Monday, March 19, 2012

On the road again…

This week we are headed to East Kasai, to visit some of the churches in rural areas. We would appreciate prayers for safe travel, health, and good connections with people. We will be gone for a few weeks, so if you don’t see any updates here, you know why!

Travel in Congo is a real challenge, any way you look at it. After our very first road trip in Congo, Bob was inspired to write a poem about the Land Cruiser, one of the few vehicles rugged enough to tackle these roads.

Another bad spot on the road. It took nearly an hour to dig out of this one!

Trying to navigate one of the “provincial highways” in Kasai.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mary’s Song

At around 9:15am last Sunday morning, Pastor Kazadi and I hopped onto the back of a couple of motorcycle taxis (“motos”) and zipped off.  The feelings I felt on the back of this moto were a mixture of exhilaration and fear as we evaded potholes and pedestrians and overtook other motos and larger vehicles.  Our destination was the Congolese Presbyterian (CPC) parish in Tubuluku, a small village on the outskirts of Kananga.  A grand event and a festive throng awaited us and all the other worshippers and guests. 

An ordination service is a significant event here in Congo.  Today the presbytery of Kananga would ordain the eighth woman pastor of the CPC.  Later that afternoon I would tell Kristi with hyperbolic fascination that “everyone that we have ever met in Kananga was at this event.”  It was a big deal. 

Ordination Committee of PresbyteryOrdination Committee of the Presbytery

As you can maybe imagine, Congolese culture tends to be very traditional and patriarchal.  Generally speaking, the role of women is to care for children, to cook and clean, to fetch water (an arduous process), and to manage the affairs of the home.  Roles between men and women are fairly regimented and clear.  An understandable and realistic perception is that women are undervalued or devalued in public life.  The reality however, in our experience, is that the women form the backbone of society here in Congo.

Mamu Tshiakafua Madeleine is the mother of six children.  Her husband, Pastor Muntu Jean Baptiste , serves the parish in Tubuluku.  In 2005 she finished her “license” in theology in Kinshasa, which is equivalent to a Master of Divinity degree.  She has been serving the presbytery as chaplain and will continue in this role.  As chaplain, she visits the sick and those in prison.  She also mediates disputes and provides pastoral care to other pastors.  She and her husband impress me as a dynamic duo.  Some church leaders whom I ate with after the service suggested that, perhaps at a later date, Pastor Tshiakafua could serve as an associate pastor alongside her husband at the church in Tubuluku.  This development would be encouraging in that currently there are no women pastors serving officially in a pastoral role in a local parish within the entire CPC community, which comprises at least three million members.

Mamu TshiakafuaPastor Muntu and Mamu Tshiakafua (sitting on right, front)

The pastor who preached that day chose his text from Luke 1: 46 – 55, popularly known as “Mary’s Song.”  This passage of scripture chronicles Mary’s song of praise as she  glorifies God for seeing her lowly estate and choosing her to fulfill his purposes and plans.  The pastor focused squarely upon the second half of verse forty eight where Mary marvels, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.”  The pastor lifted up the value and role of women throughout scripture, and built the foundation of his message upon these timeless words from Mary.  As a congregation, we repeated these words several times together in a rhythmic cadence that became electrifying.  It was almost as if we were prophetically praying these words into the life of Mamu Tshiakafua, who would soon be ordained as a teaching elder (pastor) in the CPC.  The second half of the service included:  a summary of Mamu Tshiakafua’s life and ministry, the profession of ordination vows, a time of anointing and prayer, a welcome into the ordained pastoral ministry by the Ordination Committee, the reception of gifts, and a final benediction given to all by Mamu Tshiakafua to close the service. 

DSCN4900A welcome (with handshake) into ordained ministry

DSCN4906Reception of gifts  

Writing this blog I recognize that the ordination of women is a contested issue in different Christian circles.  Without being polemical or making an exegetical defense of women in ministry, let me simply suggest that Mary’s Song serves as a prophetic witness to the reality of God’s favor towards the lowly and overlooked populations of the world.  Moreover, God can use anyone as his instrument, even as He chose to use a teenage girl named Mary in the first century.  Today, two thousand years later, we can affirm those prophetic words uttered in astonishment by young Mary - ‘all generations will call me blessed’.  No one can discount Mary’s singularly awe-inspiring role in bringing the Christ child into the world, raising him under her watchful and discerning eye, and later serving him as her Lord.  Mamu Tshiakafua…Pastor Tshiakafua, may future generations also called you “blessed.” 


Bob with Mamu TshiakafuaPastor Muntu, Pastor Tshiakafua, and Muambi Disanka (Bob)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Endurance inspired by hope in our Lord

Too often, I think only of the task to be accomplished and forget the importance of my motivation or the unseen ramifications that it might have.

Recently, we were reading 1 Thessalonians, and were struck by Paul’s prayer in his introduction. “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Last week, I took a 2-day personal retreat, and spent some time meditating on this verse. What is the difference between a work produced by faith or produced without faith? With faith, we look beyond our own abilities, and seek God’s glory and desires, not just our own gain.

Imagine the difference in how you feel when someone does something for you out of love rather than out of duty or to advance their own interest. I tend to be a task-oriented person, and like to tick things off my to-do list. This is such a good reminder for me, to live and work and connect with people in LOVE; in assurance of God’s love for me, and a motivation of love for other people and God.

Next week (March 8) is the International Day for Women, and in conjunction with that the Presbyterian Church in Congo  held a women’s day of prayer on March 2. Women spent all night praying in their local parishes on Thursday, and then Friday morning came together to a central location to worship and pray together. Unfortunately, it started raining at 6am on Friday, and rained all day. When it rains hard, life stops here and it is like a “snow day” in the Midwest. We live just down the street from the parish where the Friday prayer event was to take place, so I was still able to go (and they still held it, much to their credit, despite starting several hours late).

Choir at women's prayer

A women’s choir sings at the women’s prayer event on Friday

The women sang, prayed, and learned together on the theme of justice and righteousness. So many of these women are personally feeling injustice in their families. During a time of sharing prayer requests, several women grieved over the lives of their children – those who are unable to afford to finish secondary school, or once they finish are unable to get a job. Children who die young of diseases like malaria or tuberculosis, or who leave home to pursue work in the diamond mines and never come home again. Life feels so fragile and uncertain here.  When I hear people say “Only God - only He can make a way,” I know that they are speaking sincerely, filled with faith and a recognition of the limitations of their environment. I am continually amazed at the endurance I see in people around me. For people who have hope in our Lord Jesus, the endurance fueled by that hope is truly remarkable. Women in Congo, especially, seem to embody this endurance, doing the hard labor of caring for a family in a challenging environment, and keeping hope alive for their children. I hope that my life also will be characterized by “work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ!