Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Healing of our wounds

We are broken people. Most of us know that, but we have ignored or hidden our wounds for so long that we don’t realize the way that a festering wound affects the rest of the body. And how can we get healed if we don’t even realize that we have a wound? Last week we and our colleagues facilitated a workshop called “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict” in the rural village of Kabeya Kamuanga. Church leaders – pastors, elders, and deacons, came from five different presbyteries to gather for the three day workshop.

Pastor Mboyamba started by introducing God’s original intentions for humankind – His love for people and His desire that people reflect the love of God in their relationships with each other. Elder Kalambayi then talked about prejudice, and how the evil of prejudice poisons our thinking and relationships, and seeps out to poison others, including our children and grandchildren. We talked about the ways that we as people can be wounded emotionally – by our families, communities, or experiences. When we have been wounded, it is easy to blame others, and then become suspicious of them, especially when they are different from us in some way. Bob taught about God’s heart of love for us, even in the midst of our suffering and pain. And then we looked at God’s plan for redemption – that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, but also to bear our pain and bring healing (Isaiah 53:4).  This is a truth that we often overlook.

Skit carrying burdens

Elder Kalambayi (right) picks up rocks and carries them in his backpack
in a skit that illustrates how we hold on to pain rather than giving it up to God.

Bob also taught about God’s vision for the church, and the way that the church often fails to be the salt and light of the world that God intended. In Christ, we can be made new and our minds transformed (2 Cor 5:17, Rom 12:2). But, that doesn’t happen automatically. On the second day of the workshop, each person was invited to share some of the deep wounds of their lives with one other person, and then pray for each other. Each person wrote these sources of pain on a piece of paper. People then came forward to nail the piece of paper to a large wooden cross – effectively giving the pain over to Christ. We took the cross outside, and burned all of the papers, encouraging each person to let Christ heal those wounds and replace them with life.

Nailing wounds to the cross 1

Burning wounds at cross 1

The following morning, people were invited to share if there were any specific ways that they had seen God provide or answer prayers in the midst of their struggles and pain. One woman shared that she had struggled with back pain for many years, but had noticed that morning that it was significantly reduced. Another man, Tatu Labai, shared that the struggle he had written on his paper was that he did not have good relationships with his sons-in-law. They did not respect him or talk to him or come to his house when he invited them. That very morning, Tatu Labai was preparing to leave home for the workshop when two of his sons-in-law showed up to talk to him. He was about to dismiss them so that he wouldn’t be late when he realized that their coming was an answer to his prayer – that God was bringing healing to this wound that he had given over the day before.

Rabai sharing testimony

Tatu Labai shares his testimony of healing

We praise God for His promises and for meeting and healing His children in these ways. We were careful to explain that the action of nailing our wounds to the cross was not magic – just a symbol of our giving up those things to the cross of Christ rather than holding on to them. When we accept both the salvation and the freedom that Christ offers, God can use us to shed light for others and open the doors for healing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Consecration of Lubi II Parish, Tshikaji


A week ago Tuesday our friend Pastor Tshiyoyo came to our offices.  He delivered an invitation for the consecration of the Lubi II parish in Tshikaji.  Finally!  We had been waiting for this event since we returned to Congo in early 2014.  Some of you will undoubtedly remember that the church building of this parish was destroyed in August 2010 by a terrible wind storm.  Here is a link which recalls that event.  The church was fully rebuilt in 2013.  Now it was time to consecrate this new church building.  Many churches in the US played a vital role in helping with the reconstruction of this church.  We thank you again!

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Standing outside Lubi II parish on a foggy, August morning

It was a joyous occasion.  Pastors and elders from different parishes in the presbytery of Nganza came to join the local parish of Lubi II.  A choir from the local military academy came and sang several animated songs.  The local chief was present to give thanks.  Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) leaders spoke words of thanks to God and appreciation for the people of Tshikaji.  I (Bob) spoke on behalf of other missionaries and PC(USA), remembering the tragedy of 2010 and thanking CPC leadership, our department leadership, the local pastor, the contractor and friends and churches from the US for their unswerving commitment to stand with the people of Tshikaji and to help rebuild. 

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Choir from local military academy sang with great fervency!  

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Chief Kamenga of Tshikaji
came to express thanks

The consecration was timely in another sense.  Our Department of Evangelism and Church Life recently republished a book on “Liturgy.”  This book assists pastors and lay leaders as they lead and facilitate worship.  One section addresses how to consecrate a new church building.  Pastor Tshiyoyo and other leaders of the presbytery were greatly pleased to have this resource to guide them in the day’s events.  Let me describe some of the elements prescribed for consecrating a new church building.  First, we marched around the new church building three times singing songs of praise and adoration.  It felt as if we were the children of Israel marching around Jericho!  We then gathered in front of the church building where our colleague Pastor Mboyamba offered a prayer of thanksgiving.  He then cut the ribbon.  A leader of the presbytery entered and sprinkled water throughout the building, a symbolic act of cleansing.  Then we all processed inside and remained standing, again offering prayers of thanksgiving and petition.  After singing another hymn, the liturgist then offered a prayer to consecrate the building according to this scripture from 1 Kings -

Then Solomon said,
The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 
I have built an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”  (see 1 Kings 8: 12)

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Marching around church building, singing
the classic hymn “Tutumbishe” to the
tune of ”Glory to His Name”

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Pastor Mboyamba, Director of Department of Evangelism
and Church Life for CPC, offers prayer

At the beginning of the service elements for worship were brought forward and the liturgist consecrated them by prayer.  These elements included:  a new communion set, baskets for offerings, a Bible and a hymnbook.  The rest of the worship service was fairly typical, and Pastor Mboyamba praised the liturgist afterwards for keeping the service orderly and meaningful. The evangelist of the synod preached from 1 Kings, emphasizing that the LORD’s house is to be a place of welcome to strangers and foreigners (see 1 Kings 8: 41 – 43). 

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Elements brought forward to be consecrated

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It was a full house and a captivated crowd! 

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This choir of young men from Lubi II sang a song recounting the
process of rebuilding the church, noting the sacrifices
made by their pastor, the builder, and others 

Afterwards we were broken up into groups and went to the local school to enjoy a nice meal.  We commended Pastor Tshiyoyo for putting this event together.  It was truly a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for all that you have done!

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Our lunch group:  (left to right) Pastor Tshiyoyo, Pastor Mboyamba,
Pastor Tshipamba, Kristi, IMCK representative, Elder Shambuyi

Monday, August 10, 2015

Launching savings groups

On Friday we held the first community meeting to give people an overview of what savings groups are and how they can be part of one. We have selected the commune (district) of Lukonga that is just at the edge of Kananga. My colleague Victorine talked to all the government leaders and local pastors, and people were invited on just a few days notice (which is typical here). I wondered whether anyone would come. I wondered what the response would be. And we prayed together that God would open the right doors and draw the right people.

About 100 women showed up, along with several community leaders and pastors. It was “standing-room-only” in the community hall. They listened attentively as Victorine shared about the importance of savings in our efforts to combat poverty. She described how often people try to do some income-generating activity like selling charcoal or flour, but they end up failing because of a crisis that eats up their capital or because of some bad decisions. But, in a savings group, women can share experiences and advise each other, and collectively make better decisions in the interest of managing their capital. And they also have a ‘safety-net’ of the group in times of crisis. Although it does not amount to large sums of money, having a solidarity fund for times of emergency is a core part of the methodology of savings groups.

Victorine (left) presents the concept of savings groups,
with the support of the local government leader (right)

Women packed the hall, excited to hear about this opportunity!

We learned that in Lukonga, there was recently a scam where someone came posing as an associate of a mobile phone company and offered training in English and computers. They charged $8 for the classes, and collected fees and registrations from many people before absconding with the money and closing up shop. So, local people and government officials are wary of outsiders coming in and claiming to offer a service. We emphasized that we are not planning to keep people’s savings, but are teaching and empowering them to manage their own funds. Congolese people are often wary of each other, especially when it comes to money. In a poor environment like Congo, some people are not afraid to push others out of the way in order to get a little bit ahead.

The women are excited, and eager to get started. Now, the big challenge is keeping up with that enthusiasm! We have wanted to start slow, since this is still new and we know there are ‘kinks’ to work out. Next week Victorine will meet with the women in one of the neighborhoods to confirm the members of the initial groups and start training the first group. We are still scrambling to collect all of the materials needed – metal boxes, member pass-books, sacks for storing money, calculators, etc. Please pray for us as we jump in to this new phase!

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The ‘kit’ that a savings group uses. The metal box locks,
and holds money,passbooks, and all of the supplies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

One Half-Step Out of a Hobbit Hole

This article by Bob Rice was published in the online journal Unbound. You can find the original at this link: http://justiceunbound.org/carousel/one-half-step-out-of-a-hobbit-hole

“When you set out on this adventure, you will never be the same.”

These are the grave but hopeful words spoken by Gandalf the Grey to a young hobbit named Bilbo;[1] and thus begins the epic tale of The Hobbit. In many ways, following Christ mirrors this classic tale of a hobbit, twelve dwarfs, and the tall, brim-hatted wizard. We have a destination. We have a leader. There are travails throughout. We travel together. We will never be the same.

But there is more held in common between these two adventures; both also allow us to discover our true selves. Bilbo discovers the adventurous and courageous ‘Took’ side of himself. He discovers that he is resourceful, clever, and wise. He bonds with a bunch of dwarves. We too will discover gifts we never thought we had. We will pray prayers that have never been prayed before. We will go places never dreamed. We will eat different things and learn new tongues. We will welcome as friends those once strangers. In all of this newness, we will not only discover our true selves, we will also discover one another and re-discover the greatness of the One who called us. For of course, it all begins with this One – the God of all times and places, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Caller of the called and the Dreamer who forges unreality into reality.

Bilbo leaving the Shire

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It starts with one half-step out of a hobbit’s hole. It begins with a brazen act of courage and goodness in the face of uncertainty and even tyranny. It begins with a holy and passionate “yes” when all the world about screams an unholy “no.”
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So, what is the call? What is the dream? What is this mysterious missio dei that echoes throughout conversations of what it means to be ‘missional’? The answer is simultaneously simple and complex. Quite plainly, God’s mission is to redeem and restore God’s original creation. Mission begins and ends with God’s passionate love for us.

Yet what comes in between is quite complex. The puzzle has been created; the puzzle has fallen into disorder; and the pieces of the puzzle are now being put together again. These pieces are vast and complicated, comprised with historical and cultural realities, persons and personalities that do not fit well together. Moreover, this mysterious God is always on the move. This wild, untamable madwoman of a God always has something new up her sleeve!

Thankfully God’s hutzpah is equaled only by God’s humility. And that, I believe, is where we the Church come in. Honest to goodness, what crazy God would choose the broken fragments of our lives to restore created order? That is what we are, isn’t it? A loose and broken slinky of stubborn and half-blind hopes and ambitions, tangled both good and bad. Why would God stoop so low, work with human matter so frail? Why would this all-powerful God choose to work with us so weak?

Maybe this God knows something we do not. Just as Gandalf saw something in Bilbo, maybe God sees something in us. Maybe we actually have the ‘stuff’ necessary. Maybe we actually have the right DNA to match God’s grand plan for redemption. After all, is it not true that we are made in God’s image? Maybe that means we have a part to play. Maybe it means that we are God’s partners in this gamely plan to rescue and restore created order. We, grafted into the Vine of goodness, love and mercy, climbing over and conquering all.

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Friends, what holes do we need to step out of? From which holes do our congregations need to step forth? What holes do our communities of faith and denominational bodies need to launch beyond?
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And where does it all start? As with Bilbo, it starts with one half-step out of a hobbit’s hole. It begins with a brazen act of courage and goodness in the face of uncertainty and even tyranny. It begins with a holy and passionate “yes” when all the world about screams an unholy “no.” It begins simple and small; Jesus compares it to a mustard seed. In the aftermath of the Rwanda Genocide, it begins with Tutsis and Hutus sitting together and sharing their pain. For churches in the Middle East, it begins with Christians helping and housing refugees. In Brazil, it begins with one woman who sees the needs of the marginalized and destitute. For a church in California, it begins with giving up a day of their typical worship to worship God in a new way, through serving the needs of the community.

For me, it begins in earnest when I hear a man from Rwanda named Antoine Rutayisire speak about the horrors and hopes of his homeland. He speaks passionately about our complicity with evil and unwillingness to stand against injustice. He speaks of God’s love coupled with our need to forgive and love our enemies. Antoine shares with us his love of visiting the prisons of Rwanda, sharing God’s mercy and love with the very people who killed his people. He invites us to come and see. I go, and I see, and I go again. I prayerfully decide to move there. The people of Rwanda and the generosity of Africa now shape my life and faith forever. It begins small. A “yes” buried deep inside. A rediscovery of the One. A half-step taken out of a hobbit hole.

Friends, what holes do we need to step out of? From which holes do our congregations need to step forth? What holes do our communities of faith and denominational bodies need to launch beyond?

Let me name a few that I see: complacency, comfort, control, safety, security, respectability, and affluence. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34–35). Jesus turns away an earnest young man because he isn’t willing to part with his wealth. He tells a would-be-follower that “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20).

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There is nothing safe or secure about God’s kingdom. There is no pension plan or stock option or even a house with a yard.
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Jesus’ message is one which comforts the afflicted but afflicts the comfortable. Jesus is not looking for lukewarm watchers to fill the sidelines on the field of life; he is looking for risk takers. The Caller of the called is seeking to put the puzzle pieces back together, and she is looking for helping hands. Everything our western culture prizes are the very things Jesus challenges. There is nothing safe or secure about God’s kingdom. There is no pension plan or stock option or even a house with a yard. There is only this – self-denial, and the promise of eternal reward.

In a climactic scene from the epic film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo is forced to tell why he has decided to join this traveling band. He states that while he truly belongs to the Shire, he has joined this risky venture to help the dwarves find and win back their home. It is a moving scene where even the hardest-hearted of dwarves begins to soften. It is a poignant moment, a statement of self-denial and sacrifice for the sake of others. Likewise, Paul tells us, Jesus left all that was known and comfortable. He left his position of glory and made himself like us, submitting to death, even to the shame and dishonor of the cross. Theologian Nestor Medina refers to Jesus’ action as kenosis, the “self-emptying of God”. To show his true power, Jesus gives up all power. God relinquishes privilege, power, and position so that others may be lifted up. Jesus leaves his home that we might find our true home.

Friends, in an age of entitlement, efforts to protect ourselves from the unknown, and self-seeking pleasure, God lays down the gauntlet. There is no easy shortcut on the road that leads to Life. We the Church must give up all for the sake of Christ and his eternal kingdom. None of our sacred cows will escape the flames of God’s lasting judgment. There is the need for urgency. There is the need for prophetic acts and words, speaking truth to power and unjust systems. There is the need for the Church to truly be a hospital for sinners, not a showcase for the saints. There is the need to go beyond what is comfortable and known.

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For our shrinking denominations, may we embrace this change with alacrity and vision. May we consider new structures of being a connectional body that force us to live according to kingdom values.
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In the United States, there is the need for the Church to welcome the immigrant with open arms and to advocate for the refugee. Amongst our church mission committees, there is the need to commit and recommit our pledge to serve worldwide partners through generous giving. There is the need to support our mission workers and long-term volunteers who have left the comforts of home to walk alongside the Majority World Church in places of great physical need. For our aging congregations, there is the need to thank God for God’s generous provision over the decades and to pray about how God might seek to do a new thing among us. For the younger amongst us, there is the need to recognize how the Gospel speaks into our culture and how God’s values shape our lives.

For those of us with white complexion and European ancestry, there is the need to recognize the culmination of the Modern Western Missionary Movement[2] and the dawn of a new era of mission – one in which we in the West are no longer the Apostolic Paul prototypes but rather the Barnabas accompaniers, coming alongside and assisting and encouraging our sisters and brothers who have grabbed the baton of faith, zealously proclaiming God’s kingdom in places formerly unknown and unreached. For those of us organizing and going on short-term mission trips, we must ask ourselves why are we going and in what ways can we serve and partner with those whom we visit over the long haul. For our shrinking denominations, may we embrace this change with alacrity and vision. May we consider new structures of being a connectional body that force us to live according to kingdom values.

Fourteen years ago I sat with my parents and my Rwandan friend Antoine in the lounge of the Marriot Hotel, just across from the San Francisco airport. Antoine said to us plainly, “When Bob comes to live and serve with us in Rwanda, please know that he will never be the same.” God calls each of us in different ways to different things. God is calling God’s people to give thanks for the past and to embrace what is new.  God is calling us to forgo the safe, the seemingly sane, the comfortable and the known. All it takes, friends, is one half-step out of a hobbit’s hole. Will you take it? Will your church take it? Will our communities and denominational bodies take it? I pray that the answer is a “yes”, even if small, and buried deep within us.

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[1] This is a loose quote from the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Venture.
[2] In short, the Modern Western Missionary Movement refers roughly to the time period between 1800 and 2000, when thousands upon thousands of Protestant missionaries ventured from Europe and North America into the rest of the world to share the Good News of Jesus Christ through word and deed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Bread of Life

 

This month, we are excited to have Bibles to sell. People come to our office every day looking for Bibles, and I get the pleasure of sometimes getting to know them a little bit in the process. I thought you might enjoy just a few testimonies of people who have come to buy Bibles from our department this month.Pastor Nzuala with Bible - Kazumba

Pastor Nzuala is the pastor of a congregation near Kazumba, about 2 days travel from Kananga. He also oversees 3 “evangelistic circles” (like a church plant) in his vicinity, visiting them each month and supporting the elders or lay-people who are serving those new congregations. He has a Bible, but it is so well-worn that he said he had only half of Genesis, and in the New Testament only Matthew remained. The rest had been lost over the years. He was very excited to finally have a complete Bible in Tshiluba! Pastor Mukenge, our colleague in Mbuji-Mayi, reported a similar situation recently. In the tropical climate and harsh living conditions that people have here, after keeping a Bible for 20-30 years, it is often missing some pages – or big chunks!

Pastor Mande Mukeni serves a thriving new congregation in a village called Tshiela Kalombayi. He was serving as pastor of a church in the mining city of Tshikapa, but then in 2009 felt called to begin a church in a new rural area. He began doing evangelism in the area, and gathered a group together to hold services in the shade of a tree. He said that villagers at first wanted to see ‘ceremonies’ like other churches performed, but he gradually impressed them with the importance of understanding God’s truth and the message of salvation. In 2011 their congregation was recognized as a full-fledged parish and member of the presbytery. They now average about 150 people in worship, including 70-80 kids. He said that he, as the pastor, only had a small New Testament Bible; in fact, NO ONE in the whole church had a whole Bible, just a few scattered New Testaments among the members.

Nkaji is a young woman studying theology at UPRECO, the Protestant University in Kananga. She came to buy a Bible for herself – she said that it has been difficult studying theology and not having her own Bible in her native language of Tshiluba. When I asked why she chose to study theology, she said it was because she really loves the Word of God. She comes from a distant village about 300 km south of Kananga. Her parents own a Bible, but she has never owned one for herself.

Mulami Musuamba with bibleMamu Musuamba is a deacon in her church and a very active leader of the network of women in her presbytery. We have encountered her before in a rural village a full day’s walk from her home, where she traveled just to pay her condolences on the death of the spouse of one of the other women in the presbytery. More than a year ago, thieves broke into her house at night, and stole all the books and clothes, including her Bible and songbook. Since that tragic event, whenever she was called to teach at a woman’s meeting, she had to borrow a Bible from someone. But this week she was very excited to finally be able to buy a new Bible for herself.

A big ‘thank you’ to all the individuals and churches that have helped us to have this privilege of helping people get their own Bibles. The demand for Bibles continues to be huge. If you would like to give towards Bibles in Congo, you can find instructions and a link for online giving on our projects page (see #4). And if you want more details about how and why we subsidize Bibles, we have a recent blog post that explains more.