Monday, June 27, 2011

Cross-cultural Logistics

We are in the process of preparing for a youth conference for the CPC. Youth representatives from all of the 12 synods in Congo have been invited. It has been 4 years since a conference like this was held for youth, so we are hopeful that it will be a big encouragement and source of equipping to the faith of the youth. Both Bob and I have been involved in planning conferences and events in the past in the US and Rwanda. We expected the logistics to be more challenging in a place like Congo where infrastructure is limited. But it still takes me by surprise sometimes…

A few weeks ago, we were discussing the invitation letters that were sent to each of the 12 synods. It went something like this:

Bob: “Central Synod. check. We took their invitation with us last week to Munkamba and asked Pastor Wetunganyi to deliver it. Synod of the North. Check. I sent it via e-mail last week to Pastor Mboyo. We should call to confirm that they received it.”

Pastor Mbikayi: “I also sent their invitation via train last week. And the one to the Synod of the South East went right away, because I knew someone going there.”

Bob: “What about Tshikapa? How do we get the invitation to Tshikapa? Is there a way to send it by vehicle, or by plane? Can we call them and ask?”

(Pastor Mbikayi tries to call the synod exec, and the call does not go through. He finds the number for someone else in Tshikapa)

Pastor Mbikayi (on the phone talking to the clerk of the Tshikapa synod.): “How should we send the invitation letter to you? By plane? Is there someone at the airport that we should address it to who can get the letter to you?”

…yes, we live in the age of instantaneous communication. But we are also in a part of the world where sending a single piece of paper can be a major project.

That was just one piece! Then we have the matter of where people will sleep, how the cooking will be done, etc. The conference will be held on the site of one of CPC’s nursing schools, so the dorms will house the students. But, of course, there are not enough mattresses, or bathrooms, and only one burner to cook for 200 people. This promises to be a good learning experience for us. :) Thankfully, our colleagues have plenty of experience and connections to hopefully find solutions to all the ‘logistical challenges.”

We welcome your prayers for this youth conference. It will be July 26-28 in Tshikaji, near Kananga. In Congo, unpredictability and flexibility are a way of life. We trust God to guide all the preparations and accomplish HIS purposes in the conference!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Mupongo (Witchcraft) in the Kasai of Congo

On the outskirts of the large village of Bilomba, we seven pastors sat in an oblong semi-circle with the three children huddled closely together at the edge of the cement walkway of the school building.  All questions were directed to the three.  Each answered as he/she was asked.  The three squirmed a bit in their obvious respect for authority.  The night was black and the mood was solemn.  Our interview of the three children was direct, completely serious, and apparently very necessary.  The three children had been accused of mupongo (witchcraft) and had admitted their crime.  Earlier that evening their older brother, Kabonga, had been interviewed as well, and had confessed.  We prayed for these four children.

100 francs, mupongo Kabonga confessed to giving 100 Congolese francs belonging to his father to a “muena mupongo” (witch) who
thus rendered Kabonga’s father incapable of finding work or finding money for the family; Kabongo also confessed to giving small pieces of
material from the clothing of his three younger siblings, thus giving the muena mupongo power to “eat” (metaphorically speaking) them,
‘eat’ meaning to have power over their lives and ultimately to kill them. 


Mupongo is a dominating feature of the Kasaian worldview.  Fear of mupongo and “bena mupongo” (those who practice withcraft) have a stranglehold upon the hearts and minds of the people.  Because mupongo is an issue that wasn’t properly understood or sought to be understood by most missionaries who came to the Kasai of Congo, it was glossed over as “superstition.”  Looking back, this reality is tragic.  Missionaries who came with the Good News of the Gospel, news which has the power to set persons free from fear and every stronghold which enslaves, failed to deal with a central issue for the Kasai people.  Modern western missions of the last two centuries, despite historic successes, often failed to take seriously indigenous cultures and worldviews.  Since the Enlightenment Period, the western worldview valuing logic, reason, rationalism and the material world, has been perceived by westerners to trump all other understandings of reality.  Looking back, this cultural hegemony has resulted in negative implications.  One of which is a lack of understanding of mupongo in the Kasai, and how it affects the daily life of the people.  According to Dr. Mulumba, General Secretary of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC), the CPC is sadly ill-equipped to help persons and communities dealing with mupongo (a legacy from the missionary period).  However, he and other church leaders who seek to give voice and understanding to their culture and their Kasaian worldview, have found constructive ways to minister to “mupongo bound” persons and to set them free in the Name of Jesus. 


The day after the initial interview with the four children, we met with them along with their parents in their home.  In front of their parents, the four children individually, one by one, renounced mupongo.  We prayed for them, that God would remove this spirit.  After two hours of continued interviewing, confessing and praying, we finished our time by praying for the family as a whole.  While there was solemnity and seriousness throughout the entire duration, there was rejoicing at the end.  I was impressed with this group of pastors with whom I ministered.  They knew what they were doing, they acted with authority and humility, they gave dignity to the children and to their parents, and they served this family in a culturally-sensitive and pastoral way.   

pastors and family We pastors rejoiced with the family afterwards! 


I will relate more about the specifics of the actual witchcraft beliefs of the Kasai people in another blog or newsletter.  For now, let me say that the Bible cites the reality of evil in our world and evil’s multitudinous forms.  Deuteronomy 18: 10, 11 gives the most explicit Old Testament prohibitions against sorcery, witchcraft, and divinatory activities.  According to Dr. Mulumba who wrote his PhD disseration on witchcraft (Mulumba, 1988), those who practice such things break faith with God, and do not trust in him alone for guidance.  Kasaians are very aware of the spiritual world and evil, and they have much to teach us as their worldview concerning the spiritual world lines up closer to the the biblical understanding of reality.  Dr. Mulumba also makes the important concession that whether mupongo is scientifically real or imagined, Kasaian culture confirms it.  Thus to relate meaningfully to Kasaian people in this area, it is best to have an “understanding heart to understand their problem of mupongo.”  Such was my experience with the six pastors I ministered with in Bilomba.     

Mukundi, Bob, Kabaseli, Tshiwala Pastors Kabaseli and Tshiwala (on my right), Elder Mukundi (on my left)

Breakfast in Bilomba - do you prefer sardines or corned beef? We spent three days ministering in Bilomba; here we are having breakfast Sunday morning before church. 
Everyone (except me) ate sardines every day!


There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an auger, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer…For these nations, which you are about to dispossess, give heed to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do.  (Deuteronomy 18: 10,11)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Waking up the market

Jackoo headshot

It’s me, Jackoo! My people finally let me blog again! I want to tell you what a star I’ve become on our street. Every morning, I get to wake up the neighborhood and see to it that the street-side market on Lake Fwa street comes to life. It’s a tough job sometimes, but I make the best of it. I’ll tell you how the schedule goes: At about 6:30 every morning, I wake up with the sun and Kristi moves me to my balcony perch while Bob starts the fire. I relieve myself (I try to be very consistent, only relieving myself in the outdoor cage…), scrounge for some food, and find a good perch.

market 6 15AMThe street-side market on Lake Fwa street at 6:15AM 

I start my wake-up calls, softly at first to ease people into the day. I get excited when the sparrows and little birds in the tree near me come scrounging for scraps under my cage. They can pick up and fly—something I have always wanted to do, but never got to learn. I do my best to imagine though, squatting low, lifting my wings, and making a trilling whistle like a plane taking off. Maybe someday. The first to arrive in the market are Tatu Martin and a newcomer who makes fresh donut-holes and coffee every morning – a big hit on the street!

market - 6 30AM

6:30AM – Tatu Martin (right) is setting up
and the donut-maker has started her fire

Then, my favorite part – foot traffic picks up on the street, while big people head to work and students go to school. Some of the kids know me now, and call greetings to me as they pass. I love it when they call my name, and whistle so that I can imitate them. I try to make sure that everyone knows that I’m here, and help the market-sellers be AWAKE.


market 7AM 2

7:00AM – a few people have stopped for donuts and coffee (left) 

One of the other early-birds is Elizabeth, who sells peanuts and cassava, and also has a good clientele for coffee in the morning (even Bob sometimes!). She sweeps the sand around her stall, and makes a few trips across the street with her stuff that is stored in our building at night. By 7:30 AM there are lots of people and voices in the street, and I have to be extra loud to keep up.

market 730AM

7:30AM – the street starts to get lively!

It is not too long before the shoe-repair guy who sits by the tree arrives, and the restauranteers set up their huts and start preparing beans and rice. Rush hour ends though, and the street is a bit quieter, so I take a little break to play. I know the market sellers value my whistles and calls, but everyone needs a break!

Market 9AM 9AM – all the regulars have arrived by now. One of the
restaurants is on the right, with a white sheet in the doorway.

I do my best to savor my “people-time” every morning, because when the sun gets hot, everyone heads for the shade. Tatu Martin puts up a screen on his stall, Elizabeth hangs up a sheet, and by noon, even I have had enough. It’s time to head inside for my afternoon nap! BOB!! Did you hear me??

market 11AM 11AM – Start looking for shade!