“In our culture, we have a saying”, explained Mamu Luta. “‘one bracelet doesn’t jingle’. Women want to wear several metal bracelets at once so that they will make a sound. When we work together, we make a beautiful ‘sound’, But alone, we are nothing to be proud of.” She was presenting a banner to the Sheppards and Lapsley presbytery celebrating ten years of partnership with the Nganza and Tshibashi presbyteries in Congo. On the banner was a painting of a woman, showing one arm with several bracelets, and the other arm hiding because it only had one bracelet.
Last week I had the privilege of traveling for a couple of days with the Tshibashi and Nganza presbyteries as they hosted two representatives of the Sheppards and Lapsley presbytery from Alabama, helping out with translation. It was incredible to see our colleagues pull out all the stops in welcoming and caring for their visitors. On the first day of the visit, both presbyteries held a joint worship service. It was remarkably short by Congo standards (just one hour), but there was dancing and joy such as I have rarely seen in Congo. It has been several years since members of the Alabama presbytery had been able to come to Congo, so this was a much-anticipated visit.
Nganza and Tshibashi presbyteries cover a wide area near Kananga, and it was significantly meaningful to each of the parishes for the visitors to see their church. So, each day the leadership here sought to introduce their visitors to as many churches, schools, and activities as possible. I’m sure that as we lurched along over Congo’s notorious dusty roads in the bright sun, it began to feel like a blur to Billy and Lynn. But they valiantly and gracefully persevered. We heard a similar message over and over again in so many places “This school now has an office and latrines because of the partnership. We got these school benches or church benches through the presbytery partnership. Roof sheets for that church were given through the partnership. The land for this office/school/church was purchased with help from Sheppards and Lapsley.” The variety of things that have been accomplished in the last 10 years is remarkable. And what impressed me most is that nearly all the churches in the two presbyteries had received something significant, according to their need. In Congo it might be tempting to focus the attention on the churches of the leadership or on those that were largest. But a joint team of both presbyteries has tried to include everyone in this partnership, as challenging as that is. This means there are still plenty of needs and priorities of things to be done, but it does appear that they are on the right path. I don’t think that there were any complete churches or schools built with partnership funds, which leaves a significant (and perhaps good) challenge in the hands of the Congolese to not depend completely on their US partners.
Most of the church buildings we pulled up to would have palm branches posted 100 yards out as a sign of welcome. Women were dancing and singing their greeting out front as soon as they saw the vehicle. All the leaders were assembled, and as soon as we were introduced, the pastor would read a short prepared greeting and word of thanks to the visitors. Often, people would give gifts – hand-crafted wooden objects, horns or skins of animals, or gifts of food. A real outpouring of generosity and expression of thanks for the partnership. At one church they even gave a dish of live termites. Lynn leaned over and asked “And why would we want termites?” “For a snack!” I replied, and she responded “Ah yes. Of course.” I remember driving toward one school, and 200 yards away we could see the flashes of color from the children assembled in rows out front who were waving their folders as they sang a song of welcome. Incredible.
Members sing their greeting to the guests at Kapanda parish. The land for this church
was bought with support through their partnership with Sheppards and Lapsley
Each day over lunch, there was time for discussion with some of the church members and leaders. There were some good exchanges as members on both sides tried to understand the vastly different context of the other. As they shared their typically weekly schedule of worship, The Americans were amazed that one CPC parish gathers every morning at 6:30am for morning worship. The Congolese, in turn, were impressed at the outreach and generosity of this small US congregation. One Congolese elder inquired, “At the end of a Pastor’s term, there is often accusations and vying for position from others who want to be the pastor in his parish. Does that happen in the U.S.?” Other questions included “How do you keep your youth interested and involved in church?”
From our experience here, cross-cultural church or presbytery partnerships are challenging to do well. In addition, there are about 100 presbyteries in the CPC and only 3 with partnerships, which of course means it is not going to be an effective means of bringing assistance to the church as a whole. This is one reason that we see our role as being a support and resource for the whole church. However, all that said, I do commend the leadership of Tshibashi and Nganza for their hard work to maintain this partnership and and organize a comprehensive visit this week for their guests!
The ‘traveling team”, including Pastor Tshiyoyo, Pastor Mukendi, Billy and Lynn,
along with Mamu Helene on the left (Pastor Mukendi’s wife)