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.
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.
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.