by his plight that he gave Pastor Mafuata his own Bible, trusting that he could get another one when he returned to Kananga.

Pastor Mafuata received Bible from MboyambaPastor Mafuata

We are also thrilled to report that more Tshiluba Bibles are coming soon to Kasai, thanks to some generous gifts in the past few months from individuals and congregations, including the women’s Bible study at Grace Church,First Presbyterian Church in Pontiac, IL, and members of the Jesus House ministry in Bloomington, IL. In Tshiluba, there is a common proverb that says “kamue, kamue, wa ba dikumi”, which means that 1 by 1, our little pieces put together become something significant. While one person alone might not feel they can make a big difference with this need, when all of our little pieces get put together, God’s Word is getting into people’s hands all over the central Congo. David says in the Bible “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Ps 119: 72). May that delight in God’s truth be true for all of us, including our brothers and sisters in Congo!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

American Society of Missiology (ASM)

Two weeks ago today I attended the American Society of Missiology’s annual conference, this year held in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The American Society of Missiology (ASM) describes itself as an inclusive, diverse and professional association comprised of Independent (Evangelical, Pentecostal), Conciliar, and Roman Catholic communities of the Christian Church.  ASM officially began in 1973 with the intention of being an organization which would promote scholarly research, discussion, publication, and teaching in the field of mission studies.  ASM currently describes itself as the ecumenical, professional association for mission studies in North America, including more than 600 academicians, mission agency executives, and missionaries in a unique fellowship of scholarship and mission.  While attending the annual gathering, I also learned that in the last five years ASM has moved in the direction of including more young people involved in mission and has become more sensitive to the need of promoting the significant role of women in mission.  This year’s gathering reflected these changes. 

ASM represents multiples languages, cultures and nationalities,
coming together for the common purpose of critically engaging
the world, furthering God’s purposes on earth! 

Missiology, filled with insightful, cutting edge ideas is
the official journal publication of ASM

Every annual gathering has a theme, and this year’s theme was “Missiology and Public Life: Mission's Constructive Engagement with Societies, Change, and Conflict.”  Plenary addresses were given, along with papers submitted and presented on a host of topics as diverse as “Race, Justice, and Participation in the Mission of God” to “Public Religion, Faith, and National Politics.”  One of the plenaries was delivered by Sebastian Kim, who serves as Chair of Theology and Public Life at York St. John University in the UK.  The title of his address was “Mission’s Public Engagement.”  He made the point that theology is inherently “public” and available to all, and helped us to think about both the private and public components of our faith traditions.  He also named the tension in missiological thought between salvation and liberation, encouraging the expansion of mission to be both evangelistic and socially minded.  He poignantly stated that Public Theology often focuses upon the world, while Missiology focuses upon issues related to mission.  He inferred that there needs to be stronger correlation between the two. 

The night previous Gregory Leffel who serves as 2016 ASM President and directs One Horizon Institute gave an address entitled “The Missiology of Trouble.”  His presentation was equally thought provoking.  He touched on issues related to modernism and post-modernism, and then framed a new sociological construct he labelled “Metamodernism.”  He first highlighted our American society’s strong tradition of liberalism, liberty and liberality.  He then skillfully dissected the current state of affairs as the Left is in tension with the Right, both sides reflecting different ideals from people to property, communitarianism versus individualism, and democracy in relation to free market domination.  He introduced the idea of “metaxis,” which seeks to integrate two contrasting elements, finding a coherent organizing structure or idea to help us think about and address the pressing issues of our times.  He made the point that “Public Missiology,” a new term submitted for thoughtful reflection during ASM 2016, is essential to accomplish the work of ‘metaxis’ in finding things that unite us while respecting differences.  I have to confess that I had to have my “A-game” on to follow some of the highly technical jargon and head spinning concepts both speakers espoused.  I did my best, and was even able to offer a somewhat lucid question to Sebastian Kim regarding how to stand in solidarity with colleagues and friends, encouraging public engagement in the context I serve in Congo.  Dr. Kim along with others gave me some helpful food for thought.

As part of ASM 2016 I actually presented a paper as well.  The paper’s title is “Faith and Politics:  Rwanda, a Case History.” I was quite nervous about presenting and spent lots of hours preparing.  Thankfully my paper presentation was well received and I was greatly encouraged by my facilitator, by fellow presenters, and by those who came to listen and learn.  Honestly, I felt quite empowered and felt like maybe I actually fit into this body of mission-minded scholars and practitioners.  I was also able to connect with and make a few new friends, as well as connect with former professors and classmates from Fuller Theological Seminary.  We had lots of fun conversations around meals that were both light hearted but also cut deep into our own personal histories, hopes and dreams.  I felt so edified participating in ASM’s annual conference.  Praise God for such a thoughtful group of people seeking to bring glory to God and expand His Kingdom here on earth!

ASM 3 (Dan Shaw) 
I was able to connect with my anthropology professor from Fuller, Dr. R. Daniel Shaw -
he encouraged me, and was glad to see me at ASM!

May God bless this coming together of His people for His Kingdom! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Answering Questions

The precarious roads, the staple foods, the local food market – it is hard to communicate what these aspects of life in Congo are like if you have never been there. Sometimes we joke that Congo and the U.S. are almost as different as going from the earth to the moon!

One resource we recently created is a photo book that attempts to answer some of the “Frequently Answered Questions” about life in Congo. We use pictures (and text) to try to answer questions like “what do people eat?” or “what is a typical day like?”. Click here to see it online. If we get the chance to visit you, you can see it in person. And if you like it so much that you want to order a copy for yourself or to use in a Sunday school class/church, you can also order a copy from the link above.

FAQ photo book cover

We are getting ready to hit the road! We look forward to visiting churches and connecting with people who have been supporting us in various ways. We want people to know how we have seen God at work in Congo and help churches and individuals to connect with that work. To that end, we are updating our blog, creating a few handouts, and trying to find ways to convey what is going on in Congo.

What do you think of the book? What tools help you understand and connect with what God is doing in a far-away place? We welcome your input and suggestions!

Friday, June 10, 2016


 I lift up my eyes to the hills -- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121: 1 – 2)

There is something therapeutic and healing that happens, basking and glorying in the wonders of wilderness, God’s glorious and untamed creation.  Last month Kristi and I had the privilege, along with Jim and Sherri Bertolet (Kristi’s parents), to visit Glacier National Park.  We arrived in West Glacier, Montana, by train from central Illinois.  We arrived before the major tourist season, beating the crowds.  It was a bit cold and rainy at times, but the marvels of the place were beyond expectation.  So many times I would gaze upward, with neck craned far back, drinking in the deep beauty and wonder of a place beyond description.  I would meditate upon God’s glory and goodness, simply giving thanks.  Enjoy a few of our pictures taken, along with a soul stirring poem by Henry David Thoreau.

Majestic, mysterious, misty mountains

Feeling small, admiring the awesome peaks in the distance

Lake McDonald on beautiful May morn

Avalanche Creek, emerald pools spilling below

Tundra Swan, resting on blue Lake McDonald

Wildflowers drape the valley and mountain roof top floors

Harlequin ducks migrating through (male, female)

Breakers and rapids crash down McDonald River,
finding fulfillment in lake below

Our new little "ziiiip" friend, the Pine Siskin in flight

St. Mary's Lake, small Goose Island in middle, surrounded
by titanic, monolithic uprisings

Two Medicine Lake below, mountains and glaciers
serving as the glorious backdrop

Our little party, posing in the shelter of Mount Sinopah,
the wavelets stirring at Two Medicine


We need the tonic of wilderness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe, to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.
At the same time that we are explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.

We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the site of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic figures, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thundercloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Jesus House

One thing that I was craving as we headed back to the US this year was worship. Everyone knows that Congolese people have a gift for music, and worship in the CPC is energetic, passionate, and can last for hours. And we appreciate, enjoy, and join into their worship. But just like eating ‘comfort food’, there is a special feeling when you get to be in corporate worship with familiar songs in a familiar language. I have been brought to tears several times this year, enjoying the presence of God during worship in a church service. It is one of the things I am most grateful for during this year that we have in the U.S.

Through a series of connections and divine coincidences, we ended up worshipping at the Jesus House last week, a ministry and church community in Bloomington. In this mid-size, middle-class, Midwestern city, the West Side of Bloomington is an enclave where drug addiction, poverty, crime, and sexual exploitation wreak havoc on people’s lives and destroy families and generations. The Jesus House sits in the middle of that section of town, a light and source of hope for people caught in the vicious cycles that poverty, drugs, and abuse generate.

When we walked into the Jesus House on Sunday morning, a small group about 30 men and women of all ages, sizes, and colors were in the midst of a Bible Study. As they transitioned into the worship service, more people filled in the room. One older woman coaxed a few other women up to the front to dance to the worship. The hunger for Jesus and the joy of being in worship was evident on many faces. Seeing people dance, or kneel, or cover their faces as they sought out the presence of God reminded me of worship times in college, when I and my friends could worship God without all of the inibitions I have picked up in the years since.

During the message, Tom spoke about seeing and treating other people as “holy ground”, because they are made in the image of God. He highlighted a few individuals present and celebrated them, and reminded everyone that God looks on the inside, not the outside. In the midst of that message, I recognized my tendency to label people or make assumptions about their lives or their past. As I fought my stereotypes, I was reminded of the beauty that I was seeing in the lives of people who were not physically beautiful by the standards of this world…but they knew that Jesus was full of love just for them and that they could delight in His presence.

One of the things that connected us to the Jesus House was a memoir I read recently, Tattooed by Jesus (you can read my review at that link too). The book describes the chidhood of Bonnie Lentz, living in the same neighborhood where the Jesus House now sits. She experienced the lure and the bondage of drugs, the pain of abuse, and the battle with poverty as her family struggled through the daily challenges of life. After a long and arduous search for freedom, peace, and meaning, Bonnie found Jesus. Her life is a powerful testimony of the power of God’s grace and salvation, made more palpable becuase she and her husband continue to serve and reach out to people ‘on the margins’, in desperate need of the same transformation.