Monday, January 31, 2011

The Desperation of Hope

I confess that in the last year as we adjusted to life in Congo, there were several times I found myself hoping desperately for something. Life in Congo is very different from life in the U.S., as you can imagine, so many of the ‘bumps in the road’ in our adjustment had to do with the physical aspects of life. In the beginning, I eagerly anticipated being in our own apartment. Life would feel more predictable and manageable when we could finally unpack our suitcases for good, I reasoned. Then, my frustrations focused on our lack of electricity – if ONLY we could have some electricity at home, things would be easier. In September, we started getting electricity a few hours a week. I rejoiced…but of course it was not enough. My frustrations then found their answer in a phone – if I could only have my own phone, rather than sharing one, things would be easier. Of course, once I got a phone, I rarely used it, and found that it was not quite the panacea I had envisioned.

These things feel a little silly now, reflecting on them and writing them out. Of course I know that nothing material and expendable can compensate for the frustrations of life. Experiencing the desperation of hope, I tried to find something to blame the frustrations on and something ‘graspable’ that would solve them. I am reading Anna Karenina at the moment, and Tolstoy expresses this idea in the character of Vronsky, Anna’s lover:

“Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires. … He was soon aware that there was springing up in his heart a desire for desires-ennui.”

I took a few days recently of personal /spiritual retreat, and was reminded again of the Hope that God has for us. Paul prays for the Ephesians, “…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…” In Chapter 2, Paul reminds them that everyone has lived, at one time, “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts.” I was struck as I meditated on Ephesians by the significance of our identity in Christ. We can not effectively live in right relationship with people or our world apart from Christ living in us. So – my challenge this year- when I get overwhelmed and frustrated, to look to our eternal hope, rather than trying to find something tangible to blame all the frustrations on. When I sometimes feel like we are ‘camping’ in our apartment, and everything about life seems hard, this is not easy to do.

We really want to have hope for Congo, also. It is hard to see and feel the physical suffering around us – people who seem to constantly be sick with malaria, those who have jobs, but the salaries are so low they still struggle to feed their families, students that struggle to study and gain skills because there is no city power or access to computers, roads that are so bad that they prohibit the distribution of goods. I see these things and wonder how people in these situations can manage to face another day. Sometimes we look around us and ask “Can this situation ever change? Is there hope for Congo??” But we can not let ourselves get in that trap. There is always hope – God has promised us that. We may not know when, or how change will come, but we know that each person in Congo is loved and valued in God’s sight, and He has not forgotten them. My own grasping at things this year has taught me that despite the poverty around us, something tangible like a little extra food or clothing will probably not provide the same satisfaction as the ‘intangible’ gifts of being valued and given hope.

The perseverance and hope that we see in many Congolese people is truly inspiring. The physical challenges of life sometimes make me want to give up and lose hope. Yet, we see Congolese friends who are experiencing much more significant physical challenges, and they press on, gratefully acknowledging that God has brought them this far. As we entered this new year, we heard over and over again people say what a gift it was to enter another year. The fact that people can be grateful for life, and find the hope to press on in the midst of the challenges that never seem to end—wow. That is a mind-set I aspire to, and something significant I am learning from our Congolese brothers and sisters. In my desperation of hope, I know that God has already given us hope, and I see it being lived out in the people around us.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Marching to the Drum Beat of Another

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed:  “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

The the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.  When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD – he is God!  The LORD – he is God!”  (Ezekiel 18: 36-39)


Seven days before Christmas thieves broke into the finance department of UPRECO, the university and seminary which the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) sponsors to train men and women for ministry.  The thieves stole a whopping sum of money, including teacher’s salaries and scholarship and project funds for students.  This blow is beyond comprehension.  Then, two days after Christmas, if the situation could get any worse, a band of soldiers brazenly approached the home of the General Secretary (President) of the CPC on the UPRECO campus to harass and perhaps harm him.  Their efforts were thwarted by students and a few security personnel who helped turn them away.  It is not clear who is behind these events, but it feels like there are dark forces at work trying to destroy the Presbyterian Church in Congo.


In response to these bold rushes against the CPC, pastors, leaders and prayer-intercessors mobilized together for an all-night of prayer a week ago Tuesday.  Five to six hundred gathered at the chapel on the UPRECO campus to intercede for the school and for CPC.  It was a powerful night of intercession and worship.  One pastor preached a faith-filled message from 1 Kings 18: 20 – 40, citing the “power encounter” between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal, demonstrating God’s victorious and awesome power over idolatrous and evil forces.  Claiming the victorious power of Jesus, we prayed and worshipped non-stop, from 7:30pm Tuesday evening until until 5:45am Wednesday morning (we stood almost the entire night, praying and worshipping).  I believe God heard our cry.

DSCN4597 inside the chapel, praising and praying all night long


At about 4:30am, the leader of the meeting called on all the pastors to anoint a bottle of water and do a prayer-walk across the campus, dropping this anointed water at strategic points.  We started at the front entrance of UPRECO.  Having gathered there, it became obvious that no one could contain intercessors who wanted to participate in this prayer march.  Before we knew it, almost one hundred pray-ers gathered in the dark, early morning cold, ready to commit UPRECO and the CPC into God’s hands.  Our liturgy of prayer and worship during the pre-dawn hour of a new day was simple and profound – pray over a given site, drop the anointed water, begin a hymn and move to the next site.  At each site we would pray all at once, “a holy cacophony,” and then one of the pastors would close our prayers before moving on to the next site.  After praying over the entrance, we walked to the Booth Centre (the development training center for church leaders), then to the home of of the General Secretary, and finally to the building where the money had been stolen.  We walked together from place to place in pitch darkness, our path illuminated only by small LED lights and mini-lights from our cell phones.  As we walked, we sang hymns and simple choruses of praise and adoration, recognizing that our victory and deliverance come only from Jesus.  As we walked from place to place, I felt a peace all around us.  A certain euphoria overcame me.  Making this “faith act” together as the community of faith, I felt like a member of one of the tribes of Israel going up to Jerusalem for a special feast, singing hymns of praise, adoration, and trust to our Almighty, Powerful and Loving God.  As we walked together, singing and reconsecrating these grounds to our Living God, I felt a special kinship and closeness with my Congolese brothers and sisters.  In this moment, I felt like I really belonged.  UPRECO and the CPC have been devastated by this tragic act of theft; yet our faith did not waver as we marched together to the drum beat of Another.  In this prayer march, I felt a certain confidence and peace that God was with us, and that He would see His children through this ordeal.  It was a singularly special experience. 


LORD God of heaven and earth, may your peace fill UPRECO and CPC.  May you bring justice, resolution, and hope to this situation.  May you redeem this terrible evil for good.  May your church be strengthened, and may your name be glorified.  As you responded to Elijah’s petition in dramatic fashion, may you show your power in equal measure today.  Amen!                    

Saturday, January 15, 2011


In December we enjoyed a few weeks of vacation. We spent a few days in transition in Kinshasa, and then landed in a country that we have both wanted to visit for a long time – Morocco! Coming from Congo, you can imagine how developed and ‘modern’ Morocco felt, and we thoroughly enjoyed the amenities like electricity, smooth roads, and hot showers. It was also a wonderland for our tastebuds, ranging from American restaurants like McDonalds to traditional Moroccan couscous and tangines. Morocco was an especially attractive destination because of the chance to meet up with some friends, and they helped us to see the best of Morocco. :)

We thought we would share a few pictures here. In Casablanca, one of the must-see sites is the Hassan II mosque, which is truly a magnificent building. I was amazed at all of the mosaic tile, the intricate carving in the rock and the wood, the immense scale of everything. The building can hold 25,000 people!


We are standing in front of the mosque – the minaret is 200 meters tall!


Delicious cous-cous! (And beautifully arranged, also, I think!)

Then, we spent a few days in Marrakesh, enjoying the sites and sounds of their central square. We happened to be there at the end of the annual film festival, which perhaps made the square even more lively in the evening. We enjoyed wandering the narrow cobble-stone streets of the old city, shopping in the souk, and eating traditional Moroccan fare at the food stands.


At a roof-top restaurant overlooking the main square in Marrakesh 

P1080341One of the stalls in the souk selling spices and natural health products


Sampling some dried apricots and dates at a stall in the square

B&K Marrakesh cropped

 We had a nice dinner at one of the traditional
Moroccan ‘riad’ homes – beautiful setting!

Then, we were off to Essouaria, a small coastal town that was a relaxing retreat after the hustle and activity of Marrakesh. The weather felt a bit like San Francisco to us, and the port where many fishing boats go out each day is a main center of commercial activity. We really enjoyed the chance to be near the ocean again, with the salty breezes and the sound of the waves! We rented bikes one day and rode along the beach for a few hours – it has been a whole year since we have ridden bikes, and it felt like a luxurious treat!



Can you tell we are happy to be on vacation?

We returned to Kananga refreshed – glad to be ‘home’, but also grateful for the time away!