Two weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit CPC churches in Kinshasa (capital of DRC). The leadership there escorted us on a visit to see 16 of their parishes in just a few short days – quite a feat in the congested and sprawling city of Kinshasa! We visited several families in their homes, participated in a seminar for church leaders and laity, and were able to get a taste of the life of the church in Kinshasa.
One of the highlights of our visit was a service organized by the women of the church. Every year on January 4, all the parishes in Kinshasa come together in one place to present gifts to their pastors. Isn’t that a wonderful idea? This tradition began about 10 years ago, when the leadership of the women’s department decided they wanted not just to pay their pastors and help with occasional food, but also to provide clothing and other items to help their pastors and their families.The salary for a pastor here is usually painfully low, and they often struggle with one or two extra jobs to make ends meet.
The service began with some energetic worship and a teaching by Pastor Marceline Ngalula, the director of the CPC Department of Women in Kinshasa. She challenged us to find more ways to show love to the people around us in this new year. After that, each parish was announced in turn and its pastor would come stand at the front. Members of the parish would then enter from the back, dancing and singing as they processed down the aisle to show appreciation for their pastor and present gifts to them.
In the first few parishes that were presented, the pastor received an envelope of money and sometimes a shirt or other item of clothing. I whispered to Bob “This is much more interesting in Kananga, where people come in with basins of flour, charcoal, and other physical items to present!” Shortly thereafter, though, the gifts in this service started to get much more creative. An ironing board, pants and a coat, shoes, a pastoral robe, and a large fan from the youth, were among the gifts. Other gifts, such as living room furniture, were announced “in absentia”. The most impressive gift was a laptop (turned on for the procession with a photo of the pastor filling the screen). This process lasted for a couple of hours for nearly 20 parishes, but it seemed to go quickly as we watched the appreciation on the faces of the pastors and their spouses and the joy on the faces of the participants. One older, wiry-looking pastor amused everyone by jumping and dancing as he greeted his parishoners.
Then, near the end was the biggest surprise! After all the parishes were done, they called me to the front. The leaders of the department of women then proceeded forward and presented me with a dress, made just the day before, out of material that is representative of the church. I was floored. What generous hospitality! They also presented Bob and Pastor Mboyamba with shirts a few days later, so now we have “matching uniforms.”
What do you think about this public way of giving gifts and tangible signs of appreciation to pastors? Would it fly in a Western culture? We know that throughout the church women are often the “energy” behind much that happens, and this service is a creative labor of love to help pastors know that they are remembered by their poor but faithful congregations.