Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas in Congo, Liturgy is Beautiful!

The Christmas Day Service would begin earlier than the normal services on Sunday mornings.  That meant we had to be at Pastor Mukendi’s before 9am on Saturday morning.  Taking his advice about travelling by car instead of by bus and by foot due to the possibility of rain, we climbed in the Landcruiser and headed up to Dikongayi Parish, in the commune of Lukonga in the city of Kananga (where we live).  A few minutes after 9am, we gathered with Pastor Mukendi, some of the elders, the women’s choir, and the children’s choir.  Pastor Mukendi said a prayer, and the choir began a chorus as our long line-up processed together into the church building.  We began early because it would be a long service.  There were six choirs and each would sing 3 songs.  We went through two “tours” of all the choirs before moving into the next part of the service. 

P1080643 Children’s Choir sing in animated fashion!


P1080645the “Three Old Men” Choir


P1080655 Ba Mamu (Women’s) Choir


In the U.S., church-goers and family and friends generally go to church on Christmas Eve, and save all of Christmas Day for family and fun activities (gift exchange, nice meals, etc.).  In Congo, people worship on Christmas Day and have a large meal with family and friends afterwards.  At Dikongayi Parish, we learned that the youth also had a special worship service on Christmas Eve with a drama of the Christmas story.  A refreshing part of being in Congo is that this season has been devoid of all the commercial glitz and glamour which often distract and sometimes disturb.  In the days leading up to Christmas we have noticed a peacefulness and relaxed mood in the air – almost a whimsicality.  In a land of scarcity, privation and hardship, it is almost as if God has placed a special blanket of grace over the land for this holy time of year.  People have been walking around leisurely in groups, talking and laughing, singing and calling out to one another.  On the big day, families “kill the fattened calf” (usually a chicken, goat or pig) and celebrate!


After the first two ‘tours’ of songs from the choirs, we sang a congregational song and then Kristi prayed for the children, for peace in families, for peace in the country, for the sick, and she gave thanks to God for sending Jesus Christ.  Kristi and I both read scripture, and then Pastor Mukendi preached.  After the message, we gave our offering.  During the offering time, the joy in the air was palpable.  Old women swayed their hips and the young people displayed their awesome dancing prowess – twisting, turning, jumping, shaking a leg one direction and then the other, smiling throughout.  Unadulterated, pure joy filled God’s temple of worship (I wish you could have been there!). 

P1080663 young boy plays the large African drum (almost as big as he is!)


P1080665 Pastor Mukendi preaches Christmas Message…


One thing that stands out in my mind from our time of worship on Saturday is that so many were involved.  As a seminary graduate, I have been given the gift and the luxury of thinking about and discussing with colleagues and professors the reasons why we worship and also the ways in which we worship.  Trained in the Reformed tradition and now ordained into the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have learned the value of the Word of God read and preached during worship.  In my experience of “church” the last fifteen years as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have noticed that evangelical Christians often place central importance upon the sermon in worship.  A good or bad sermon often determines whether or not one’s worship experience was meaningful and helpful or not.  To some evangelical Christians (perhaps many), the word or concept of “liturgy” is not understood or almost considered a dirty word.  ‘Liturgy’ is often understood as rote, as something which constricts and confines the freedom and spontaneity of worship.  Yet, as I learned in seminary, liturgy actually means “the work of the people.”  For worship to be meaningful for God’s people, the congregation needs to be involved (not simply watching others or just listening to a pastor’s exposition of scripture).

P1080647 A young boy reads part of the Christ Story


On December 25th at the Dikongayi Parish in Kananga, the people were involved!  The ‘work of the people’ was evident.  Our liturgy was beautiful!  Each choir probably spent hours preparing for the big day.  All the different songs sung by all the different choirs were met with spontaneous cries of excitement, jubilation, and praise.  Sprinkled between songs, different children and youth would stand and read significant portions of the Christ story.  Each song told more and more of this amazing story, this story which had gathered us together.  The preachers and teachers were the men, women, and children who were singing the Christ story.  At one point in the service, I felt in the depths my being the beauty of how this Christ story had become the defining story for my gathered African brothers and sisters.  Like me, they had been swept up into this larger-than-life meta-narrative which continues to transform individuals, communities, nations, and destinies.  This story has become their story too, and we were all involved in one way or another in telling it (singing, reading, giving, preaching, dancing, drumming). 


Our Christmas Celebration in Congo was simple and special.  I was reminded of the beauty of liturgy, and how important it is for the whole gathered Christian community to be part of the telling of the Christ story.  Pastors and preachers are needed, but so also are the children, the mothers and the fathers, the youth and the aged.  The heralds of the first Christmas were simple shepherds and three foreigners from a distant land.  God can use any voice, and He wants to use all our voices (and our gifts) to bring Him glory. 


Hallelujah and Amen!  Immanuel – God is with us!                                                          


Feasting afterwards with Pastor Mukendi and Mamu Helen, Elder Kanku and Tatu Raphael

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


In the Kasai region there is a strong tradition of naming a child after a parent, relative, or respected friend of the family. A person who has been named after feels a special relationship with his/her namesake, and often gives gifts or special services as the child grows up. There is a special term given to someone who shares your name: “Shakena”. For example, a woman named Marie would refer to a child who has been named after her not as Marie, but as “Shakena”.

This has been a somewhat confusing and amusing culture to discover, because people often adopt the persona of a person’s “shakena” (namesake) when they are referring to someone. We have several times been confused when an adult refers to a small child as ‘uncle’, only to discover that the child is the namesake of the uncle, and therefore they refer to the child as they would they uncle, rather than using their own identity as ‘nephew’, etc. A case of this occurred when we were visiting Pastor Tshiwala with Simon Mbuyi, a member of his church. Simon has 2 daughters – one named Tshiwala, after the pastor, and the other named Margaret, after Pastor Tshiwala’s wife. Simon was describing his children to Pastor Tshiwala, saying “you don’t like your mother anymore – you are more fond of me. Margaret, on the other hand, will only be content with her mother.” After asking a few questions to clarify our confusion, we discovered that Simon was projecting the persona of his children onto Pastor Tshiwala and his wife – thus referring to them as his children. And we thought learning Tshiluba was hard enough without these twists thrown in!

Another amusing example of this linguistic culture happened the other day. I was visiting Pastor Tshibabua’s family, and had just finished eating a banana. I was about to toss the banana peel outside, when Tarsis Bob (Bob’s Shakena because of their shared name) stopped me. “Just leave it on the table, and I’ll give it to Shakena. He will be so happy to see what his wife left for him!” I was not sure if I had heard correctly, but I started laughing – why in the world would he save a banana peel to give to Bob? Tarsis Bob then picked up the banana peel and walked outside to the pig-pen near the house. “Look, Shakena! See what treat your wife has left for you?” Of course! They have a pig named Bob, who thus takes on the persona of my husband Bob, whom he was named after!! :) 

The Bobs pose with their Shakena pig

From the left, Bob the pig,
Seraphin, Bob, and Tarsis Bob

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Worshipping with God’s people, Congo style…

I want to try to describe our experience of going to church this week, a world away from going to church in the U.S., and yet with the same purpose and function of gathering as God’s people for corporate worship.

Our day started with a knock on the door at 6:20am. Bob was in the shower, so I pulled on some clothes and went, reluctantly and bleary-eyed, to answer the door. Our night-guard informed me that his daughter-in-law had come to fetch water for us, since we were in dire need of additional water. “Right now? Today?" I asked, clearly not recognizing this as a priority for 6:30 on Sunday morning. “Yes!” he said with a smile, “So that we can have drinking water.” So, I brought her inside, cleaned out our ‘water-fetching basin’, found some money, and she was able to bring 5 basins by the time we left for church!

We walked to the bus stop a few blocks from our house, hoping that we would be able to find one with a few places on it. Not as many mini-buses run on Sundays, but we were counting on the African spirit of “there is always room for one more person, if we just squeeze a little more.” We sat in the back of the mini-bus, a vehicle about the size of a mini-van in the US. In the back, where we were sitting, the benches make a U around the edge, so that goods can fit in the middle, or people can squat in the middle if the benches are full. We were packed in and I thought the bus was ‘full’ when I saw 5 young kids walk up to the bus. “Let the kids on; they’re angels on their way to church” encouraged one passenger, and they helped to sit the kids on laps or make room for them. I counted 32 people in the bus at that point—perhaps a new record for me. We were all grateful though, to be arriving at our destination in much less time than if we had to walk!

Bob was invited to help serve communion at the Lungandu parish, where we were visiting that day. That meant that he sat on the podium with  Pastor Kabasele, and I happily got to sit on a ‘normal bench’ with the rest of the congregation. I happened to sit on the children’s bench, and it was cute watching them peak in the door at first, unsure whether it was OK to sit next to me. It didn’t take long before they were piling on to the bench, sitting on each other’s laps, each one convinced that one more could somehow fit on the bench! Many of the kids had to sit on the floor at the front or in the aisle. Aside from a few minor skirmishes, they sat remarkably quiet through the service with very little intervention from the adults.

The service started with songs from the choirs (4 choirs is the standard here in most churches). So many Congolese seem to be gifted in singing accapella and creating rhythm that is really fun to listen to. The rich voices of the young men’s choir echoed through the cement church building as they belt out a song about Job, who insisted that he would continue to honor God, despite advice of his wife and friends.

Basonga choir Lungandu

I was sitting next to an older woman, who could not stand or walk easily, but who looked very intent on being there for worship. She looked rather frail, but would let out a ‘whoop, whoop’ tune in time with the song of the women’s choir when the song got really good. On a particularly rhythmic song, she reached under the bench and got her shaker to add to the beat. She had a well-worn Bible and song-book, which she had to hold very close to read, but her passion and faithfulness were truly inspiring!

Woman at Lungandu

Pastor Kabasele preached about the covenant that God made with Israel, and the covenant that Jesus also made with people, which we celebrate when we take communion. We learned a new Tshiluba phrase during the message, “kutua ndondo”, referring to a ‘sealed covenant’, or one that can bring death if it is broken. Eating the bread and drinking the wine of communion demonstrate our participation in that type of covenant, and when we explored this with our Tshiluba teacher, we understood the sense of seriousness and reverence of the congregation on this day. Pastor Kabasele explained the significance of the bread and prayed over it, and then Bob did the same over the drink (juice, in this case). While the congregation sang, people filed forward to receive the elements from the Elders at the front of the church. It was a very meaningful and serious time of remembering Jesus’ death for us, and several people bowed slightly or genuflexed when they reached the place to take the elements. I appreciated the resourcefulness of the church – there were not enough ‘communion cups’, so medicine cups were used, which of course serve the same purpose!

Bob and pastor Kabasele serve communion

The service ended about 1pm—only about 3 hours, which did not feel too long, given all the elements they pack into it! After the service, Pastor Kabasele invited Bob to accompany him via moto to serve communion to several members who were unable to come to church. One woman they saw had a serious shoulder injury; another was too weak to make the walk to church. At one house there were 10 family members who were all grateful to be able to have communion. This was Bob’s first time serving communion, and doing it in a new language is not an easy task! When they returned and served it to the women of the house where I was waiting for them, I was impressed that Bob was able to explain and pray as if he had done this a hundred times!

DSCN4515 After a delicious lunch, we headed home, tired but happy for a great worship experience to start off the week. It was about 4pm by the time we reached home…Sundays tend to be a long day and we are ready for a nap when we get home. But inside, we felt alive, reminded of our salvation through Jesus’ death and God’s covenant with us.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Standing with the suffering (Recovery in Tshikaji)

Several weeks ago we wrote about the devastating storm in Tshikaji. A tornado swept through Tshikaji on August 29 of this year and destroyed or severely damaged more than 100 homes. The CPC church in the village was destroyed when a pillar broke and the roof came crashing down. They acted quickly to meet the most urgent needs in the community, and we want to share some of these signs of hope!

intro to tarp distributionFrom left, Pastor Jonas (in blue), Pastor Mboyamba, Pastor Kazadi,
and Pastor Simon Kabue, giving instructions before the
tarps are distributed to people in the community.

In September, with support from Myers Park Presbyterian Church (NC) and First Presbyterian Yuma (AZ), tarps were distributed to all of the 100 families whose homes had been damaged, as well as to the 6 churches of different denominations whose roofs had been destroyed. The chief of the village participated by personally handing each recipient their tarp, and we were moved to see the gratitude on some of the faces. The tornado was indiscriminate – some people who had metal roofs and brick homes had their roofs blown off, while other mud houses with thatch roofs remained intact. Elder Tangila of the IMCK CPC church in Tshikaji expressed his thanks afterward to one of the CPC committee members, “Thank you for these tarps! Now my children and I can sleep safely.”

DSCN4179 This woman from the Lubi II CPC church
joyfully receives her tarp from Chief Kamenge

P1040174The Lubi II church meets under the new tarp, next
to their building where the roof had fallen. Bob is preaching.

The following week, at the end of September, with the support of PC(USA), CPC was able to purchase seeds and school kits to distribute in the community. The tornado struck just at the beginning of rainy season, when residents were preparing to plant their fields. When houses were damaged or destroyed, their seed was destroyed as well in the rain and storm. Seeds for planting beans and ground nuts were distributed to all of the families. Two women from the Lubi II CPC church expressed their thanks afterward to a church leader “We did not have hope of planting our fields this year. The seeds you gave us give us hope!” In addition, school-kits containing a back-pack, notebooks, pencils, and pens were distributed to children whose homes were damaged so that they could return to school. Tshikaji, an impoverished village that was overwhelmed and discouraged by this tornado, is finding encouragement and hope in these tangible gifts from the church.

Tatu Matoke sm

Elder Mutoke of the IMCK CPC church (photo above) spoke as a representative of the village, expressing thanks for the help the church has provided. “We are very happy for the help that has been given to us by our friends in the US. We know that what these friends have done for us is what they do for many people around the world who are in the same situation as we are. They share with those who are in need. We are certainly in a time of suffering but the help that they have given is very significant. Therefore we pray for them that God would bless them and give them more. We express our gratitude to them and say to them, ‘Thank you.’”

Child receiving backpack sm A young boy receives his backpack and school supplies.

The rebuilding process is still a long journey, and life is still hard for members of the community. This is rainy season, and many people’s roofs are still spread on the ground. But small signs of hope help people to persevere. The next goal the church is looking toward is rebuilding the Lubi II parish which was destroyed. Already, gifts from several churches and individuals have provided 20% of the needed funds. Please e-mail us if you would like to know more about the rebuilding process. If you or your church would like to contribute financially, you can do so through the Evangelism Department of the CPC, and designate the gift for “Tshikaji church rebuilding”. We want to stand with our brothers and sisters who are discouraged, and affirm with them that we are members with them of one family, the body of Christ.

Paul writes to the Corinthian believers, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people, but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Corinthians 9: 12).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

bringing body to lukitaThe Women bring Mamu Jaqueline Nyemba to be buried

The sun was intense. Umbrellas bloomed everywhere. They just brought the coffin from the church service. A long stream of cars drove at a walker’s pace. We walked with the multitude. After greeting some friends, we walked closer to the actual grave site. People were everywhere. We were standing about 200 feet from where she would be buried. The coffin, shouldered by about 10 women, passed us by. The bereaved and I greeted one another. From above, we could look down and see the sprawl. I could hear a few people speak below, but with the frivolous chatter above, I couldn’t hear much. Something propelled me forward. I went down, and entered another world.

DSCN4485 The crowd below (another world)

The intensity of the crowd was jarring, and overwhelming for many. The atmosphere was altogether separate from watching above. Death was right in front of us, visible in the form of a coffin and a fresh hole in the ground. I looked at individual faces, observing reactions to this fate-filled reality. Some stood with curious stares. Many sobbed and wailed. A host of women resisted, opposing the coffin’s entry into the ground. Screams, shouts and cries filled the air. We seemed on the precipice of chaos.

Magically and rhythmically, one of the pastors began singing a familiar hymn. “The blood of Jesus is our salvation,” we sang. The tide slowly turned. Peace gained the upper hand. Another pastor spoke up, reminding us of the “spiritual war of our faith.” Death is a threat to our faith in a loving God. Another pastor spoke words of comfort. He prayed a faith-filled prayer that touched my heart, renewing and strengthening my faith in a loving and caring God. His prayer reminded us that there is life beyond death. Death does not have the final word.

Jesus said to Martha in the book of John, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes this will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11: 25-26)

Prayer: Lord, we entrust your servant Mamu Jaqueline Nyemba into your loving embrace. We entrust others we love into your loving arms as well. We trust and believe that You are a God of love and forgiveness. For those of us who hope in You and choose to walk in Your ways, there is hope for eternal life…life beyond a coffin and a fresh hole in the ground.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting"?” (1 Corinthians 15: 55, Hosea 13: 14)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why are you downcast, O my soul?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
     Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
      for I will yet praise him,
      my Savior and my God.”
                       (Ps. 42:5,11)

This refrain in Psalm 42 has felt especially meaningful recently. We say it to ourselves, grateful for the reminder that there IS still hope in God. We are grieving for 2 friends in the U.S. who passed away in the last few weeks. Just in the last 3 days, we have learned of 3 deaths of people we knew in our community here. We sat yesterday with the pastor of the church at Munkamba, where we stayed for a month of language learning this year. He shared about a sickness that swept the community in the last few months, killing young children. At one point 3 or 4 children were dying per day, within one small village. We grieve, and feel overwhelmed. Despite how communication and speed of travel make the world feel ‘smaller’, we feel very far away when we can not be physically present with those we love during significant life events.

We have both also gone through bouts of discouragement in the last week. When I was feeling down and hopeless last week, Psalm 42 came to mind. I appreciate that the psalmist seems to be talking to himself, to the soul. Hope is a choice, especially the aspect of where we put our hope. The following day, we went to a prayer meeting, and I prayed for freedom from the hopelessness and discouragement that I was in, and asked God to help me hope in Him. Within the next day, I felt encouraged, and reassured that “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” We persevere in hope, in spite of the grief and the things that discourage us. God is with us!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kasai Metzel

On our recent visit to Mbuji-Mayi, we were intrigued to visit the Kasai Metzel school, a primary and secondary school with a mission to provide education to local orphans. We arrived in the afternoon, while the primary school was in session, and could immediately hear the chorus of voices from various classrooms reciting their lessons. We were introduced first to the first-grade classroom, which had kids literally spilling out the door for lack of space. Somehow, 101 first-year students squeeze into one classroom, with one teacher. There is not enough space or desks for all the students, so many of them sit on the floor. When we poked our heads in to take a picture, they erupted with laughter.

Kasai Metzel - first yearThe first-grade students in their classroom, 
teacher standing on the right.

We went on and visited all of the class-rooms and greeted the students. As we entered, the students would all stand and recite a greeting in French. It seemed a bit ironic that the first time we had to ask our host, Elder Mukendi, what the students had said, and he translated it into Tshiluba. We then greeted the students briefly in Tshiluba, which they found amusing. As is typical for most of the schools in Congo, the students attend school for half the day, either morning or afternoon, so that the classrooms can be used twice per day and serve double the amount of students. In this one modest building, 754 elementary school students attend classes. Of those students, 150 are considered orphans, who have lost either one or both parents. The school is run as a private school, using the school fees paid by students who can afford it to subsidize the education of the orphans.


Paul Mukendi shows us the school building

There are 12 teachers for the elementary school and 4 teachers for the secondary school. This year PC(USA) supported a training for teachers, in part to equip them to effectively teach using new school books that were donated by the government of Belgium. One result of the training is a dramatic increase in student enrollment, since the community feels that these teachers are better equipped than those in other schools! We were excited to meet these teachers who make a tremendous effort to teach these hundreds of students.


Kristi poses with the teachers and director of the school

Kids at recess Kasai MetzelFirst-grade students are playing a game of ‘hunt the lion’ during recess


The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…(Isaiah 61: 1-2a)

For members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we can be proud of our involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not only have our missionaries been pioneers in evangelizing the vast Kasai region with the Good News of Jesus Christ, they have also shared this Good News by working tirelessly and sacrificially to protect the Congolese people against the brutal practices of the rubber industry and the slave trade in the late 19th and early 20th century. These early missionaries are remembered to this day for their advocacy of simple human rights for the Congolese people. Although I have read this history (particularly in regards to Rev. William Sheppard), it became more real to me on our recent trip to Mbuji-Mayi.

On a mid-morning visit to a local church leader, we sat with Mukulu (Elder) Kabaseli in his quiet home as the mid-morning sun began to penetrate his earthen-carved sitting room.  Mukulu Kabaseli shared with us the history of his family. He shared where he was born. He shared the many different places where he had lived. We began to get a fuller picture of what life had been like, not only for him but for the generations preceding him.

Mukulu Kabaseli and his wife (with me)Mukulu Kabaseli and his wife (with me) in their home

His story became particularly poignant when he told us about his grandfather.  He made a statement that didn’t seem to make sense.  He told us that his grandfather had moved from a village called Kabeya Kamuanga in East Kasai, to the village of Luebo on the farthest reaches of West Kasai. “Why,” I asked, “did your grandfather move that huge distance?” “Bupika,” was his reply. ‘Bupika’… “What is that?” I thought.  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Oh yes, ‘Bupika’ – slavery!  He then went on to tell us about the incredible ways Presbyterian missionaries had ‘set free’ Congolese back in those tragic days. With passion and verve, he made motions with his arms and neck to show how missionaries had literally cut the noose from around the neck of Congolese slaves who were meant to perish, setting them free.  He spoke with passion about the tremendous work those early missionaries had done to help the Congolese in the midst of the atrocities of King Leopold and also the Belgium government in the colonial days.   

This tremendous work continues through the lives of Congolese believers.  Inspired by the example of those missionaries who set Congolese captives free, Mukulu Kabaseli is the elder of a church in a town full of refugees from the Katanga Region of Congo.  These refugees fled from Katanga in the early 90’s due to political problems in the country.  Mukulu Kabaseli continues to serve this marginalized community of immigrants and refugees, recognizing that our God cares for the brokenhearted, the captives, and those living in darkness and isolation. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

“Mamu” Power!

We just returned from our first visit to Mbuji-Mayi, the capital of Kasai Oriental, the province next-door to us to the east. It was a grueling 180km (about 110 miles) drive to Mbuji-Mayi, which we likened to the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland—for 9 hours straight! We enjoyed meeting leaders in the church there, visiting families in their homes, and seeing the ‘life of the church’ in Mbuji Mayi. One of our highlights was meeting with the women’s leadership from the Synod and presbyteries that Mbuji-Mayi is located in. Three times we were hosted for a meal in different churches by groups of women, and each time we grew more impressed with the strength and faith of the women of the church.

DSCN4359 Mamu Sabine (left) and other women’s leaders dance
into the church as they greet us.

In each place, we were joyfully greeted with song and dance as we drove up to the church. It is hard not to feel welcomed and joyful when you are received this way. We were served a big meal (and feeding the car-load of people we traveled with is an undertaking!) and then heard from them about their activities and life in the church. Culturally, women have a big role to play in farming, working, taking care of their families, and being the social and emotional ‘glue’ in the community to keep people together. This means that being involved in the church does not come easily!

First, the women of CPC typically divide their parishes into ‘cells’, and the women of each cell meet once per week to pray, study the Bible and worship. The women of each parish have a monthly combined meeting, and every 3 months the women of several parishes or an entire presbytery will meet in one location for a ‘unity meeting’. These women typically travel to all of these meetings by foot, which means walking for 2 or more hours if going to another parish! Each year they have a women’s conference for the presbytery and the synod, which we are anxious to visit sometime soon. At their conferences, women learn how to teach the Bible, lead singing, facilitate women’s activities in the parish, and cultivate healthy relationships in their families, as well as physical skills like soap-making and cooking. These conferences are an important time for women to learn and teach, because it empowers them to teach and have confidence to voice their opinions in their parishes.

DSCN4374Discussing women’s activities with the leadership of the Synod of East Kasai

In each group of women, we were impressed with the projects that they have started to improve the lives of the poor in their parishes. We were especially impressed that most of these projects are initiated and funded by the women themselves! Several times we heard a story like, “the women of the committee each contributed what they could, and we came up with $10. So we bought a few chickens….” Or, “We loaned the $10 we saved to a woman who did not have a job, and told her to put the money to use.” Or, “We were able to buy supplies to make and sell soap.” Amazing how many possibilities there are with a little creativity!


One women shows off the clothing that she made.
The women dye fabric as a cooperative project and sell it.

Presbytery women in corn The women of the Presbytery of Mbuji-Mayi stand in the corn of
their cooperative field. The proceeds from the harvest helps start
new projects, provides food for their families, and also supports
the local parish and the women’s department of CPC.

DSCN4397 The women of the Bipemba parish slowly built a house with the
proceeds from their field! The house is rented to 2 families, and
provides an income of $5 per month to support women’s activities.
They hope to start building a second house!

Each time we heard their stories, we left impressed. These women have strength and faith to persevere in the midst of many challenges. It is a challenge for everyone here to feed their children and pay the school fees, and keep their families healthy. But these women choose to put God first, make time for worship and prayer, and therefore find strength and creativity to face these needs together. In each location, they expressed a desire to partner with women in the U.S., to encourage and strengthen each other, and to find support to grow some of their projects. We think that we have lots to learn from them! :)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Chicken Blessing

 Kasai rooster We were going to visit Pastor Mboyamba at his home, to officially congratulate him on his new position as the elected Legal Representative for the CPC. We set out first for the market with our house-worker, Tatu Muanda. He led us to the section where they sell chickens, and we carefully selected a large white rooster. We bought a burlap bag and gently placed the rooster in the bag. Then, we walked back to the bus-stop and boarded a crowded mini-bus out to Kananga 2. We parted ways with Tatu Muanda at his stop, and gingerly carried our rooster the 1km or so to Pastor Mboyamba’s house. The rooster stayed pretty quiet, and it felt strange to realize that while this was the first time either of us had ever carried a live rooster in a bag, no one who passed us on the street would necessarily know we were carrying a live chicken!

We found several other people sitting in clusters in the yard of Pastor Mboyamba’s house, but he was not yet home. He had a constant stream on visitors in the week following his appointment, at all hours of the day. Chairs were brought for us, and we chatted with his wife, Mama Charlotte, and met the other visitors. The rooster stayed pretty quiet in his bag until I accidentally bumped it, and then the clucking turned a few heads. Pastor Mboyamba arrived on his moto, and pulled into the yard near our chairs. Before he had even dismounted, Bob pulled out the chicken and started to sing the song we had rehearsed:

Tshiakadipuee, Thiakadipuee, Thiakadipuee, shila muana
Tshiakadipuee, Thiakadipuee, Thiakadipuee, shila muana
muana nguetu bonso!

While we chanted this song, Bob held the chicken and danced around Pastor Mboyamba, touching it to his head, his shoulders, even down to his knees. People laughed and clapped and joined in the singing. Mama Charlotte took the chicken, and we then went inside to eat – a true expression of African hospitality! After eating, we sat outside, and each new visitor who came was told the story of the ‘Batoke’ (Westerners) who gave a chicken to Pastor Mboyamba and sang the traditional song of congratulations.

Before we went to visit Pastor Mboyamba, we shared with our language teacher about the visit, and asked for his advice about the appropriate way to express our congratulations. He affirmed that giving a live chicken was a good idea, wrote out the words of the song for us to learn, and explained how to hold the chicken and ‘bless’ the person with it. This event happened more than a month ago. We continue to hear people re-tell this story, or meet people who have heard the story somehow. “…and they brought a totally white chicken! You should have seen how Bob waved the chicken around Pastor Mboyamba!” They express how impressed they are that we would do this, as this shows how we have really embraced the culture. The culture in Kananga is so different from our home culture, and we find a constant tension between embracing the culture and maintaining our own culture. This is one victory in the midst of many other experiences where we feel we failed to adequately appreciate the culture. But a victory, none the less! :)


Standing with Pastor Mboyamba (white shirt) in front of his home

Monday, October 11, 2010

Everybody needs a hero!

Everybody needs a hero.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have a number of heroes.  One is Billy Graham.  In my estimation, Billy did more for the church in the 20th century than any other person.  Not only did he preach the Gospel message to millions, he brought church leaders together and fostered a spirit of unity and ecumenism that continues to this day.  Another hero of mine is William Carey.  Carey believed in the mission movement in a day when the ultra-Calvinist position in England was that God would reach the unreached unassisted.  Carey believed that “means” were necessary to spread the message of God’s love.  He sailed with his family to India where he served and had a fruitful missionary career.  His act of faith ignited the modern missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Our 72 year old Congolese language teacher, Mukulu Muamba, has a hero.  The name of his hero is Pastor Daniel Moody Tshisungu.  Pastor Tshisungu was born at the turn of the 20th century and died in 1964.  He was a prominent Congolese evangelist in the Presbyterian Church of Congo.  He is buried behind the church where Kristi and I often worship in Kananga.  Tshisungu is known as someone who was full of the Holy Spirit.  He was a popular and powerful preacher and teacher.  He is remembered for having a strong and true faith. 

Let me tell you a story which Mukulu Muamba recently related to us.  In 1953/54 there was a terrible famine in the area of the Lubondai Mission Station of West Kasai.  It didn’t rain for two years, and people’s crops were being devastated.  Missionaries did their best to find food from other regions, but their efforts were not able to quell the food shortage.  Word of the famine came to Pastor Tshisungu who was living in Luebo.  Tshisungu sent word to the villagers of Lubondai, “Don’t worry.  Keep planting.”  The villagers were dumbstruck.  “Keep planting…there is no rain!”  He arrived the following Saturday, greeted by hundreds camped on the grass around the house where he would stay.  The next morning in church he exhorted everyone to meet every evening the following week at church to pray.  He encouraged them to plant and cultivate during the day, and to come together and pray afterwards in the evening.  Following his admonition, they planted during the day and came in the evening.  They prayed until 10pm.  Some lived long distances away.  Yet, they still came to pray and seek God’s face in the midst of their adversity.  On the following Sunday, all gathered in church for worship.  Pastor Tshisungu said to the congregation, “Don’t worry.  God has heard your prayer.  The rain will come.  The famine is over.”  At the end of the service, Pastor Tshisungu prayed.  As soon as he closed with the word “Amen,” a torrential downpour fell from the heavens.  People stood aghast…in amazement!  God had heard their prayers.  The following morning Pastor Tshisungu encouraged the praying faithful to give thanks to God for hearing them and answering their cry.  He then went back to Luebo.  The rains continued, and they enjoyed a bountiful harvest.  Their grief turned to joy.  Their sadness turned into a season of celebration.

The famous Congolese evangelist, Pastor Daniel Moody Tshisungu, is becoming a hero of mine as well.  Thank you LORD, for the ways you use the lives of others to inspire us to greater faith and faithfulness!                        

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living around poverty

One of the most glaring aspects of life in Congo is poverty. Adjusting to living around the level of poverty here is a constant challenge. It effects the structure of economic society: prices, cost of labor, means of distributing goods. Poverty affects culture … and all of life.

When we arrived at Lake Munkamba, 90km from Kananga, we learned that one of our neighbors was leaving the following day to go to Kananga. He walked the entire way, and back, because he did not have money for other means of transport (and even if he did, there is no bus). Government workers (e.g. teachers, police, nurses) typically earn a salary of $35  per month. The total Sunday offering for a church of about 300 people is consistently less than $20. When people buy sugar (somewhat of a luxury item), they typically buy it in tiny bags that cost 5 cents. A majority of the population lives on an income of less than $1/day. Many people work very hard and earn very little.

In terms of adjusting to life, this means that we often see or hear about difficult situations. We were surprised to see the number of holes in the roof of one pastor we stayed with; he invited us to return in the rainy season to see what it is like to dodge the drips! A woman came last week who is a single mother with a disability, and asked if we could take in her child because she does not have the ability to care for him. Mama Mputu, who brings water for us once a week, came on Monday to ask for food because she and her children had gone to bed hungry for 3 days straight. Visiting our friends and neighbors is often bittersweet – we enjoy seeing the smiles of the children and connecting with people, but we grieve to see the physical challenges they life with.

P1020975 Mamu Mputu pours the water from the basin into the barrel in our kitchen.

We recognize that in this context, we are considered ‘rich’, perhaps even extravagantly so. This feels uncomfortable, partly because we would not put ourselves in that category in the U.S. Living around poverty really challenges us in our life decisions. Is it ‘right’ to say ‘no’ to paying school fees for a child we have just met, and then to go to a restaurant for dinner? Should I feel guilty when I eat chicken because I know how rarely many people around us get to eat chicken?

DSCN4080 Mama Elisabeth in front of her home. She sells peanuts and cassava at the
market on our street, and her husband is the night guard for the CPC education office.

Congo has a communal culture. The culture and the long history of poverty and exploitation means that many people seek out people to help them with their problems. We admire the way that people are involved in each others lives in times of need. Since we are foreigners, and perceived to have more disposable funds than most Congolese, we often get asked for assistance. How do we respond? We often get overwhelmed by the pervasive problems that we see. We cannot help every person that asks, and if we tried, we would be further overwhelmed by requests. We do, however, want to be involved in people’s lives, and we do want to find ways to help people with these urgent needs.

A few weeks ago, we were expecting a transfer of money from Kinshasa which took longer than we anticipated. In our optimism that it would only take a few days, we got down to only 8,000 Francs (about $8) remaining in our wallets. It was Friday evening, and we knew it was unlikely we would be able to receive the transfer until Monday. Some friends were going to the local prison the next day, and we wanted to contribute toward the meal they were preparing for the prisoners. I wondered how we would make it through the weekend! We decided we would contribute $5 to the prison ministry and trust that we could make it until Monday. That night I slept fitfully, worrying and calculating how we could pay the bus fare to church on Sunday, and what we would eat. Because we do not have a refrigerator, we buy food every day or two; how could we make it until Monday without going to bed hungry? The next morning, I reflected on how consumed and worried I was, and realized that many of our neighbors and friends in Congo live with these questions and worries every day! In our case, it was an unusual situation, and we were overjoyed when we were able to receive the transfer on Saturday. It was a good reminder for me though, of the challenges of lack of resources.

I was reflecting recently on systemic poverty, and wondering about the causes. I speculated what steps might help improve the quality of life for individuals or the society as a whole. I realized that I cannot fully understand all of the factors involved, or determine the right solutions—I’ll leave that for the experts. We are simply being asked by God to listen to Him, and be obedient each day. I recently read a quote from Mother Theresa that seemed poignant in this environment: “It is not that you serve the rich or the poor. It is the love you put into the doing.” We are glad that in this context we work with the church. We are not trying to solve problems by ourselves; we are just small parts of the Body of Christ in Congo, seeking to show God’s love and respond to the spiritual and physical needs of the people around us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Home Shopping Network (in Congo!)

Knock knock knock.  Knock knock knock.  Knock knock knock.  Between 7:30 and 9:30am Monday through Saturday, this knocking drill and descending and ascending our stairwell is inevitably how our days starts.  Someone is at the door.  Another person is at the door.  A third comes, and sometimes a fourth.  One day they all came at the same time - it almost felt like they had come for a party!

First there is Tatu Marcel with his leafy, well-washed greens, his onions, his carrots, and his overpriced papayas.  His vegetables always look so delectable and tempting.  We might even buy when we don’t feel a need.  He is so gentle and mild-mannered, and he doesn’t take “no” very easily for an answer.  He is our produce section, and we are happy that he graces our door three times a week.

Then there is Bobby (pronounced bobee in French).  He is my “shakena,” meaning that we share the same name.  Bobby is fourteen years old, and he is the consummate salesperson.  He has an inside-tract with the Senegalese continent of soldiers here in Congo under UN mandate.  These soldiers receive a regular ration pack, and they sell some of the contents to Bobby who is able to resell these difficult-to-find items for a profit.  If Tatu Marcel is our produce section, then Bobby is our canned goods, fruits, juices and dairy section.  Here is a list of some of the commodities we purchase from Bobby:  apples, oranges, apple juice, orange juice, yogurt, soups, chocolate powder, couscous, eggs, and English Breakfast tea.  For anyone who has ever lived in central Congo, they will know that almost everything Bobby sells are genuine commodities, that is, they cannot be found elsewhere.  Bobby has a sad story.  His mother passed away last year and his father lives far away in Kinshasa.  Because of his Mom’s passing and his father’s absence, he is obliged to sell things to pay for schooling.  He and three of his four siblings live with his grandparents.  Bobby is bright, winsome and friendly.  He often gives us a few things extra “thianana” (free), like salt and pepper packages and canned fruit.  He always asks to see both of us when he comes, and we look forward to our visits from Bobby. 

with Bobby, cropped with Bobby, on our doorstep

Next we have Tatu Richard, Tatu Willy, and Tatu Albert Muanza.  These men bring new meaning to the expression “starving artist.”  Their visits are less predictable, but fairly routine nonetheless.  Tatu Richard produces wonderful paintings of traditional village life.  Tatu Willy makes detailed wooden sculptures.  He has a long history of selling his wares to former missionaries.  Tatu Albert Muanza sells traditional wooden sculptures and Bakuba wall hangings made from palm fronds.  We have already bought more small wooden elephants than we need, and Tatu Richard is certainly helping us make our drab malls more colorful and interesting.  We are glad to help these artists, but sometimes we feel exasperated because we don’t aim to make our apartment a museum.  The most difficult moments come when we graciously say “no,” and they respond with, “please buy something, my family is hungry.”  We have a good relationship with each of these artists, and we hope to help them and their families in some small way.                     

Lastly there is “muena nkuasa,” Tatu Kazadi.  We call him ‘muena kuasa’ because his specialty is making outdoor furniture from bamboo.  So far we have bought three bamboo chairs, a small bamboo table, and a bamboo shelf from him.  His work is very pleasing to the eye, and the chairs are quite comfortable.  In fact, I was interrupted from writing this blog entry by Tatu Kazadi who wanted to sell us a few more chairs.  We bought one, and he was happy enough.  He is a tough negotiator, but is needy like all of our other ‘starving artist’ friends.  

with Tatu Kazadi, cropped Bob with Tatu Kazadi, “muena nkuasa”

A PRAYER:  Gracious God, “Nzambi wa luse,” give us wisdom in how to respond to those who grace our door each week.  We are thankful for the gifts you give each one of us, and that You have made each person in Your image.  Show us how to respect the dignity of each person we meet, and how to show them Your love.  Thank You Lord for our “Home Shopping Network” right here in Congo.  Thank you for Your provision, Your care, and Your love.  “Dina diebe ditumbishibue diba dionso.  Utuvuije bantu ba luse.”   

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tornado in Tshikaji!

About 2 weeks ago, we spontaneously took a break from Kananga for 2 days and ‘escaped’ to Tshikaji. This village, 15 km south of Kananga, is the site of the CPC’s primary hospital in the Kasai region. A hydro-electric dam provides constant power and running water for the hospital and the connected institutions, and therefore it provides some welcome comforts for us! We arrived in Tshikaji mid-day on Monday, needing some time alone and refreshment, and discovered that the village of Tshikaji was in a state of shock and devastation. A storm, which perhaps was a tornado, whipped through the village on Sunday evening, August 29. In just a few minutes, more than 130 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Six churches were also destroyed, and 2 schools received significant damage. Two young children were killed and more than 30 people received injuries that will take months to heal. More than 700 people are left homeless.

The storm seems to have jumped around—some houses were destroyed but their neighbors were left untouched. Tornadoes are highly unusual in the Kasai region, but it does seem that is the best description of this storm. The CPC church in the village was a solid stone structure with a metal roof that was built in 1982. The roof was completely blown off and the pillars broken, but a mud-brick house nearby remained intact. The metal roof of one family we know was blown more than 50 meters from his house. Most houses in the village are made of adobe-mud bricks and have thatched roofs. Because of the vulnerability of their homes and the severity of the wind, several people had taken refuge in the church. When the roof fell, the broken pillar hit a 9-month old child in the head and killed him. In the midst of grieving and trying to recover from the destruction of their homes, it is a further blow to the community to not have a church to gather and worship in.

Lubi II church

The Lubi II church in Tshikaji. The roof has completely fallen.

Last week we walked through the village of Tshikaji with some pastors from the region. The degree of devastation was appalling—so many roofs have been blown off and houses destroyed. In many cases, people continue to sleep in their homes in unsafe conditions. Tshikaji is a region of subsistence agriculture, and most residents survive just by meeting daily needs—they do not have a cushion of resources to deal with disasters of this magnitude. To compound the challenge, this storm came just at the beginning of rainy season, when farmers are planting their fields and children return to school. This storm destroyed the seeds that many people were preparing to plant. Those left without roofs on their homes have to deal with frequent rains, which makes them vulnerable to sickness. Many children have been unable to return to school because their belongings were destroyed and all of the family resources are tied up in daily survival needs. We grieved to see the destruction in an area of such vulnerability.

Tshikaji Mamu Kanku house Mama Kanku, a member of the IMCK Presbyterian Church in Tshikaji.
Her house completely crumpled to the ground, but the small kitchen-house
beside it remained intact. The structure made of palm-fronds in the background is
their latrine, which perhaps demonstrates the economic vulnerability of the community.

Tshikaji Baba Tshiela Mulumba house This adobe-brick house completed crumpled (foreground). Mama Tshiela Mulumba and her husband had
just stepped outside the house when it fell. They attend the Lubi II CPC church in
Tshikaji, and are among the ‘destitute poor’ that are given assistance by the church.

The church leadership of the CPC recognizes the impact of this destruction on an already vulnerable community. They are looking for ways to respond to the urgent needs in this community and encourage the church in Tshikaji. A plan has been created to provide support for the most urgent needs of food security, school support, and shelter. Financial assistance has been applied for from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and we are praying for others who will contribute to the rebuilding efforts.

If you would like to contribute towards the rebuilding of the church or of responding to other urgent needs in the community, you can do so through the Evangelism Department of the CPC, and note in the comments/instructions box that it is for “Tshikaji”. You can donate through PC(USA) at this site: Evangelism Department. Please pray for protection and provision for the people of this community as they seek to rebuild their lives!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Last Thursday was a very exciting day at our apartment. We were studying Tshiluba at home at around 11am. Bob got up to get something, and I heard him shout “Kristi! Come look!” I was sure he had seen a huge spider or a mouse. “Lights!”, he said, pointing to one of the ceiling lights, which we had never before seen lit, but which was now definitely ‘on’. We shouted with joy, looked around, and noticed that some other lights were on. We looked out the windows, and realized that there was a man from the electricity company in the back-yard, just waiting for confirmation that the electricity was now working. We went down and expressed our excitement to him and to everyone else present that today we finally got electricity, for the first time since we moved in to our apartment 2 months ago!

That evening, as it got dark at around 7pm, the electricity came on again. We looked around in amazement…it felt strange to be in such bright light. The apartment felt different, and we felt like we were seeing some of our rooms for the first time, in this new ‘light’. A few of the rooms (e.g. the shower-room and the toilet-room) do not have outside windows, so they never get much light. Now we realized where we needed to do some cleaning! It felt so strange to be able to walk into a room without carrying a flashlight or a lantern…and to be able to see clearly! Cooking with the whole room lit felt like a true luxury…and to be able to read without holding a flashlight! Of course one of the big perks is being able to charge our computers and phone at home, instead of only at the once-per-week visit to the internet cafe.

It now appears, after a few days of our new-found luxury, that we will receive electricity every other day, for about 3 hours in the evening. This does not sound like much, but it feels like a true gift to us right now, after 2 months of absolutely no electricity. In the midst of all the other adjustments we are making to culture and life in Kananga, a few hours of electricity periodically definitely helps to ease some of the logisitical challenges. In fact, we are grateful that we do not have electricity every day. Sitting out on our balcony tonight, watching the stars come out to the tune of a chorus of frogs while people walked home from work, we are grateful for these ‘nights of darkness.’ They help us to stay connected with our environment and not be tempted to sequester ourselves with a computer. We still get our candle-light dinners, but we also fully appreciate the convenience and accessibility that electricity gives!

A tight-spot

On Saturday evening, August 28th, Kristi and I were driving home from a Bible study at the home of a fellow missionary couple.  This couple lives about 15 kilometers south of Kananga, in a village called Tshikaji. Our goal was to leave by 6pm, so that we would have enough daylight on our way home. Unfortunately, we got a late start and darkness began to fall half-way through our journey. Kananga and Tshikaji are separated by an army camp which one must pass through, and it is not recommended to drive through the camp at night. On the way driving down that afternoon, the evangelism vehicle we were driving stalled a couple of times and seemed to be having some trouble. I checked the oil and engine when we arrived in Tshikaji, and we figured there must have been something wrong with the fuel tank. Well, on our return journey this problem persisted. About one third of our way home, the vehicle would only accelerate to a certain point and then would slowly decelerate and would oftentimes just die. Moreover, the problem seemed to be getting worse each time the car died. About half-way through the camp we realized that the car probably was not going to make it.  We prayed that God would help us get home.  We tried to call a friend to alert him of our predicament, but the network failed, so we just continued on.   

Finally, we were barely moving and our vehicle began to make sudden jerking motions as it petered out.  A car came slowly from behind and pulled alongside us. A gentleman in the car asked us in English how he could help us. It was a surprise for us to hear him speak English, as French is the lingua franca here along with four official Congolese languages.  We told him we did not think we could make it home. He identified himself as the General, commander of all the soldiers in the region.  He said that he wanted to help us. He helped us find a place where we could push the car to the side of the road. He comforted us and encouraged us to remain calm. He sat us in his very comfortable, very nice, air-conditioned sports-utility vehicle while he appointed soldiers to watch our vehicle through the night. He then got into his car and drove us home. When he discovered I was a pastor, he said something like, “Wow, this is God’s benediction for me to help you. God has ordained this.” When we arrived home, he asked if I could pray for he and his family. I laid hands on him and prayed for him and his wife and three children. On our way to church the next morning, he called us to insure that the car had been retrieved and that everything was okay. We were surprised to hear from him that morning, as he had told us that he was going to Lake Munkamba that morning to greet the President who was on his way to Kananga.  He went above and beyond to insure that everything was copacetic for us.  At church we sat next to a colleague and told him our story. This pastor told us that he knows well of this General.  He described him as a challenging person to deal with.  He said that only God could use someone of like character to help us. He affirmed God’s intervention on our behalf.  We are praising God for His protection and faithfulness, as we found ourselves in a tight-spot on Saturday night. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010


This past Sunday was the official establishing of a new parish in Kananga: “Oasis Butoke.” We were able to worship with them the previous week, when it was still considered an ‘evangelistic circle’, and we were very excited by this thriving new growth in the church. On the edge of Kananga, and literally next-door to the airport, Christians are surmounting the obstacles to gather to worship.

Pastor Thierre was assigned this section of town 2 years ago to start a new church. He teaches high-school geography full time in order to support his family, then travels the 5 kilometers out to Oasis (pronounced in French like “owaazees”) in his spare time to visit members of the community and facilitate the church. Pastor Thierre has a gift for evangelism and a passion to make God’s grace known, which we could see from the fast growth of this new church! He was allowed to use an unused school building for the church to meet in, which appeared to my American eyes like a run-down stable or shed—but they make it functional!


People bring chairs from their homes, and some kids sit on mats on the floor or crowd onto school benches. They pack 100+ people in a small space! It started raining during the service (a big surprise for dry season!), and the dark clouds made it hard to see. People moved out of the way of the rain dripping through the roof, and they found a few candles and a lantern so that the pastor could read from the Bible. DSCN3992

Oasis service

I will admit that on this particular Sunday, I woke up overwhelmed by the frustrations of life in Kananga. We are in the midst of culture shock, and sometimes simple things like not having electricity in the house or having to cook with charcoal seem unbearable. In the face of my own frustrations, it was very inspiring to be worshipping with these fellow Christians whose lives are a daily struggle.

Because this is a new church, many of the people who attend have not grown up in the church. They are recent discoverers of God’s grace and forgiveness, which makes them hungry to know about God. Pastor Thierre laments that most of them do not have Bibles, and the church does not have the resources to provide the Bibles.

In the classic style we have seen throughout Kananga, they had at least 3 choirs, even if they only had a few people in the choir. Everyone enjoyed the dancing and energetic singing as we gave our offerings. Bob participated by giving a pastoral prayer and the benediction. After the service, Pastor Thierre invited Bob to join him in praying for children. We had some fun singing with the kids and asking them questions while we waited for the rain to stop. DSCN3996 We were served a nice meal of bidia and goat meat, and sent home with a gift of some pineapples from the church. We returned home with renewed hope and excitement for how God is revealing Himself to people in Kasai. We are eager to see the continued development of new church projects like Oasis!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All-Night Prayer Meeting in Kananga

It was about 7:15pm and I heard a voice from the street calling my name (or calling one of my Tshiluba names!), “Muambi Losa.”  It was Pastor Kabaseli, who had come to take us to the monthly all-night prayer meeting of the Kananga Presbytery.  As we walked through the now-darkened streets, Pastor Kabaseli told us about the history of these prayer meetings.  “We began these meetings about ten years ago,” he said, “to revive and strengthen the faith of believers in the church…in these meetings, God often shows us things that He wants to do.” 

Both in Rwanda and in Pasadena (CA), I (Bob) have been involved in different all-night prayer meetings and prayer ministries.  In my experience, I have found that these all-night meetings require perseverance (to pray for such an extended period), but they can refresh one’s spirit in powerful and profound ways.  It is a wonderful opportunity to have extended time with the Lord, to lift up His name in extended worship, and to bring before His throne petitions and requests.  Another hallmark of these meetings is that it is usually difficult to mobilize large numbers of people to attend…mainly because it is an all-night meeting! 

Having walked forty-five minutes across town, Pastor Kabaseli pointed to a lighted building not too far in the distance.  “There is the church,” he said.  As we approached, we were amazed that there were people all the way outside the door, seated on benches and worshiping.  When we entered the church building, we were amazed to find women, children, youth, and men of all ages strewn everywhere.  All the benches had been moved out and the sanctuary looked like a refugee camp.  In a small-to-medium sized building, there must have been 4-500 people!  “Wow,” we thought to ourselves, “this is unreal.”  Pastor Kabaseli would be leading the meeting, so he took us up front as we inauspiciously sat behind the podium with some church leaders.      

After some delay and preparation, the meeting began about an hour later.  During this waiting time, youth led everyone in animated worship.  When the meeting formally began, we were amazed, impressed and blessed by the burst of sound as everyone prayed out-loud, without inhibition.  Some refer to it as “Korean style prayer,” but the idea is that the leader gives out direction for certain themes to pray for, and everyone prays out-loud at the same time.  Everyone prayed…I mean everyone.  We were loud!  This was a powerful meeting, and the fervency of these pray-ers lasted until 6:30 in the morning (though we did take a break for rest in the middle of the night).   At different times in the night, Pastor Thierre, a new friend, would bring people forward who were sick and we would pray for them.  Later, Pastor Thierre took me down into the crowd to pray for children (to pray for their health, etc).  I cannot even count how many children we prayed for.  It was exhausting work, but exhilarating!!!

So far here in Congo we have been exposed to the life of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC).  We have been impressed with how well mobilized and organized the church is.  The CPC has an impressive history and continues to have a strong presence.  Yet, in our exposure to the life of the church, I was still looking for that place of real fervency and passion.  Where is that place where people are absolutely desperate for God’s presence and power?  Where is that place where people know they have a need for forgiveness and know the forgiveness that God alone offers?  Where is that place where people can worship their King with absolute abandon and have freedom in the Spirit?  On this night and in this church, we found ‘that place’.  People here were desperate for God, and my heart was touched…profoundly.  I felt so encouraged to be part of this meeting.  Our hearts soared during this prayer meeting and afterwards.  God ministered His peace and His presence and His love to us in remarkable ways.  We joined the others in praying and praising with abandon!  We would not soon forget this night…and, we look forward to the next all-night meeting next month.    


Prayer meeting - people

all-night prayer meeting

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What’s in a name?

Names – they are a key part of our identification. Since we arrived in Congo, often people we meet ask us what our local or Tshiluba names are. Bob and Kristi – we do not consider these to be difficult names to pronounce, but anything unfamiliar can be a challenge. Our names are not easy for tongues that are used to Tshiluba and French, so we have been eager to have local names that will help people to find it easy to say and remember our names. The church here told us that we would be given names at the General Assembly meeting in August. It has felt like a long wait, and in the last month, we discovered that people in Kananga have all kinds of local names for us. People have yelled greetings using the names Ngalula, Kabaseli, Kapinga, Mukendi, and others. So—the GA happened last week, and now we officially have names given by the church that we can tell people!

We were invited to the opening worship of the GA meeting. We headed out to Tshikaji for the meeting with 3 goats stacked on top of each other in the land cruiser—but that is a story for another day! We made it just for the tail end of the opening worship, and were introduced to all of the delegates. We were formally given our names, determined by the leadership of the church: Muambi Disanka and Mamu Luse. We were able to share for a few minutes, and we were happy that at this point we have enough Tshiluba to be able to share briefly our joy for working with the church and our hope for what God is doing here.

The names are meaningful, so let me elaborate: Bob is: Muambi (teacher, pastor) Disanka (joy, happiness). Kristi is Mamu (mother, Mrs.) Luse (compassion). We are excited about these names and pray that the names will be a true reflection of our lives. We reflected later that it seems a bit ironic—naturally, Bob has a greater propensity for compassion, and Kristi tends to have a more joyful personality than Bob. As a couple though, we are two people but at the same time one, and hopefully we can benefit from each other’s natural gifts. We also both want to be people of joy and compassion, so we have said that these names are an inspiration to each of us—they give us room to grow!

As we were preparing to move to Congo, we read the book “Bonding and the Missionary Task” by Drs. Tom and Betty Sue Brewster. “Take on an insiders name” is one of their key recommendations to help facilitate emotional ‘bonding’ with people of a local culture. We are grateful for each step in the long process of feeling at home in Kasai!

B& K at GA At the GA meetings – in our new locally – made
clothes that were a gift from some friends!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Learning to cook


(From Friday, July 23) Today was my first attempt at making bidia (the local staple). Let me first emphasize the significance of bidia in Kasai! Nearly everyone eats bidia every day, at every major meal. It is the quintessential food. Recently we heard someone lamenting about a sick parent that she ‘could not eat at all’. When we probed further, the person said “She can only eat rice, beans, potatoes, greens, but not bidia. She doesn’t eat.” Further, instead of asking ‘how are you’, people will sometimes ask the more culturally classic question “Have you eaten bidia and matamba today?” We are often asked by strangers on the street “Have you eaten bidia today? Bidia with what?”

So, what is bidia? For those familiar with Africa, it is similar to Ugali (swahili), or foofoo (French?). Ingredients are flour and water. In Kasai, the flour is a mix of corn-flour and cassava flour. it is served in rounded hunks, and people pinch off a bit with their fingers and eat with other side-dishes such as matamba (cassava leaves). Imagine a large lump of play-dough, without the salt, and that gives you the look and feel of it. We started eating bidia our first day in Kasai, although we did not think we could eat it every day. Within our second week of living with families, we were eating it every day, and rather enjoying it. After a full month of bidia every day (and sometimes up to 5 times in a day!), we were very happy for a return to other foods for a week. We are in our own apartment now, and trying to get into a routine of mixing classic Kasai foods with some that are more familiar to our native taste-buds.

So—today was the first attempt! We have seen bidia made many times, and have both participated in the process on several occasions, so I decided before asking for further coaching, I wanted to try it myself. It has been a process of several days already—first, we had to get a pot. Then, after several attempts to get the large wooden spoon used for stirring, our cook found one today. We still do not have the small plastic bowl used for shaping the mutandas (rounded mounds), but we decided to make do. I heated the water, then added the first wave of corn-flour. Very quickly, I had a pot of lumps of flour—a bad sign! I stirred vigorously, trying to smash the lumps and get it smoother. We called in our cook for advice, and he just advised adding a little salt (which did not seem to do much for the lumps). I let it boil awhile, then added more corn-flour and some cassava flour, and the lumps seemed to smooth out. The dough got very stiff—perhaps slightly stiffer than bread dough. I add a little more flour, and put the pot on the floor. Holding the pot between the bottom of my feet, I stir with both hands, making sure all the flour is worked in.

Making Bidia with Theresa Practicing making bidia with the help of Mama Theresa

Next step, making the mutandas. We used a glass bowl (since we did not have the small plastic bowl that is the standard here), and dipped it in water so that the dough would not stick. We scoop out some dough, then, flip it back into the pot to shape it again, the shake the bowl lightly to try to get the lump of bidia to form a rounded mound. The first mutanda is not too bad, but dough still sticks to the dish and makes subsequent rounds of bidia a real challenge. The dough is much stickier than it is supposed to be, but I’m not sure what to do about that at this point. We opt to push ahead, finish off the dough, and decide we will test it out. The bidia is not nearly as stiff as it should be, so it tastes wet and gross. I try to cover the taste with the greens and meat that go with it, but I still lost my appetite very quickly. Bob ate admirably, declaring “at least it is food!”, and even took seconds of the bidia!

So—it was a good attempt. We’ll have a few friends coach us for a time or two, and then try again on our own. It is an interesting aspect of culture here. Nearly everyone makes or eats bidia every day, and some people find it amusing how much of a challenge it is for us to learn to do it. We look forward to the day when making bidia becomes as routine for us as others in Kananga find it!

Friday, July 9, 2010


We moved into our apartment in Kananga on Monday. It was a much-anticipated move, after 8 months of traveling week to week, living out of a suitcase. We’ve been anticipating this move for many months now, and we are both excited about the prospect of getting ‘settled’. It is a slow process though…we do not yet have a way to cook, or curtains, or a barrel to store water in. But it is such a great feeling to have a place to call home!!

Our first day, we walked to town and bought some cleaning supplies. We are pacing ourselves, getting a few things each day that help make the house ‘functional’. Our quest to get set up is also proving to be a method of learning the town and connecting with people—a valuable lesson! But it does require a lot of patience.

We can lay in bed in the morning and watch the small market across the street come to life…because we do not yet have curtains. We can find some bread just across the street for breakfast…because we don’t yet have a way to cook anything. Bob joked that in the U.S. some couples only have a candle-light dinner once in a blue moon, but we have one every night…because we do not yet have another form of electricity or light. So…we are learning to appreciate the things we do have and be patient about the ‘creature comforts’.

We read a poem last night that seemed rather fitting to this stage. Here is one quote:

“It takes a heap o’ living in a house t’ make it home,
A heap o’ sun an’ shadder, and’ ye sometimes have t’ roam
Afore ye really ‘preciate the things ye lef’ behind,
An’ hunger fer ‘em somehow, with ‘em allus on yer mind.
It don’t make any differunce how rich ye get t’ be,
How much yer chairs and’ tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain’t home t’ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o’ wrapped ‘round everything.”