Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pursuing God

Last weekend I took a 24-hour “personal retreat” to the Thabor Catholic Center in Kananga. Even 24 hours of stepping out of the normal demands of life and making time to rest, read, pray, and reflect make a significant difference! God knew that we needed a Sabbath.

I started reading the book The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer (thanks, Dad!). It felt like exactly the prophetic correction and challenge that I need right now. Tozer articulates with clarity and conviction God’s heart for active relationship with his people, and the ways that our sinful natures hinder us from recognizing and living into that reality. He says,

“Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and the servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.” (pg. 13)

The “world of nervous activity” too often keeps me preoccupied, hindering me from the peace of God and intimacy with our Savior that God longs for me to have. On this particular retreat, UNICEF was holding a big conference with 100+ people at the Catholic center when I arrived. To get some space and quiet, I went farther out into the neighboring field than I have ever gone, and God provided each day a place where I could be alone and be refreshed by the beauty of creation and His presence.

Butterfly at Thabor

I felt like my eyes were being opened again as Tozer articulated ways that our sin blinds us and hinders us from becoming and doing all that we were created for. Through faith and by grace, we are made new in Christ – a new nature because the cross has broken the power of sin over us. In a poignant and powerful chapter called Removing the Veil, Tozer says “this rending of the veil [in the temple at the crucifixion] opened the way for every worshipper in the world to come by the new and living way straight into the divine Presence.”

Now, back in the throes of daily life, I have tried harder this week to take a step back, at least in my mind. Recognizing that God IS, and that he is HERE, with me, makes a world of difference in the midst of the “world of nervous activity” around me!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Empowering the Laity, Lubumbashi (DRC)

Genesis 1:28 (NRSV)
God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."


Late June Kristi and I made our first trip to Lubumbashi.  Lubumbashi is the second largest city in Congo, behind Kinshasa.  Lubumbashi is the capital of Katanga Province, a region traditionally known for its copper and mineral wealth.  Katanga sees itself as different from the rest of the country; some refer to their province as the "Other Congo” (Rorison, 2008).  Katanga is a two hour plane trip from Kananga (where we live).  This large province sits on the southeastern corner of Congo.  In Lubumbashi we helped facilitate a Laity Seminar with Pastor Mboyamba, the Director of the Evangelism Department of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC).  In 2007 at a church in Kananga, the city where we live, the leadership of the laity* of the CPC requested that our department sponsor and lead seminars to help them better understand their role in the church and the building up Christ’s Kingdom.  Since 2007, our Department has travelled to each of the 12 synods to conduct these trainings.  Lubumbashi was our final stop.

Evangelism Team Members with Synod Leadership of Katanga ProvincePastor Mboyamba (in blue suit), church leaders in Katanga Province, us  

A central verse for these seminars is Genesis 1: 28, with the central theme “You will have authority over the earth.”  This verse and theme empower delegates to know that God has given us authority to steward the resources and riches of the earth.  In a poor environment like the country of Congo, where church members often feel that something needs to be done for them or given to them, this theme reminds us all that God has given us creativity, intelligence and the ability to improve our surroundings and take responsibility for our communities.  We have taught on such topics as:  laity and the Great Commission (evangelism), the work of the laity in the church, responsibility of leaders in the church, HIV/AIDS awareness, why we give to God, laity and development, laity and song leading, laity and Christian Education, the priority of prayer, vision and goal setting, and laity and church order/procedure.  I have attended and participated in four of these seminars over the last 15 months.  I am always amazed to see how hungry church leaders are for knowledge, skills and empowerment.  We are always blessed to see delegates encouraged, strengthened in spirit, and further resolved to serve God and their communities.

Pastor Mboyamba, teaching on sin and transformationPastor Mboyamba teaches on a changed heart as the first step in development

Bob, teaching from Nehemiah on prayer  Bob teaches from the book of Nehemiah

The seminar in Lubumbashi was no different from other seminars.  About 100 delegates came from different parts of the large Katanga Synod.  They eagerly took notes, asked insightful questions, and engaged thoughtfully with the teachings.  There was a great balance of men and women delegates.  While many aid organizations focus on ways to help countries and communities develop, Pastor Mboyamba reminded us that “evangelism is the first key to development.”  People’s hearts must first be changed; our role is help people know God.  Kristi taught on the need for planned action, making SMART (e.g. realistic, measurable) goals.  I taught from the book of Nehemiah on prayer and leaving a lasting legacy.  Kristi and I have felt empowered ourselves in these seminars, as we have taught sessions and led devotions.  We have also had opportunities to sit with delegates and learn more of their stories.  We are always amazed by their self-sacrifice, travelling extraordinarily long distances by foot or bicycle to attend these seminars.

Delegates, taking notes Delegates taking notes

Exuberant singing!Exuberant singing!

Seminar Delegates, Katanga ProvinceSeminar Delegates

As is the case in all regions, the folks in Katanga want us to return to see them again.  Because Katanga is so far away and CPC church members in this region often feel overlooked, we hope to visit again before the end of this year.  We hope to travel to different parts of the Katanga Province, strengthening and encouraging believers.  May God lead us as we consider the ways in which we can walk alongside our Congolese brothers and sisters.  May God’s name be lifted high in Congo! 

Kristi exhorts youth, leadership of the future! Kristi exhorts youth leadership of Lubumbashi
at a Sunday afternoon meeting (the tail end of a very long day!)

*Within the CPC here in Congo, the laity include:  elders, deacons, church members, youth, children, and pastors (teaching elders).  Essentially, all who worship in one place and are members of the church are part of the laity.  Note that women also serve in leadership roles (elders, deacons, pastors).   

Monday, July 9, 2012

Finding refreshment

We recently returned from a short trip to Kenya. The primary reason for visiting Kenya was to attend a wonderfully stimulating conference on Manuscript Bible Study—but I will let Bob describe more about that in our next newsletter! Since we were “in the neighborhood”, we decided to visit our friends and fellow missionaries, the Klingforths, in Nakuru.

Travis and Lydia thoroughly blessed us with their hospitality, indulging us in some of the “luxuries” that we don’t have in Congo. We had a memorable adventure with them at the Thompson falls, where it started raining when we had reached the bottom of the falls, so we had a muddy trek back to the top.



We were given the privilege of watching their two boys Sunday afternoon, so we got to do some rare activities for us, like reading kids’ books, building with Legos, and playing catch with the dogs.

Bob reading with Meshach and Silas

We enjoyed several long conversations about life and relationships in Africa. It was so helpful to share and learn from peers in a similar context, who understand the challenges of poverty that the people around us struggle with. Nakuru and Kananga are similar-sized cities, but VERY different in character, primarily because of the lack of infrastructure (electricity, roads, etc.) in Congo. As a special treat, they took us out to a nice restaurant with exotic food (like lasagna, pad-thai, and sushi!). We had cheesecake for dessert—who knew you could find cheesecake in Africa??

P1130467At the restaurant – Bob holding his Cappucino

We got to meet some of their Kenyan colleagues, and visit a home Bible study in a poor neighborhood– a wonderfully encouraging experience! We also had our first ride on the “boda-boda” (bicycle taxis) in Kenya…even in a bit of rain!


Our last evening in Nakuru, Lydia made a “Thanksgiving dinner” – chicken (subbing for turkey) green beans, stuffing, and even pumpkin pie! Our taste buds had been thoroughly satisfied by the time we returned home to Kananga.


After our Thanksgiving dinner, we all watched a fun movie together that had all of us laughing to the point of tears…and we were still recalling scenes from the movie and laughing a few days later. Tuesday morning, we took the bus back to Nairobi to get ready to catch our plane back to Congo. We felt like it had been longer than just 10 days – we had experienced so much and been pampered far beyond what we deserved.


Posing with Kenyans in traditional dress – Bob, Lydia, Silas, Kristi