Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why do we sell Bibles?

Recently, a keen friend posted this question in response to our spring newsletter:

Hi Bob and Kristi, We were a bit surprised to read that you sell Bibles. I always thought missionaries give them away for free, especially to the 3d world countries and there are some organizations that donate them. Is this something new?

We thought that probably there are other people with the same question, so we wanted to post our response here. We really welcome your question, suggestions, thoughts – it helps to remind us that we are not alone as we serve with the church in Congo!  Here is our response to her question:

Great question! We are very glad that you asked - we like to hear feedback when you read our letters! You are right - some missionaries, past and present, give away Bibles and some organizations donate them. That has happened in Congo also in some cases in the past. It is good to get God's Word into people's hands, especially those that do not yet have a local church presence or do not know Christ.

However, it also creates a culture and mentality that the Bible is something to be given for free - not something of value worth purchasing. So, in our context here in Kasai, this meant that when the presence of missionaries decreased, so did the presence of Bibles. The Bible Society in Congo continued to import Bibles and sell them (yes, the Bible society sells Bibles, though not at a profit), but there was not much demand to purchase them among Presbyterian churches here.

In our first couple of years in Congo, we traveled to many rural regions, and heard about the tragic lack of Bibles and songbooks. As you know, Congo is a very poor country, and most people could not afford a Bible. The current price for a Tshiluba Bible in Kananga is $12. Also, Bibles were not available at all in the rural areas outside of the provincial capital. Whenever we heard people express that need, we asked people how much they could and would be willing to pay for a Bible if they were available. The response was between 4,000 and 5,000 Congolese Francs ($5-$6). We put our heads together with our Congolese colleagues, wondering what we could do to help meet this need.

In 2013, we started a subsidy program to bring the price down to what people could afford. Yes, we started selling Bibles - for about $4.50 in the rural areas and $6 in the urban areas. Our purpose was to make Bibles accessible - especially to people in rural areas. There are whole congregations without 1 Bible amongst them! We want people to be able to own them and read them and use them, but we also want each person to be able to give something as a sign of participation and sacrifice that demonstrates the value it is to them. This means that we are selling Bibles at a significant loss, and can only continue the subsidy program with the donations and participation of generous people outside of Congo who agree to help make Bibles accessible. But, it also helps protect the Congolese Christians from getting stuck in an environment of dependency on American church. This subsidy program has been received with great joy and gratitude from members of the church here. We have described some of the impact in our Spring 2014 newsletter and in a few blog posts. If you have further questions, we welcome you to e-mail us or post another comment.

In 2014,we and our colleagues in the Department of Evangelism sold a total of 1,328 Tshiluba Bibles, 730 Tshiluba hymnbooks, and 135 Children’s Bibles (in Tshiluba). That was done with a total subsidy of $10,136 – which came from numerous individuals and churches, including children in a vacation Bible school and a man who made and sold jam all summer to give the proceeds for Bibles in Congo. Wow! Thank you for participating with us in getting God’s Word in people’s hands and hearts. What we have sold so far just whets the appetite of the thousands more in Kasai who would also like to buy their own Bible. If you would like to participate, the link for giving online to the Dept. of Evangelism of the CPC is here – just designate in the comments that it is for Bibles.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Youth Alive! (Congo)

There are few people in all of Kasai who encourage us more than Frere (brother) Victor Muine.  Victor is a leader in the youth movement of the Congolese Presbyterian Community (CPC).  Earlier this year he mobilized about twenty youth in Kananga, including six seminary students, to go to the rural presbytery of Muanza-Ngoma to host a two day seminar to strengthen the youth in that region.  The goal of the seminar was to help youth understand their role in the church.  They encouraged their compatriots to know God’s Word and to share their faith with others, and to do so with humility and respect. Victor Muine and his companions walked for six and a half hours to arrive at their destination.  They were warmly received by 245 youth of the presbytery, all of whom slept on mats in the modest church building.  For food, the youth from Kananga brought fish, tomato/onions, and corn flour.  The youth from the villages provided charcoal (for cooking), manioc flour, and manioc greens.  Three adult leaders were also in attendance to encourage the youth.  They encouraged the assembly, expressed value to them by being with them, and appreciated their zeal for serving God.

Youth relaxing after serviceFrere Victor Muine (second from left) sits with and encourages the youth
of Bunkonde Parish (Muanza-Ngoma)  

Victor sang three solos at Bunkonde parish emphasizing our need for unity
and for leaders to serve with reverence, humility and love
(song is a powerful medium in Congo!)

Victor Muine shared with me that other presbyteries are seeking their presence as well.  Many of these presbyteries are very far and would require a day two to arrive by foot.  Just two days ago Victor shared with me that he and two others were able to visit the presbytery of Lulua.  They left at 6am and arrived at 7pm, a thirteen hour walking journey.  They spent two weeks in this rural region and were able to visit all eleven churches. 

Please pray for Frere Victor Muine as he and others seek to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and encourage other youth to do the same.  Pray also that God would show Kristi and I how we can come alongside Victor and the youth of Congo.  They are not only tomorrow’s leaders, but also the leaders of today.  May God bless Victor and the youth of Congo for all of their efforts.

Bob with Victor (to my right) and other youth leaders,
gathered from the West Kasai Synod

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Surgery Recovery Update

We are still in Kinshasa, but wanted to give you a brief update on the three Ditekemena kids who were recently operated on in Kananga. They all were discharged from the hospital about 2 weeks ago, and are back at the BICE center with the other kids. They have been given their own ‘sleeping house’, so that they can ensure it is kept clean and sanitary to prevent infection. Caregivers rotate so that someone is available and with them 24 hours a day.

Dominique, who had major surgery on his spine, is now wearing a ‘body cast’ (like a vest to cover his torso) to help him keep his spine straight as he recovers. He is able to walk with the help of a walker, and his wound seems to be healing well. Before the surgery, he could only walk by placing his hands on his thighs to support his torso – so to see him walking upright is amazing! However, he is not eating well and seems to have lost some weight. He is also experiencing some pain in his lower torso.

Espoir had surgery to straighten his leg. The leg will remain slightly bent, but is much less pronounced. He is able to walk using crutches and a leg brace. The leg that was operated on can now touch the ground and already hold much of his weight. He has a ‘fixiter’ on his knee to keep the leg in the right position. He is in good spirits, and has started resuming his studies. He is not able to travel to school yet, but his friend Pierre often brings home assignments for him to work on at the center.

Espoir with new chair

And little Andre, who had surgery on both legs to correct bowed femurs, is also recovering well. He was experiencing some significant pain, but that has improved. He will not be able to put weight on either leg for another six weeks. He has a wheelchair to use though, and is able to get from his sleeping house to the schoolroom in the wheelchair.


This week, Gwenda, Ruth, and Marcia went out to visit the kids and to deliver some specially made chairs and tables to help these kids be able to do their school-work and sit in a way that will aid rather than hinder their recovery. So, Dominique got a chair that fits him and a stool to rest his feet on. In Kananga, unfortunately, you can not just go out and buy a walker, or a wheelchair, or crutches. So, a walker was custom-built for Dominique, and a wheelchair was borrowed from the hospital for Andre and then modified to accommodate his small frame and need to have his legs straight.

Kids with new chairs

We have also mentioned Kanku, who has cerebral palsy. He did not have surgery, but has been given several exercises to do that should help increase the flexibility in his ankle and the strength in his legs. A boot is being custom-made in Kenya and will be brought in May to help him keep his foot in the correct position.

Unintentionally, Bob decided to identify with these Ditekemena kids in their recovery. He fell in Kananga just one week before they had surgery. He hurt his wrist, but it didn’t become apparent that it was broken until we got a second x-ray last week. A very small bone called the scaffoid is broken, so he has been put in a cast that will immobilize his thumb and wrist for 6-8 weeks. So, he is learning to do things with one hand and adjusting to being limited in his activities. We saw God’s provision in some significant ways  in this process of Bob getting treated, so are very grateful for the friends and medical professionals who have helped to discern what the right treatment was and making it happen.

Thank you for your continued prayers for healing for each of these kids (and Bob!). Pray also for the leaders of the Ditekemena program – for wisdom, health, and grace as they care for all of the kids and give special attention to those recovering from surgery.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Not limited to “Bonjour!”


Greetings from Kinshasa!  We began our French language learning last week and are making good progress.  On Tuesday, however, I hit a wall.  I was terribly discouraged.  My teacher/tutor didn’t seem sympathetic, or patient.  From experience I knew that going out and practicing some simple texts (French phrases) would be helpful, but I felt intimidated.   

I shared my feelings with Kristi.  She encouraged me and prayed for me.  I resolved to go out and practice.  I put together a short text whereby I would introduce myself, express my goal of learning French, and ask how long the person had been living in this quartier (quarter).  I started with an “easy target,”  Aisha, the guard of the home where we are staying.  He was chatty and I learned a few new things about his life.  Just 100 feet away I found three men sitting under a tree – Sabalo, Fabrice and Ekofo.  There were surprised and pleased that I stopped to speak with them.  

I then descended into a livelier, poorer section. I stopped by a small shop where I met Serge Muanda.  He seemed rather reticent initially.  However, as I worked through my French phrases, he warmed up and the conversation went very well.  I said goodbye and found my way up again to higher ground.  There, sitting across the way from a palatial home, I met Moises Tshionyi.  Moises was upbeat.  I quickly learned that he is a guard of the compound, serves as an evangelist, lives a ways away in a very populated commune, and is originally from Mbuji-Mayi.  I had to discipline myself to not speak Tshiluba but to engage him in French.  He was gracious and we had a wonderful encounter.  My confidence was growing with each experience.  This was fun!

My second to last conversation that day has proven the most interesting.  On a street corner I met Junior Mfenge selling phone units. I went through my text and he was responsive.  I later learned that he is  a medical student at the Protestant University of Congo and his father died about five years ago.  Yesterday Junior visited us, and just this afternoon we went with him to visit him mother in the bustling commune of Lemba.  Tomorrow we will go with Junior to the French service of the large Protestant Cathedral.   

Sitting with Junior (left), his Mother Mamu Marie Kitoto (right)
his sister Omba, and his niece Pelagie

Junior treated us to cokes and labored with us through our
halting and semi-certain French….

Today I am giving thanks.  Kristi and I have strengthened our foundation in French.  Moreover, in a short amount of time we are feeling like “belongers” in the little pocket of Kinshasa where we are currently residing.  As we learned in seminary in our Language Learning and Mission class, language learning is a social, not just an academic activity.  Resources for the successful language learner are people, rather than just books.  Today as we sat with Junior and his mother and sister and niece and drank sodas, I had three people helping me pronounce the word “renouveler” (to renew).  It was a bit humbling, but I am no longer limited to bonjour and a smattering of French words and phrases. 

Fran├žais – c’est bon!  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Back to basics

“Je suis cool
Tu et cool
Nous sommes Aqua KOOL!”

…proclaimed the billboard in Kinshasa. “Look, it’s a grammar lesson on a billboard. How convenient!” Bob observed as we rode by in a taxi. We arrived in Kinshasa last week, and will spend four weeks in intensive French language learning. We had to come anyway to renew our residence visas, and it felt like a good opportunity to improve our minimal French.

So, we now have 2 young women who come every morning to the house where we are staying, and spend 3 hours teaching us French. Because we have different levels of French, each of us meets separately with a teacher. The teacher provides material and instruction according to her view of what would be best. However, we have realized that the downside of this is that we may learn words or forms that we don’t find particularly useful. For example, Bob’s teacher wanted to start with body parts…so Bob can tell you the word in French for eyebrow and the bone/knob that sticks out on the outside of your ankle (what is that in English??). But when is he going to use that? I can tell you the word for cigarette butt (megot), but can’t ask the guard to take out the trash.

We have seen God answer prayers already in providing the teachers he did for us. We trust and pray that He will also help us to  provide suggestions to our teachers and communicate our goals in a way that this month really is useful for our ministry here. Learning a language is often challenging, frustrating, and tedious. We sometimes feel nervous and ashamed being in such a Francophone city like Kinshasa and stumbling to say basic phrases. We depend on the patience and grace of our teachers and the people we interact with to help us communicate. French feels complicated and our tongues often struggle to accommodate the strange sounds in French.

No, you can’t get proficient in a language in just a month. But if we can just get a foundation, we hope to continue learning when we return to Kananga, although at a slower pace. We will continue using Tshiluba as our primary language for communicating in Kasai. But we have found that French would be helpful for some of the meetings we are part of, utilizing resources in French here, and for communicating when we travel to other regions of Congo.

On y va! Here’s to another adventure in learning to communicate!