Women’s Day is March 8. In Kananga, the CPC (Presbyterian Church of Congo) celebrates the day with a day of prayer for women a few days before the international holiday. In each parish, women spend all night worshipping and praying in the church. In the morning, all the parishes meet together at one church in the presbytery. In the Presbytery of Kananga, it was an ecumenical gathering, including all of the protestant denominations. I decided that I did not have quite the energy to make it through the all-night prayer, but I was excited to participate in the daytime gathering.
At around 9am, I heard women singing, with their voices gradually getting louder as they got closer. From our balcony I could see a large group of perhaps 40 women singing and dancing down our road on their way to the meeting. They were coming from another parish, and in good Congolese fashion, they added some dancing to the journey.
Although I arrived at the church before the meeting started, most of the seats were already full. Groups of women kept arriving, and the ushers had to get creative about finding seats. At the height of the meeting, there were more than 500 women there! It felt energizing to worship with these women representing the Presbyterians, Methodists, Mennonites, Pentacostal Church, Assemblies of God, and others.
Choirs from several different parishes shared songs, and there was a lot of 'audience participation’ with shakers, cheering, and singing along. This choir (below) from a Presbyterian parish is signing “I am going forward, and you go with me everywhere. Whether I go out or go in, your hand blesses me.”
The program for the time of prayer this year had been prepared by the women of the country of Chile. Their theme was “how much bread do we have?”, from the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. In the sermon, Victorine Manga, the ecumenical women’s director, exhorted everyone that God is calling us to worship Him, to give to Him, and not to be stopped or scared by lack of resources. As a symbol of the international nature of the gathering, they used the local language of Tshiluba and the more national language Lingala in the singing and preaching.
Women were invited to share how they had seen God at work in their lives in the past year. One woman shared how despite her lack of resources, her daughter had been able to attend university. Another shared about how after wanting for many years to have a child, she had been able to give birth. After hearing the encouraging testimonies, women who were ‘in crisis’ were invited to come forward, share their struggle with the gathering, and then be prayed for. About 15 women came forward, and each were given the opportunity to share her struggle. Some of the women had grown children who had gone to another province to find work, and after several years without any communication, their mother no longer knew if they were alive or well. Other struggles included families who were hungry because a salary payment was several months behind, or an unexplained sickness. After they shared, each woman in the congregation spoke out their prayers together for these women in crisis and for the struggles in the world and in their lives. This ability to add some spontaneity to the service and allow people to speak is one of the things we enjoy about African worship. However, it probably works better here where a 4-hour service is acceptable to the worshippers!
This gathering was a significant event! Each of these women had left their work or their families to come and worship. It reminded me again of the strength of these women to face the challenges of life with perseverance and hope. Many of them also participated in a city-wide parade on Tuesday, the International Day of Women. It may not be evident in the pictures above, but nearly all of the women were wearing a ‘pagne’ (wrap-skirt) of the same pattern. There is a picture of a kerosene lantern, a picture of an open Bible, and the phrase in several languages “The Christian is light”. This is considered the “Protestant uniform” for women. It is encouraging to see this tangible symbol of unity and witness to our faith!