Monday, May 30, 2011

At long last…Tshikapa!

Tshikapa…the third largest city-center in the two Kasai Provinces.  A bustling city full of  life, energy, and diamonds, the city of Tshikapa actually has electricity at all hours for those who can pay.  We arrived at 12:30am after a grueling 13 hour drive which included one mud-bog-from-hell which threatened to swamp our vehicle for the entire night – only providence saved us, coming in the form of two PNMLS (governmental AIDS organization) vehicles which pulled us out deep into the night.  Of course, once you arrive 265 kilometers from home and are greeted by eager church leadership, you can’t just go to bed.  There is fellowship, food, and drinks (beer or soda).


I have been told that the church in Tshikapa sometimes feels overlooked because they are so far from Kananga (the center of the Congolese Presbyterian Church).  Thus, when folks in the Synod of Tshikapa learned we were coming to conduct a seminar, they showed up in big numbers.  Each of the 10 presbyteries was asked to send 5 delegates (3 elders, the presbytery exec., the presbytery moderator).  Each presbytery was well represented.  One pastor, Simon Kuete, from the “frontier,” or the border with Angola, had walked 200 kilometers (120 miles) to be with us.  It took him 3 full days.  I thought 13 hours of mudslinging in our LandCruiser was rough!

P1100016 Pastor Simon Kuete, from the “frontier'” and I


Pastor Mboyamba (Director of the Evangelism) has been facilitating this particular seminar in various synods for the last 4 years.  The emphasis of the seminar is to help the laity, or members of the church, better understand their role as stewards of the resources God has given them and their responsibility to help the church move forward.  Topics covered in our Tshikapa seminar included:  the work of the laity in the church, the responsibility of church leadership, information on HIV/AIDS, reasons why we give to God, and information on how to start local development projects.  The delegates paid close attention to the teachings, eagerly took notes, had lots of great questions, and were alive with energy and enthusiasm.  One oft-uttered refrain from the lips of Pastor Mboyamba was, “bukebikebi udi nsapi wa tshidimukilu,” meaning, “evangelism is the key to development.”  Changed lives and changed hearts lead to changed communities.

P1090946   Pastor Mboyamba teaching

P1090949Women in leadership, taking notes

P1090998 All the delegates (with us)


One elder, Mukulu Maou Muanza, the stated clerk of one of the presbyteries in Tshikapa, seems to exemplify much of the teachings that were given.  By Congolese standards, he is quite affluent.  He owns a parcel of land on the outskirts of town where diamonds are mined.  With this business, he and his wife live fairly comfortably and each of their children lives in the United States.  We stayed in their home where he and his wife gave up their bed for me to sleep on; they slept upright on the couches in the living room.  Mukulu Maou loves to welcome guests, and the hospitality shown by he and his wife, Mamu Rose Kapinga, was exceptional.  During our visit, he took time away from work to be with us.  On our last day in Tshikapa he bought a goat for us to feast on.  I learned that when the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) has their bi-annual General Assembly, he helps the delegates with travel, allowing them use of his vehicle and paying for gas.  We learned from a pastor friend in Kananga (who happened to do his internship in Tshikapa) that Mukulu Maou has given sacrificially to help many seminary students complete their studies.  Mukulu Maou stands out as a good example of someone in Congo who is helping the work of the church move forward, with his own personal funds.  Of course, countless other less-visible examples could be given of Congolese giving sacrificially to help God’s work.  On this recent trip, I was particularly struck by Mukulu Maou, who has decided to use his riches to invest in things that will last beyond this life.  May God bless he and countless others in Congo who give of themselves for the sake of God’s Kingdom.                                          

P1100012 Mukulu Maou Muanza and Mamu Rose Kapinga


The church in Tshikapa appears to be alive and thriving.  In the midst of so much exploitation by other countries in Congo, it is refreshing to see resources from the mineral-rich soil of Congo being used by God’s stewards to help the local people and the CPC church at large.  I am thankful for the people I met: Pastor Kuete, Mukulu Maou, Mamu Kapinga, and many others.  May God continue to bless the work of their hands and honor them for their sacrificial giving.   

Friday, May 27, 2011

Praying for Alabama

Last week we attended a prayer meeting here, held specifically for those affected by the recent tornadoes and flooding in the south-east of the U.S. The Presbytery of Nganza, located near us in Kananga, is one of the sister-presbyteries to the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley in Alabama. When people in Kananga heard about the devastation caused by the tornadoes, they grieved for their friends and sister churches in Alabama. They called a day of prayer, and designated 2 locations in the presbytery for congregations to gather.


We gathered at Ditalala parish at about 10 o’clock on Tuesday morning. It happened to be a holiday here, so kids were out of school. Most of the adults, especially women, earn their income from the informal sector of market-selling or farming, so it was a definite sacrifice for them to give up their work for the day. At least 8 choirs, including adults, youth, and children, added to the worship with their songs.


Pastor Charlotte Keba facilitated the service, and most of the pastors in the Presbytery were present. Pastor Tshiyoyo, the stated clerk of the Presbytery, described the effect of tornadoes and the flooding. Bob also shared some news and prayer requests that we had heard from church-members in Alabama. When it was announced that 300 people had been killed just in the state of Alabama in this disaster, there were audible gasps and groans. The congregation was empathetic when they heard about buildings being destroyed, families being out of work and not having a place to live; people in Congo understand those devastating ‘curveballs’ that happen too often in life.

Pastor Keba - Nganza prayer Pastor Charlotte Keba leads the service

choir Nganza prayer mtg This choir sings “God is our fortress and strength”


Pastor Sylvain Kazadi, the moderator of Nganza Presbytery, preached a message from Romans 8:31-39. Pastor Kazadi emphasized that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. Suffering is real, but we can overcome all things because God loved us. Pastor Kazadi then led the congregation in several specific times of prayer. We prayed for healing for the wounded, shelter and provision for those in need, and the rebuilding of churches. We asked God to give wisdom in the use of resources to assist, and that those with the ability to help would be led by God. We prayed also that God’s grace and forgiveness would be known to all, and those who had turned away from God would be drawn back to Him. The congregation prayed that their Christian brothers and sisters affected by this disaster would stay true to their faith in the midst of suffering.

DSCN4760 Everyone intercedes for those affected by these disasters.

Pastor Kazadi prayer - Nganza prayer

Pastor Sylvain Kazadi leads everyone in prayer

Towards the end of the meeting, they had a ‘roll-call’ of all the parishes in that section of the Presbytery. For every parish called, there were at least a few people present. It was especially impressive to see the large turnout from Tshikaji, perhaps 10 kilometers from where we gathered. They counted 211 people in attendance – many had walked a few hours to get there.


Partnership – it is a lofty-sounding word, perhaps, and implies people working together for a common goal. The Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley in Alabama has invested a lot of people and resources in Congo, and specifically in this Presbytery of Nganza. This prayer meeting was a living example for us of the ways that, despite the limited material resources in Congo, this partnership is not a one-way street. The Christians of Kananga took seriously the call to intercede for their brothers and sisters in trouble.


(from left) Pastor Kazadi, Mamu Fifi, Mamu Kamuanya Niklette, 
Mamu Biakupangana Bijou, and Pastor Tshiyoyo;
Mamu Fifi is the facilitator of the sewing program,
with assistance from the other 2 women.

After the prayer meeting, Pastor Kazadi hosted all of the leaders and pastors of the presbytery for a meal in his home (can you imagine serving lunch to 50 hungry people in your house??). They ‘inaugurated’ new sewing machines and equipment that had recently been donated by the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley to restart and expand a program to teach young women to sew. It seemed to be a fitting cap to the day, and brought the impact of this Partnership full circle. Praise God for the ways that he gifts us to be a blessing to others!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

VBS in Tshibashi

In our quest to continue to learn about the activities, strengths, and needs of the CPC, I attended a “Kids’ Bible camp”  (or VBS?) last weekend in Kananga. The Tshibashi presbytery, which includes about 1/2 of Kananga, has been doing these for nearly 4 years now. On every major break from school (Christmas, Easter, and summer break), they designate a certain number of days and invite the kids to come to one of the parishes for this ‘camp’. This particular time, it was 3 days, and held at the parish of “Katoka Sud”.


I arrived just before 9 on Saturday morning, the last day of the camp. About 20 kids were already there, singing fun kids’ songs. This is somewhat novel because we do not often hear songs here that have been written just for kids, with the energy and motions that we would associate with kids songs in America. Tètè, a law student with an incredible amount of energy and a gift for connecting with kids, was leading them in the French version of “deep and wide”. Groups of kids from different parishes trickled in with their teachers over the next hour, and soon there was a large energetic group of nearly 200 kids who ranged in age from about 3 years old to 14. Tètè transitioned quickly from one song to another, some French, some Tshiluba, using enough repetition and hand motions that all the kids stayed attentive and participated.


Then, the whole group transitioned outside, to the large yard at the front of the church. The kids formed a huge circle, with a smaller circle in the center for the smaller kids. Tètè led some fun and active songs, to get all the kids moving and participating. As you can imagine, it did not take long to draw a crowd of onlookers of all ages. It was fun to see how impressed and interested everyone was in this well-organized fun for such a large group of kids!

Tshibashi VBS - outside circle


Then, back inside for some more singing, teaching, and games. A few more of the local pastors had arrived by this point, who had all participated throughout the three-day event. They reviewed with the kids the themes from the previous 2 days, and the kids all memorized a verse - “Let the one who gives, give with joy”. There was a short lesson, and then a few games. For the first game, several volunteers stood in front of the group. One end of a long piece of string was put into each of their mouths. On the other end of each piece of string was a piece of candy. The challenge was for the child to pull the string into their mouth without using their hands, until even the candy was in their mouth. Kids of all ages were selected to participate, and the kids were encouraged to keep going until they had reached the candy, then those who succeeded first were given prizes. Some of the kids were quite dexterous with their tongues!


For the second game, a table was set up, and 2 kids at a time sat opposite one another at the table. A candle was placed in front of each child, as well as a square of paper that had several peanuts on it. Their challenge: to reach across the table and blow out the other person’s candle, then eat one of their own peanuts, without using their hands. Each time one ate a peanut though, the child had to re-light his/her candle and blow out the other person’s candle before they could eat another peanut. Watching the kids try to blow out a candle while they were trying to chew peanuts made for some fun laughs for all the spectators, but they did a great job! ‘Game equipment’ is hard to come by here, so I was also encouraged by these fun and interactive games that used readily-accessible supplies.

Tshibashi VBS - table game

For the final segment, the kids went back outside for a few more games and active songs . Each group of kids had come with their Sunday School teacher, and it was fun to see the teachers who showed a good rapport with their kids and a willingness to be silly with them. One of the goals of this program is to strengthen the weekly Sunday School programs in each parish, by giving them ideas and motivation for teaching the kids in effective ways.

Tshibashi VBS - passing out suckers

One of the teachers passes out a sucker
to each child at the end of the day

I commend Tshibashi presbytery for their commitment to their kids and their creativity and perseverance in developing a strong program for kids. This is definitely one of the strengths of this presbytery, that hopefully other regions can benefit and learn from. Each church, just like each person, has their unique strengths and weaknesses, and when we appreciate and learn from the gifts of others, we honor our Creator.


“…Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grown and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15,16)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tatu Henri’s Words…

Wednesday, April 20th was a significant day for Tatu Henri and his family.  Tatu Henri’s wife gave birth the previous Friday to a baby girl, and today she would return home from the maternity.  On Sunday, we learned from fellow members of the Kananga 1 parish (where we often worship) that they had named their daughter after Kristi, “Luse Kristi.  ‘Luse’ means “mercy.”  It is the Tshiluba name that has been given to Kristi.  Naming a child after someone here in the Kasai of Congo is a great honor.  We are slowly learning how to respond in culturally appropriate ways when someone names their child after us. 

Tatu Henry and Bob and Kristi Together with Tatu Henri and his family (photo taken last September)


Coming home from the maternity happened during Holy Week.  On Wednesday evening, many of us had gathered in the sanctuary to worship and pray.  In the midst of our worship, we could hear a festive throng coming down the street and passing by the church.  Sure enough, according to Kasai culture and tradition, it was Tatu Henri’s wife being escorted by a large group of women to her home.  After the worship service finished, a group of us including the pastor and his wife joined Tatu Henri as we went to down into the valley to their home to celebrate with them.  The joy was palpable, and some neighbors and friends were perhaps enjoying themselves a little bit too much (thanks to the local whiskey!).  We sat for about 45 minutes with Tatu Henri, his wife, the pastor and his wife and just enjoyed the moment and the gift of a new life.  It was a special moment that we were able to enjoy and relish with our new Congolese family and friends. 

IMG0005A Kristi and Mamu Maggie (Pastor’s Wife) hold
the precious child, 'Luse Kristi’


According to his custom, when we were ready to go home, Tatu Henri walked us all the way home to our apartment.  When we reached our compound, we gave him a small cash gift for the child and mother.  He then turned to us and said plainly, “Your coming to Congo is like Jesus coming into the world.”  In the moment, we deflected this comment.  But in reflection, I greatly appreciate these words.  These words reflect the goal to which we strive, to be an incarnational presence of the reality of God’s awesome love for a hurting and needy world.  So often this goal feels unattainable as we struggle with the culture, the language, and simply finding ways to connect with people here.  Yet, Tatu Henri’s words show that we have made some progress.  Thanks be to God.