Congolese culture is a “warm” (relationship-based) culture that thrives on relationships, interactions, and interdependence in the community. We enjoy that aspect of culture in Kasai, and we know that spending time celebrating relationships is what helps us to connect and belong in this culture. Here are a few highlights from last week, a “social whirl-wind.”
On Monday afternoon, we went to the home of an older woman to pray for her. She had stopped us after church the day before, and expressed that some of her grandchildren who live with her were sick, and that she wanted us to come. On the way home, we stopped at the home of another church member who has been in mourning from the death of her mother a few months ago. We enjoyed a good conversation with them, and expressed how much we missed receiving her gift of teaching in our weekly cell meetings. On Wednesday, we went to our neighborhood cell meeting, and were pleased to see that she came, and that others were encouraged by her presence.
On Thursday, after our Tshiluba lesson we hosted our language teacher, Mukulu (Elder) Muamba Mukengeshayi for lunch to celebrate his 75th birthday! We, along with our colleague, Ruth, enjoyed beans, plantains, and moringa leaves – no cake since he is diabetic! He brought Christmas music to listen to (“music about birth!”, he said), which made it a festive atmosphere.
Thursday afternoon, we piled into the Land Cruiser with the Christian Education curriculum committee that Bob is on, to visit one of their committee members who recently had a baby. As we enjoyed holding and celebrating baby Ndumba, we learned from his mother, Pastor Charlotte, that someone had come to tell her that the baby had appeared and spoken to him in a dream. The message was that the baby did not want his parents to stare at him or examine him closely. It is not uncommon in Kasai for a baby to “appear” and communicate a message in someone else’s dream. The traditional understanding is that sometimes a baby is a reincarnation of another person who has died. Our colleagues explained this to us somewhat sheepishly, “This is the culture of Kasai…”. Because we don’t want to dismiss some of the deep-rooted beliefs of this culture lightly, we asked our colleagues, “In a situation like this, what do you do?” “Ah, we just pray for the child,” one pastor responded. He continued “traditionally, people say that the child’s face should be marked with chalk to cleanse him/her.” At the end of our time with the family, they asked Pastor Kayembe to pray for the child. He held the child and asked God’s blessing and protection on his life. In his prayer, he declared the power and grace of God, and said that the blood that Jesus shed for us is the “chalk” that marks and cleanses this child.
Friday, was an “end of the month laity meeting” at our parish. All of the neighborhood cell groups come together for a joint meeting at someone’s house. Our “cell” was hosting this time, which meant preparing a meal for everyone. We sat outside, grateful for the evening breeze and the shade of a large tree while we enjoyed a lively time of worship and a great teaching about Jesus healing the man by the pool of Siloam.
Saturday was a big day. We were hosting our friends, Pastor Manyayi and his wife, Mamu Biabanya, along with their children, for lunch. We deliberated all week about the meal: local food, or American food? Find someone to cook the greens for us, or do it ourselves? We finally decided to make bidia, the local staple, even though I was nervous about making it for that many people. I also decided I wanted to try making the greens myself – and God answered our prayer, and both the bidia and the greens turned out well. The day felt a little like Thanksgiving to me – cooking all morning and eating all afternoon! Bob made plantain chips, and I made a mango cobbler, in celebration of the mango season we are in. Their 1-year old is named after me (Kristi), and she kept everyone on their toes while she ran around the house and explored with her curious spirit.
On Sunday, Bob preached on Reformation Sunday at a parish across town. It was our first time to worship with this parish, and they gave us a very warm welcome. We enjoyed the heart-felt worship and the spirit of the people. On Reformation Sunday, CPC collects contributions from all of the parishes for UPRECO, the Presbyterian university and seminary in Kananga. We enjoyed lunch with the pastor after the service, and talked to the student from UPRECO who had come to collect the parish’s contribution. We came home mid-afternoon, grateful but exhausted.
We reflected on our week – while it feels draining sometimes (for this pair of border-line introverts), we do feel blessed by these connections with the people around us. So much learning and growth happens in the every-day social interactions!