Monday, May 28, 2012

Generous Outpouring

On Pentecost Sunday, churches in Kananga have a tradition of giving a special offering of gifts to their pastors. On this Sunday, the pastors also exchange pulpits, so that each pastor is preaching in a church other than his normal parish. It is a wonderful way of encouraging the pastors, and it is a significant effort that the congregations exert to pull it off.

In the parish where we worship, designated leaders started raising awareness about this event and collecting funds a month ago. A few people in each neighborhood visited the homes of members to collect their contribution. In a church in the city of Kananga, the total offering on a Sunday is typically less than $20, and a pastor receives about 40% of that as salary. In smaller churches and those in rural areas, the offering is much less. So, this designated day of giving gifts to the pastor is a huge encouragement to them in the midst of the challenges of living on a very small salary.

Each of the neighborhood small groups in the parish pool their resources of money, flour, charcoal, clothing, or other items to share with the pastor’s family. During the service, there is a designated time when the gifts are presented (although the pastor is not present because he is visiting another parish). It is impressive to see the women dance down the aisle with these huge loads on their heads!

At this church in Kananga, members of one of the small groups pooled their resources to give gifts of food and house-hold goods to the pastor. They were an impressive procession! The corn and cassava flour comes first, then charcoal, then greens and oil.

So many of the church members are struggling to feed their families and make ends meet. Yet, we continue to be impressed at the generosity and hospitality that is often shown in spite of that need. May God help us to imitate the generosity and sacrifice of these Christians in Kananga!


A collection of the gifts given at our parish. The pastor lives about 5 km
from the church and does not have a vehicle—we are not sure how he got it home!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Psalms 23:4 (NIV)
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

At 9am every Saturday morning, between twenty and thirty women and men gather at Tatu Charles’ home in Nganza Commune.  They began gathering together in 2007.  They are different ages, but most are women.  They do different types of work, but many of them farm.  They worship in different churches.  Despite these differences, they all share one thing in common.  Each member of this group has HIV/AIDS.  They originally began meeting to remind each other to take their anti-retroviral drugs.  They also began coming together for mutual encouragement.  People living with AIDS are often misunderstood.  Many people in Congo believe that persons with AIDS practice witchcraft.  Those afflicted with AIDS often live in shame, unwilling to expose their sickness.  Yet this group is different.  They do not live in shame.  They are open about their malady.  They want others to know that AIDS exists, and that it kills.  They reach out to others who are living in darkness and fear.  This group of courageous women and men have given their group a name - “Diakaja,” which means the act of transforming something bad into something good. 

Pastor Albert Kabue Muela finished his doctoral studies last year in Kinshasa.  He returned to Kananga early this year.  He began inquiring to discover if any groups of HIV/AIDS patients were meeting regularly.  Through a former classmate from seminary, he was introduced to Diakaja.  Pastor Kabue expressed his interest in meeting with them and doing a Bible study.  Having heard Pastor Kabue preach on the radio, members of Diakaja were happy to welcome him into their fold.  Pastor Kabue, usually paying his own way, travels by ‘moto taxi’ every Saturday morning to be with this group of AIDS patients.  With warmth, humor, humility and love, he leads them through a Bible study.  Each member actively participates in the study and feels affirmed.

Three weeks ago I had the privilege of joining Pastor Kabue to visit Diakaja.  I met Kabue at his home, and after a short motorcycle ride, we arrived.  We sat together with Diakaja members in a large circle under a tree.  Tatu Charles, President of Diakaja, described how the meeting would commence and gave a few announcements.  Each person introduced themselves.  Pastor Kabue was then asked to pray and lead us in the study.  That morning we studied Psalm 23.  Pastor Kabue read slowly through the psalm twice.  Then he or I would read one or two verses at a time, allowing members of the group to ask questions and provide comments.   Pastor Kabue facilitated the study with grace and patience.  He gave wonderful insights to supplement what was shared by group members. 

Kabue, Diakaja Pastor Kabue leads us through Psalm 23

The passage came to life for group members as we reflected on the role of a shepherd caring for his sheep, and how God tenderly and watchfully cares for us, His children.  The group’s reflection of verse four stands out in my memory.  Verse four reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.”  After reading these verses, Charles said “This verse is for us.  As AIDS patients we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  We don’t know when death will come, but it is ever present for us.”  Everyone in the group resonated with Charles’ comment.  Later they shared the many challenges they face:  work despite physical weakness, paying school fees for their children, and paying for drugs to repress sickness.  Despite these challenges, members of Diakaja exuded a quiet confidence that God is with them as they travel through this valley. 

Psalm 23 reminds us all that God is indeed with us, even through the darkest valley.  May God bless the Diakaja group, and Pastor Kabue as he seeks to encourage and comfort those afflicted by HIV/AIDS.

Bob with Diakaja Bob with members of Diakaja

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A typical day

We have been asked several times to describe a “typical day” in Kananga. Two of the key themes of life in Kananga are “unpredictability” and “flexibility”, so it is hard to really describe a typical day. But, as an attempt, I will describe the events of one day, Tuesday, May 8, as they really happened.

6:00AM – The alarm goes off. We both had trouble sleeping, so we decide to sleep in a bit.

6:40AM- We roll out of bed and start our “morning routine”: start the charcoal fire, prepare water for tea and showers to be boiled, take Jackoo (our parrot) out to the balcony, etc. Usually we are up by 6:15, but today we are a little slow. There was a late-night choir practice, a prayer meeting, and some rain during the night that kept us up.

7:15AM – We do our morning devotions together – read the Mission Yearbook, several Bibles passages, and pray

8:00AM – We have breakfast: tea, bread, and a papaya. During breakfast, I (Kristi) get a call from Pastor Charlotte about scheduling a meeting later in the day. Bob tries calling Pastor Mboyamba about a meeting we had tentatively planned with him for the afternoon, but the call does not go through.

8:40AM – Pastor Mboyamba comes to the door. We learn that he is leaving this morning and will be gone all week, so our meeting will have to be rescheduled. He also asks us to go to a nearby synod meeting on Thursday with some church leaders.

9:00AM – Bob starts his shower (bucket bath, to be more accurate). I go to confirm with Ruth (our colleague and neighbor) the meeting with Pastor Charlotte for 1pm in the afternoon.

9:20AM – Bob, just out of the shower, throws on some clothes and runs out to catch Pastor Mboyamba before they leave with one urgent matter to be confirmed. Bob learns that the synod meeting might NOT be on Thursday, but another day.

9:40 – We sit down to review the changes in our schedule this week, and realize that we will really need to be flexible! We are hoping to attend an all-night prayer meeting Wednesday night, but are not sure if it will work with these schedule changes.

9:55 – We start our meeting to prepare for our annual review next week with our Regional Liaison and Africa Office Director. We do a performance evaluation, set objectives for the coming year, and complete a self-care assessment.

12:05 – We decide to break for lunch. My cold has gotten worse and we are both tired, so we need a mental break. I go to answer a knock on the door. Tatu Albert, one of our artist friends, pleads with us to buy something from him so that he can pay his child’s monthly school fee. We buy a small wooden duck.

12:20 – (in the middle of eating lunch) Tatu Sammy, one of the drivers, comes to the door and explains to Bob some arrangements with the vehicle for a trip later in the week. He requests to store a spare tire and some tools in our entry-way. Pastor Katujudi also comes to the door at the same time and asks Bob for an e-mail address. At the same time, Ruth comes over to ask that we confirm with our language teacher our lesson day for later in the week.

12:30 – Pastor Charlotte calls to confirm the place for our 1pm meeting and says she will arrive soon.

12:40 – We lay down for a 10 minute cat-nap.

12:50 – I go to Ruth’s for the meeting with Pastor Charlotte. We discuss a vision she has for educating women about basic health principles and alleviating malnutrition. Most days, Bob goes to the office in the afternoon, but Tuesday is his day for catching up on e-mails at home. He prepares to send out our newsletter and works on some other e-mails and documents.

2:30 – I return home, and take another 10-minute nap. The trouble sleeping last night has wiped me out!

2:50 – I leave for Improka (15 min walk) for a meeting to discuss an evaluation of a microfinance program in the church here that we are in the midst of. The CPC Department of Community Development is trying to add some structure to microfinance initiatives that have started in the church.

4:30 – I return home. I’m exhausted, so decide to take another small nap. Bob goes out to work in the garden for 30 minutes. After my nap, I go out to buy charcoal and a few things for dinner.

5:20 – We had planned to review Tshiluba at 4:30, but the day seemed a bit crazy and time got away. Bob starts reviewing some flash cards.

6:00 – Kristi starts preparing dinner. Vietnamese fried cabbage over rice tonight.

6:45 – We sit down to eat dinner

7:15 – Bob reads a book on the history of Presbyterian work in Congo, while Kristi takes down clothes from the clothes-line and boils drinking water.

7:45 - We have had some tension this evening between us, so we sit down to talk it out. Being tired makes both of us more irritable!

8:20 – We work together to get our April newsletter email sent. The internet connection is slow, so it takes awhile.

9:15 – Newsletter is sent! We wind down and start getting ready for bed. Bring the parrot inside, bring in the boiled water, etc.

9:30 – Good night! One of those days that we are thankful is done…hoping for good rest and more energy tomorrow!