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.
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.
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.
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!
*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).