Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Growing young faith

The children looked intently at the picture of the baby in the hay surrounded by a man, a woman, and a few animals. A few would eagerly raise their hands to answer Tatu Celestin’s questions:
“Who was Jesus?”
“The son of God!”
“Where was he born?”
”In a stable with animals.”
”Was he born with honor?”
”Is a stable with animals a place of honor? No, he was not born with honor and glory. He left that in heaven when he was born as a person like us.”

SS pictures Kga 1-1

Here in Kasai, most families sleep at night with livestock in their homes – goats, chickens, guinea pigs, etc. So, I could see how that was the concept of Jesus being born in a stable was not particularly “dishonorable” to these kids. And they could recognize the animals and the surroundings in the picture as a familiar setting. Tatu Celestin patiently walked them through the story of Jesus’ birth, always making sure the kids understood and engaging them with questions. One 7-year-old was even able to quote John 3:16 when he asked the reason why Jesus was born.

This Sunday was the first Sunday that a new set of pictures and lessons about the life of Jesus was used here. Tatu Celestin, the Sunday School teacher at our nearby parish in Kananga, was the first to try it out. It has taken almost all year to develop, and it is finally finished! A team of people here, including the Coordinator of Christian Education, the director of Evangelism, and the director of the printing press, coordinated the effort along with a couple of others who helped with writing lessons or illustrating the pictures. The pictures were drawn locally in Kananga, and lessons were written in Tshiluba. Each of the lessons was laminated so that it will last for years despite the humid and dusty climate, and so that nearby churches can share and rotate the lessons amongst themselves.

The staff at IMPROKA, the CPC Printing press, with
the completed Sunday school pictures

We have found few churches here who have a strong Sunday school or time for teaching children. Children are present in the main worship service, and maybe after a 3 hour service adults don’t have the energy or motivation to do anything else for the kids. Many people have told us that a lack of materials like pictures and lessons is one the primary reasons for the neglect of Sunday schools. We know that there are lots of ways to communicate a story and truths without materials – story telling, acting something out, etc., but those require some training and a lot of effort on the part of the teacher.

We are hopeful that early next year a training can be organized in both West and East Kasai to equip Sunday school teachers with knowledge and materials for teaching children. Children are eager to learn, and we have seen many who are fervent prayer warriors or are exceptionally loving and helpful to others. But we know that they need dedicated time tailored to them to really understand the truth of the gospel and the significance of what Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross.

And the support for creating these pictures? It came from a generous and faithful woman in the U.S. who spent many years in Congo as a missionary. In her retirement, she has collected stamps from churches and individuals and used the proceeds from the sale of them for ministry projects in Congo. What a creative idea! Given the decline of postal mail and the increased cost of mailing, “Stamps for mission” ended this year. But, we are grateful for Peggy’s faithful use of time and energy to continue to support God’s work in Congo.

SS pictures Kga 1-4
The children and teachers of the Kananga 1 parish,
along with Kristi on Sunday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Highway in the Desert

Isaiah 40:3-5 (NIV)
3 A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

Q-Zee, a Kenyan friend of ours who sings in a Christian Rap group called the Super Concaves, recently said to me, “In our suffering, God makes a highway of blessings.” I preached these words a week ago Sunday, yet sometimes in the wee hours of the night I still wonder, “Are these words really true?”

The people of Judah had found themselves estranged from Yahweh for three score years and ten. They were lost. They had released the anchor of their faith. They felt abandoned. They wandered in a spiritual wasteland. Their hope was gone. Yet into this barrenness comes a fresh word. Into the parched desert comes water for the thirsty. A voice calls, “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD.”

Several centuries after these words are spoken, a man appears in the desert. He announces the coming of another. This another announces a kingdom within. He announces a kingdom without end. He announces blessings for those bent down; He lifts up those bowed down. A highway is made.

Our friend Q-Zee does not speak empty words. 2014 has been a year of trial for him and his family. His mother was imprisoned, falsely accused of killing someone. Q-Zee’s estranged father was one of her accusers, seeking to profit from selling her land. Yet when Q-Zee went to visit his mother in prison, he learned from prison officials that his mother spends all of her time comforting others. She isn’t distraught. She is consumed with serving her Lord and Master. In prison, in the place of desolation and rejection, in the desert, she has found consolation and comfort from God. In turn, she imparts words of comfort to others.

What comfort do you need this Christmas season? Where are you feeling oppressed and overwhelmed? What broken relationship has sent you reeling? What source of suffering has thrown you to the ground? Friend, the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ comes on a highway and meets us in our places of disconsolation and disquietude. God meets us in the desert. All four Gospel writers sing with one voice the words of John the Baptizer, “Prepare the way for the LORD, make straight paths for him.” Luke gives full expression to the echo from Isaiah when he writes, “And all flesh will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3: 6).

Thank you, Q-Zee. Your words indeed are true. “In our suffering, God makes a highway of blessings.” God meets us in the desert, and brings forth salvation.

God of all persons, times and places, we humbly come before You this Advent Season. We acknowledge our weakness and our need for you. Many of us have found ourselves ‘in the desert’. We have been wandering in a spiritual wilderness. Please come and meet us. Please construct a highway of blessings beyond anything we can currently imagine. May You be glorified in us! In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

**this devotional message can also be found on the PC(USA) World Mission homepage and World Mission Facebook page where every week this month you will find an Advent Devotional written by a PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker.