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!
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.
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.
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!
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?