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.