Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Seeing progress

Last week we were in Tshikaji, and had the opportunity to worship with the Lubi II parish. Another phase of the construction of their building has just been completed, and we wanted to see it. For a little background, there was a devastating tornado in the village of Tshikaji in August 2010. The roof of the Lubi II parish blew off, killing one child and injuring a couple of others. We worshipped with them under a plastic tarp the following month, and Bob preached a message from Esther that God can turn our mourning into joy. Several churches and individuals in the U.S. contributed toward the rebuilding in 2011 – about half of the budget. Construction began – foundation laid, walls were built, roof was put on. However, we realized that the roof was not secured well – partly because there were not enough bricks and cement for the walls to reach the roof. Then, in 2012 there was a bad storm, and some local workmen realized that there was significant risk of the new roof blowing off, partly because the temporary support beams were being eaten by termites. In late 2012, two churches, Myers Park Presbyterian Church and Culpeper Presbyterian Church, responded to the urgent need to secure the roof. The walls were extended to the roof, and the roof beams secured. A cement finish was also added to the inside of the church walls. It looks great, and we are much relieved that it is now sturdy and ready to withstand the spring rains. Here is a quick progression of the events in photos:


September, 2010: The original structure, days after the roof fell


October, 2010: Worshipping under the tarp


January, 2012: First phase of construction on the new building completed

Lubi II - front view 2013February, 2013: Second phase of construction completed

We are excited at this process, although we are not yet through with this journey. They still have a dirt floor, no doors, and the cement finish could be added to the outside of the walls to help extend its life. We were encouraged to see the vitality and energy in their worship. They have saved the temporary support beams to use as benches. However, because the church does not have doors, some of these have been stolen. To mitigate that, they store them high on a makeshift “shelf” in the church. One of the youth climbs a pole to get to the shelf on Sunday morning to retrieve some of the boards to use for benches.

Lubi Ii - wood for benches

Pastor Jonas (below) catches boards as they are lowered by the
young man above to be used for benches.

Lubi II worship Feb 2013

Sunday morning worship – a full house! The choir singing was a visiting
choir that walked more than 5 miles each way to be with them.

We were also happy to be able to have Bibles to sell at the subsidized price ($4 instead of the $10 retail price). Four people in the Lubi II parish got Bibles during the week that we visited them. The Bread of Life is so much more important than a building…but the building is a huge help for facilitating worship, learning, praying, and the life of the church. When will the journey of this building finish? Only God knows! If you have an interest in helping the Lubi II congregation to finish the construction of their building, instructions for giving are on our projects page. About $7,000 is needed to finish the building.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Power Encounter (in Congo)

Power encounters are common in the Bible.  One of particular note is Elijah’s confrontation with the 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.  The abbreviated version is that Elijah and the prophets erect an altar, seeing whether Baal or the God of Israel has power to torch it from the heavens.  The prophets of Baal call on the name of Baal from morning until noon.  Nothing happens.  Elijah then cries out to the LORD, praying that “these people [Israel] will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”  With immediacy, fire falls upon the altar and burns up the sacrifice.  The people are convinced, falling prostrate and crying out, “The LORD – he is God!  The LORD – he is God!” (1 Kings 18).  From Old Testament accounts of God’s power right through the life of Jesus and the early church, God’s power and demonstrations of God’s power bring forth fear and belief. 

In Christianity with Power, Charles Kraft writes that most of the world’s people are seeking greater spiritual power to deal with life’s problems.  Thus, he recommends that Christ followers use spiritual power as a means of blessing and communicating with those whom God loves.  Cultures in the developing world have a greater sense of the spiritual world than do western cultures (Kraft, 1989).  There is no doubt that this reality is true in Congo, and we perceive that people here recognize spiritual power, who has it and who doesn’t, and how spiritual power affects everyday life. 

Last month Kristi and I visited the Honorable Mbueshi in Kinshasa, a regular worshipper at one of our CPC churches in Kinshasa.  He is a humble Christian man who serves the Kinshasa government as senator.  The Honorable Mbueshi is also a traditional chief; actually he is the Grand Chief of the Bakete tribe.  During our time with Chief Mbueshi, he told us the story of how he was coronated Grand Chief.  He explained how some rival chiefs who coveted his ascendancy to being Grand Chief of the Bakete worked all kinds of charms and magic to make it rain that day, thus ruining the festivities.  However to their chagrin, there was not a cloud in the sky that day.  We were spellbound by his testimony.  He then told us that on the day of coronation the chief-to-be is not allowed to speak.  However, Mbueshi arranged for songs of praise and worship to be sung.  Violating traditional custom, he sang, giving thanks and praise to his Creator and Chief.  Also, the rival chiefs were humbled when an unexpected wind swept up and caused one of the rival chief’s tribal dress fell to the ground, while the other chief’s traditional tribal head-piece also fell to the ground.  Both chiefs were publicly humbled and humiliated by this demonstration of God’s power.  In their quest to discredit Mbueshi, a humble servant of God who was being exalted and honored by his tribe, they were themselves humbled.  This ‘power encounter’ lived out in Congo reminds one of Biblical accounts.         

P1160987 Grand Chief Mbueshi (right-center) holds us all spellbound

Indeed, our western culture and mindset has trouble accepting such stories.  However, I suggest that African cultures’ worldviews are in many ways closer to a Biblical worldview than our western mindset, which often credits the human sphere and the natural sphere above the supernatural or spiritual sphere.  Indeed, for those who believe, there is a God of power and glory who seeks to exalt Himself and lift up those who trust in Him.  What do you think?  What do you make of Honorable Mbueshi’s story?  Does God continue to work through his servants in power?  Is our western cultural mindset missing something?  Has the Enlightenment and our modern technological world blinded us to supernatural realities?  Tell us what you think.                     

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A little shopping trip

Please join me today on my weekly shopping trip to town to pick up a few groceries and miscellaneous. You can imagine that shopping in Kananga is a little different than going to the store in the U.S., and rather than just generalize, I’ll try to help you experience with me this week’s outing. It is Tuesday afternoon at about 2:30, and today the sun is hot. So, I put on some sunscreen and take my big yellow umbrella to shade from the sun.

Kristi going shopping

As I get to the end of our street, I greet Mamu Kapinga, one of the women who sells fruit on our corner. She has a few plantains today, and I remember that I need to get plantains for tomorrow’s dinner. I pay her for them (just before someone else asks for them!) and ask her to keep them for me until I come back. Mamu Marie sits next to Mamu Kapinga, and today she has some nice papaya. I greet her, purchase a papaya, and again ask her to keep it for me so that I don’t have extra weight to carry across town. It is nice to have these wonderful women so close who I can get fruit from!

Kristi with Mamu Marie
Mamu Marie (right) sells rice, peanuts, and fruit on the corner.

I walk about 1 more kilometer towards town, and pass by the fruit sellers in front of PAX, the clinic connected to CPC. There are a couple of long-necked squash. We love squash, but we still have half a squash at home and it is far to heavy for me to buy at the beginning of my outing. So, I continue on. I am in the middle of downtown now, and walk down the first block scanning the store fronts, looking for material for curtains for our office and a big plastic container to put in the fridge. I don’t see any good options, so decide to move on to the other things on my list. In the next block, I greet Mamu Kuupa Jackie, who has several large baskets of staple foods like rice, beans, onions, and potatoes set up on the sidewalk. “Did you go to Mutoto?” she asks. When I affirm that we did, she says excitedly “I saw a picture of you!”  It turns out that she worships with some of the youth in the choir that traveled with us. Small world! I get a few kilos of onions and a kilo of beans, and then step into the hardware store behind her. I am looking for paint thinner, but not sure what they would call that here. “if you are painting, what do you use to clean the brush?” I ask in Tshiluba. “Tinnare” is the response. Of course! “thinner”, with a French accent! I learn the price, and make a mental note to get some next time.

Kananga hardware storeL-D Power
Kananga’s best hardware store

I start back up the street. On this street, venders sell vegetables displayed on plastic laid out on the sidewalk. This means that you have to carefully weave through the narrow space remaining for pedestrians. “No spinach today?”, I ask a few people. “Tomorrow”, is the response. I find some okra, and get a small bag that will hopefully last us the week.

Avenue Mission, the main road in downtown Kananga –
a mix of shops and sidewalk venders

In the next block, I stop into a small kiosk that sells office supplies. They don’t have the exacto-knife I’m looking for, but I get a roll of packing tape. I then go into a large (by Kananga standards) store that sells imported grocery items and household goods. Almost all stores in Kananga have a counter at the front where the clerk sits and transactions are made. The customer comes to the counter and tells the clerk the items he/she wants to purchase and pays the money (sometimes handing the money through a small hole in the mesh wire shield above the counter). Then the clerk or another employee collects the items and gives them to the customer. Perhaps similar to small-town grocery stores in the 40’s and 50’s in the U.S.? I greet the people at the counter, and purchase a can of milk powder and some instant coffee, but they are out of light bulbs. While I am there, Seur (Sister) Claudine, one of the nuns at the Thabor Catholic center, comes in. We exchange greetings while the clerk is collecting my purchases, and she asks when we will be coming next for a retreat. I was just there last week, but mention that Bob will probably be coming this month or next.

I leave the store, wondering what kind of store would sell light bulbs. I try the office supply kiosk, but they are out. I go on to Gosen, another “dry-goods” store across the street. Score! They have them! I buy a few light bulbs, and as they are handing them to me another customer or bystander admonishes the clerk that he should have put them in a plastic bag for me. “But plastic bags destroy the earth!” I argue, “I always shop with this big bag so that I avoid getting a plastic bag”. He doesn’t seem convinced, but at least the clerk, Jean de Dieu, is happy to accommodate me.

Gosen store

Jean de Dieu, the clerk in Gosen, standing in his store

I have most of the groceries on my list, and my bag is starting to get heavy. I head towards my last stop  - picking up Bob’s suit-coat from the dry-cleaners. There is one drycleaner in Kananga, and this is the first time we are trying it out. This morning I drove to town to pick up a few boxes of Bibles, and tried to pick up the suit-coat on that trip while I had the vehicle. Unfortunately, the storefront where customers drop off and pick up clothes is not the same location where they do the cleaning. Despite the fact that it is Tuesday and they said it would be ready last Saturday, his coat was still in the other location and they asked that I return later in the day. When I reach the store now in the afternoon, I am tired from the heat and my heavy bag. The clerk tells me that Bob’s coat is still at the other location! I am frustrated, and tempted to criticize her – she told me in the morning that she would get the coat, and I had told her the time I would return. This is one of those “culture stress” moments, when I long for the efficiency and relative predictability of the U.S. Fortunately, a man walks in then who appears to be the boss of the dry-cleaners. He perceives the trouble, recognizes me, and makes a phone call to the other location. “Bring that coat over here! This pastor’s wife is standing here waiting. This is not good!” He offers me a chair, and in just a few minutes a man rides up on a motorcycle taxi with Bob’s suit-coat. That was an efficient resolution! I thank them for their help, and head towards home, trying to balance my bag, the umbrella, and the suit-coat.

On the way, I stop to chat with Pastor Tulume, who is sitting under a shade tree on the sidewalk. A little further on, I look for Mambuyi, the woman who gets water for us. She normally sells peanuts and biscuits at this intersection. Our barrel is nearly empty, and I want to ask her to come tomorrow to get water. I can’t find her, so continue towards home and find her husband at the corner where he works repairing bicycles and shoes. I greet him and congratulate them on his brother’s new baby. I ask him if Mambuyi came to the market today. “She did, but she has just left to go see the new baby.” I pass on the message to ask her to come tomorrow. One more block, and we are back on our street where I pick up my papaya and plantains from the women on the corner. “Wow! Did you buy a suit-coat for Bob?” they ask. I laugh, and explain that we just got his coat cleaned. I recognize an old and frail widow who attends the same parish we do, sitting next to Mamu Kapinga. She recognizes me and starts to excitedly declare “I know you! You attend the same parish I do! We are in the same church!” “Yes, yes. I know you, mother,” I say, trying to encourage her that I do recognize her. She asks for some money to buy food, and I give her a small amount that might help with a meal. I continue up the block, greeting the women who sell in the small market in front of our home. Just before reaching home, I buy a few tomatoes from a young girl who is filling in for her mother.

Whew! It is about 4:00 as I reach home. I am grateful to get some cold water and relax a few minutes after my long walk. Thanks for joining me - I hope that you enjoyed meeting some of the friendly faces around Kananga. Now – what do you think? Would you prefer to shop in Kananga, or in the town where you live? Any particular differences of shopping here you like or would struggle with?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The choir sang

Bob described our incredible journey to get to Mutoto. The big event, especially for the youth choir we were traveling with, was Sunday worship. Before the service, we sat with the elders briefly as they prepared. The president of the Kananga youth choir gave them their list of 10 songs they were prepared to sing. Ten! The elders requested only that they break up their songs into 3 groups, to be sung at 3 different points in the service.
Worship started around 11:30, and the sanctuary was about 1/2 full. Benches fill only the first half of the building, so many people bring their own chairs to the service. Younger children sit on the floor near the front because of lack of space.
kids in church at Mutoto
The service started, and after a congregational song the worship leader announced the order of a few of the choirs to sing in that segment. A choir of young people with fun synchronized dancing and guitar accompaniment. Then a duet of 2 young men with only drum accompaniment. And then the Kananga choir gave their opening songs – accapella, with wonderful rich harmony that filled the cavernous building.
Alleluia Song by the Kananga Choir
We went into prayers of confession, and then sang another congregational song before another round of choirs. I whispered to the elder sitting next to me “how many choirs does this parish have?” “Ten.” he replied. Ten?? I was incredulous. I realized what a very different environment and culture this is than the U.S.! The Congolese have a strong culture of music and rhythm, and it is good that they can celebrate and use that in the church. There are not as many diversions for entertainment in these rural communities, or extra-curricular activities to take up students’ time. So, being in a choir is an attractive way to develop musical talent, belong to a group, and grow in a knowledge of God and His word…and a fun way to pass the time.
Then a choir of the students of the pastoral institute, who sang “tuyaye tukebe bantu…” (we’re searching for people, we tell them the news about Jesus…). And a choir of students in their last year of secondary school. Then a large adult choir in their uniform of orange shirts – the largest and best choir of the Mutoto parish. One of the elders told me they call this choir “Sem Mer” (Mother Choir), because it has “birthed” all the other choirs in Mutoto.
Sem mer choir mutoto
As choirs sang, I watched people singing along or moving with the rhythm. Sometimes, when they really appreciated a particular choir, people would come up and give some money to a member of the choir – particularly bold people would slap the bill on the singer’s forehead while they were singing! Several people also came up and posed with the choir (while they were singing) to have their picture taken. I realized that this service felt more like a choir concert than a church service to me…but I enjoyed the singing along with everyone else and settled down to enjoy the “concert”.
Ways to appreciate a choir
Finally, Bob got up to preach. He preached that day from John 10:14, about how Jesus is the good shepherd. He reminded all of us that Jesus goes before his sheep – we do not need to fear the future because we know that Jesus is faithful to go before us and guide us. When he was finished, the Sem Mer choir got up and sang a very fitting song about Jesus being the shepherd to the sheep. They did not know Bob’s topic ahead of time – I was so impressed that they could spontaneously sing a song so well that complemented the message! They have a wide repertoire and a great memory…the benefit of an oral culture and lots of time spent rehearsing shine through!
The offering was taken while the Kananga choir started their final round of songs. A special collection was taken for the choir, who had traveled a long way to be there. Many people savored the last songs, dancing with the choir, waving their hands, and singing along. At the end of the service, around 3pm, the worship leader asked the congregation if they wanted the service to end. “No!” was the resounding reply. All good things come to an end…but we savor while we can the gift of singing our praise to the Lord!