Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Incarnation

Matthew 1:23 (NRSV)
23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."

During this time of year we celebrate the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  As the apostle Matthew quotes the prophet, he shall be called “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.”  The Incarnation, or the presence of God amongst us, is probably the most incredible reality we can ever attempt to wrap our minds around.     

On Monday night, around 9pm, Kristi and I arrived back to Kananga with six of our colleagues of the Department of Evangelism of the Congolese Presbyterian Community (CPC).  We had just spent 13 days on the road, visiting the two large city centers of Ilebo and Mueka and the famed old mission station of Bulape.  In under two weeks we had logged over 1,000 kilometers on Congo’s infamously deplorable roads.  We are thankful to have returned in good health and to have arrived home safely despite fresh dents on the vehicle and bruises on the body.

Kristi and I and members of the Department of Evangelism of the CPC;
we enjoyed travelling, working, eating together and laughing a lot!

Vehicle stuck in the mud in village of Shinateke, after flash rain storm;
Our winch saved us half a dozen times! 

We were privileged to first visit the port city of Ilebo.  Back during the Belgium period, Ilebo was called Port Franqui, named after a Belgium businessman. The name Ilebo is actually not a local Tshiluba word, but rather the Tshiluba-ized version of what Port Franqui was often referred to - “Il est bon!” (It is good!).  When we arrived at the police barrier to the city, we were met by dozens of women and church leaders who were singing and clamoring for us to get out of the car.  We then walked 2-3 kilometers with them to town amidst singing and profound joy.  It was the first time missionaries had visited Ilebo in over two decades.  We were told several times that our visit and our presence was a huge boost to the Presbyterian community in Ilebo.  Everywhere we went we were greeted with intense fanfare and joy-filled song.  We even crossed a river by canoe and rode on the back of motorcycles up and down hills and valleys to visit a very rural parish in the village of Bambanga where the whole town came out to greet us.  We felt like rock stars! 

Welcomed with joy at Ilebo city!
Traversing the Lutshuadi River to reach Bambanga
where the whole village came to greet us!

On our way to Bulape after three action packed days in Ilebo, we were stopped on the road by churches four different times, some of whom came long distances to greet us and escort us back to their parishes where we worshipped and ate with them.  Our presence was a gift and a boon to these rural churches. 

The women of the village of Bena Mulumba
welcome us waving flowers and palm fronds!

We enjoyed a short stay in Bulape where we conducted a Board Meeting for the Pastoral Institute.  At the end of the meeting, the Director of the school told us that he and the staff and students were ebullient that we had come just to visit them; they have often felt overlooked and forgotten.  We also spent time visiting and praying for local parishes and families and all of the local chiefs.  

Board meeting with the Pastoral Institute of Bulape

Our last stop was the city of Mueka, the seat of a large territory in the new Province of Kasai (capital is Tshikapa).  Unfortunately, we were not cordially greeted by the majority of CPC churches in the city.  In fact the church where we were planning to meet was barricaded by the youth of that parish.  The CPC Synod Executive of the region chose not to be with us and a disgruntled pastor went on the radio the previous day, saying that he and others did not recognize the authority of one of the leaders we were travelling with.  Sadly, despite all of our overtures, pleading and even humbling ourselves on our knees, this pastor and others refused to join us.  It was a sad reminder that we live in a broken world where relationships and church communities can so easily become fragmented by division and strife.  Thankfully, instead of shaking the dust from our sandals and leaving, we chose to stay.  Working with one CPC church in Mueka, we facilitated a healing and reconciliation workshop which blessed all eighty plus participants who came from all over the region, even from the remotest corners.  At one point during the workshop it felt like we were transported into the heavenly realms!  

Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict (HWEC) workshop held in Mueka;
members of different nations (tribes) serve one another and
pronounce blessings to each other at “The King’s Table”

The Incarnation is not some theologically aloof concept beyond our lived realities.  It is the actual reality of God with us through the ups and downs of everyday life.  Moreover, as God’s children we have the gift and privilege of incarnating God’s love and care to one another simply through our presence and service.  Here in Congo, that often means simply showing up and visiting people who feel forgotten.  Yes, we will not always be received with gratitude and joy, but neither was Jesus always received in such manner.  But, as the Apostle John relates,  “To all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1: 12).  According to Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr, the Incarnation exemplifies God’s redeeming work.  It shows that God was saying, “It is good to be human, and God [is] on our side” (Rohr, 2008).    

Emmanuel, God with us! 
Happy Advent.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Exchange visit to Mbuji-Mayi

Last week our team for the savings groups made a trip to East Kasai, for the purpose of visiting women’s groups who have active income-generating projects, and also existing savings and credit groups. We have just started the savings groups in West Kasai, but our vision is that they will start in East Kasai next year, so we wanted to explore what was available in terms of savings, and also what the needs were. We had a great time of learning together, and appreciating the hard work that many people are doing as they seek to work cooperatively to care for their families and communities. Here are just a few highlights:

This women’s group has done various projects together, including working in
people’s fields, running a mill, and making soap.

Leaders of the women’s groups in all the congregations in Mbuji-Mayi came
together to share their successes and challenges, and also to hear an
introduction to the savings group methodology.

We sat with a group from the Anglican church, who have a few existing savings groups

This parish on the edge of town called Nzaba Munya has an active women’s
group who works a field together, operates a water cistern, and is generous
in helping the widows and orphans in their neighborhood.

A woman at the Nzaba Munya parish catches overflow water from their cistern.
The cistern collects rainwater from the church roof. They sell it to the community
as an income generating project – without this source of water, people
have to walk about 3 miles to get water!

Finally, we had a long, muddy drive home. It is about 120 miles from Mbuji-Mayi to
Kananga, but it was an arduous 8 hour drive. Glad to travel, glad to be home!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mount Carmel

Sure enough, it was 5:40am and the drumming and singing began.  I rolled out of bed, put on my jeans, a tee shirt and my fleece and found my way to the small chapel.  The antiphonal singing was almost angelic.  Coupled with the drums and body movement, I recognized that I was amongst African angels.  Mount Carmel is a Catholic Retreat center in Kananga.  It also serves as a seminary for those studying and preparing for the priesthood.  From time to time I go there for a couple of days of silence, solitude and prayer. 

The small, simple chapel at Mount Carmel

There are many things I appreciate about Mount Carmel.  First is the natural beauty.  Mount Carmel  is set on the side of a sloping hill and the views are expansive.  I love  walking in the peace of its downward slope into the valley, along a wide grass path with palm trees on either side.  This time I was thrilled to see a miniature Kingfisher with its bright orange and purple uniform flit in front of me, taking a seat on a branch only 10 feet away.  What a joy!  God of wonders. 

Kananga sunset wide
Sunset from Mount Carmel

The seminary students are another blessing at Mount Carmel.  They are so attentive and conscientious of all of my needs.   When I visited last spring these students kept coming to my door with various things I would need (candles, water for drinking, water for bathing, fixing my light).  On this recent visit I forgot a towel; when I expressed my need it was met in short order.  One of the beauties of these students is that they come from all corners of Congo.  I have met students from Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Goma, Kinshasa, Tshikapa, and beyond.  These students will spend ten years together learning theology and philosophy.  Every year they travel to a new region where they will live and study together.  They are trained and formed by older priests and “priors” who teach them, eat with them, and do life with them.  What an experience these young men are receiving!

There is the wonderful air of hard work and sustainability at Mount Carmel.  They have their own beautiful gardens where they grow their own food.  They raise pigs.  They also produce jam and wine which are sold in town.  The seminary students are busy each day keeping the place groomed and clean.  There is the aura of an industrious spirit coupled with peace and beauty and hospitality. 


When I go to Mount Carmel I am a visitor by definition, but I feel at home.  I am welcomed during the daily hours of worship.  I am always included in the morning and evening meals.  I am welcomed into “their world” for a brief period.  Even paying for my room and board is a very casual affair.  At the center of all this hospitality and love is Pere (Father) Matthieu.  Recently ordained to the priesthood, he has become a peer and friend.  He is always happy when I come and makes sure that I am cared for in every way.  He calls me “muan’etu” (one of us) and has even been willing to break theological and ecclesiastical tradition by serving me the bread and wine of our Lord (the Holy Eucharist).  While I deferred from accepting this generous gesture, I appreciate his ecumenical spirit and willingness to break down the walls that separate us even in our Christian traditions. 

It is places like Mount Carmel that provide the salve of healing and space which our bodies and spirits need as we serve in Congo.  I ask God’s manifold blessings upon Mount Carmel, a place where I witness the goodness and bounty of God.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Rejoicing in healing

Last week I heard about some significant good work being done in Kasai – made more important by the backdrop of the suffering that it alleviates. In Congo (and in many developing countries), many women get a fistula in one of their organs as a result of poor medical care for childbirth or related to rape or sexual abuse. The fistula is usually in the bladder, the rectum, the vagina, or a combination of those or other organs. The result is usually that the woman ‘leaks’ urine or feces constantly. This means that she smells, and is therefore often ostracized by her family or community.

In October, just last month, one hundred vaginal fistula surgeries were performed during an intensive two-week period at Good Shepherd Hospital, the largest hospital run by the CPC in Kasai. Dr. Leon Mubikayi, a gynecologist and specialist in this type of surgery, came under the support of SANRU (an organization in Congo focused on rural health) to visit Good Shepherd Hospital, doing up to 10 surgeries a day during his visit. While about 50 of the patients came from Kananga and the surrounding areas, another 50 came from distant rural regions of a radius of about 200 miles, including Tshikapa, Luisa, Luebo and Mweka.

Nurse Kapinga Annie is in charge of the maternity, gynecology, and prenatal care division at Good Shepherd Hospital. She reported that most of the women received a fistula during childbirth. Some tried to have the baby at home in a rural area, and when complications caused them to stay in labor for multiple days, the baby died and their bladder or other organs were punctured in the process. Others did go to a health center, but the center and its staff were not equipped to deal with the complications. Five of the cases treated were fistulas received during surgery – usually a hysterectomy.

Nurse Kapinga Annie (far right, standing) with patients
who received surgery in October for fistula repair.

The surgery to repair a fistula can often take several stages or multiple surgeries, depending on the degree of complication or the size of the fistula. For example, a woman named Lusamba from the region of Katende went to the health center to deliver the baby.  It was her first pregnancy. She was in labor for 2 days before they referred her to the nearest hospital, where a C-section was performed. By that time, the baby had died from the trauma of labor, and she had a large fistula. Her husband left her because of the shame she brought on him, always smelling like urine. Now, 7 years later, she has had 3 surgeries and the fistula is finally completely repaired. She praises God and is overjoyed for this victory.

Of the 100 women treated, 17 had been living with a fistula more than 10 years. Another 21 had been living with a fistula more than 5 years. Three of the people treated were children. Two of them (aged one year and two years) were born with a congenital fistula. The third, a 13-year old girl, was impregnated by her brother-in-law. She delivered the baby, but with severe complications and a resulting fistula.

Nurse Kapinga said that it was a significant effort on the part of the hospital to provide the materials and staff for this intense period of surgeries. Dr. Mubikayi also came with some equipment, medications, and materials (such as specialized thread for sutures) donated for these surgeries. The staff changed the sheets on the beds of these patients twice a day.  They also washed their clothes to ensure that the patients felt a sense of dignity and felt clean and free from the smell of urine. Even though additional beds were put in the ward, because of the unusual number of patients some were placed two to a bed for recuperation. Dr. Mubikayi has come before to perform fistula surgeries, but this is the highest number ever performed in one visit. Dr. Mukendi, a staff doctor and gynecologist at Good Shepherd Hospital also does perform fistula surgeries occasionally, but the added experience and expertise of Dr. Mubikayi was helpful for the volume and degree of complication of some of these surgeries.

We are grateful for the significant impact in the lives of these women, achieved through the partnership of several organizations, including Good Shepherd Hospital. Nurse Kapinga said that the need for fistula surgeries in Kasai continues to be high, and she hopes that people in rural areas could be motivated to deliver babies in a medical facility, and that there also could be more training for the maternity staff at these health centers. We pray that these women who have found physical healing will also now be accepted back into their communities and families after many have lived for years in isolation and shame.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

‘Mission from the Margins’

Discontinuity, or stepping aside and into new situations and realities, is where we are shaped in unexpected and significant ways.  As an example, Moses was simply out tending the flock one day when he happened to see an unusual sight – a bush which burned but which was not consumed.  It was only because of Moses’ “determined seeing” at this perplexity that God chose to speak to him and reveal God’s purposes.  Moses chose to turn aside from his regular duties, and that is when God reveals His plans and purposes for enslaved Israel (see Exodus chapter 3).

Living in Congo, Kristi and I get caught up in our routines.  Life can almost become somewhat predictable.  How wonderful it was to recently host my parents.  They helped us see realities with fresh eyes. They were aghast at how difficult life is here.  They were angered that the government of Congo does so little to help the beleaguered population.  They were awed by the glory and beauty of this land.  To see this place through their eyes was a marvel and a reminder.  They had stepped aside from their everyday routines in the Bay Area (CA) and come to a place few choose to venture.  They came with eyes determined to see and hearts determined to understand the blessings and burdens of this land.  God only knows what purposes He has for them because of this experience.

Members of the English Conversation Hour, Kristi, and Steve and Gloria Rice -
my parents were enthralled to see the creativity and intelligence of these women,
but saddened by the lack of opportunity for them here in Congo

Two years ago the World Council of Churches ratified a new affirmation on mission and evangelism called, “Together Towards Life:  Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes” (TTL).  Apparently, one section of this affirmation, ‘Mission from the Margins’, has been the most popular, debated and contested.  It contends that people on the margins have agency - they can see what others miss; they are intimately aware of the forces which seek to rob them of life.  People like us, privileged by comparison, have much to learn from those living in marginal conditions (TTL, paragraph 38).

Personally, I believe that this concept of ‘Mission form the Margins’ is of profound importance for those of us involved in Christ’s mission in the world.  Mission has often been conducted from those of us in the center or privileged position to those on the margins.  Thus, mission has had and continues to have a paternalistic posture.  However, in Jesus, we find one who “relates to and embraces those who are most marginalized in society, in order to confront and transform all that denies life” (TTL, para 37).  He doesn’t come as one from above, but as one who is willing to stand alongside.  In fact, as Paul tells the Philippian church, Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and being born in our likeness (Phil 2: 6 – 11).  Jesus was connected to the lives of marginal ones.  He stopped when he heard the cry of bind Bartimaeus.  He reached out and touched the unclean leper, meaning that he was now unclean by Jewish ritual and custom.  He allowed himself the shame of being fully cast aside by the religious establishment, being crucified like a common criminal outside the gate of Jerusalem. Jesus did not come as one from a place of privilege or power.  He came in meekness and poverty.  He gave agency to those who would decry the worldly and religious systems which had stymied them and forced them to the ground.  He came to pronounce the year of the Lord’s favor (Is 61), and he did so in solidarity with the marginalized whom he gave agency and voice to. 

What a prophetic and powerful way to think about mission.  Too often we are too keen to rub shoulders with the powerful and the rich, claiming our good intentions of doing so for God’s mission.  Yet, God’s mission begins and ends with the “least of these.”  For enslaved Israel, it began with an estranged exile going about his shepherding business.  For the people of first century Palestine, it began in a hovel where a child was born amongst livestock.  If we are neglecting voices in places of destitution and injustice and only feeding those ones crumbs from our American Pie, surely our good news is not the news of Christ our Savior.  “Mission from the Margins” – there is much to learn just by listening and going to places where others choose not to venture.  Surely, we will  be changed in the process.  Just ask my parents!                     

** This blog post was inspired by the journal article “Mission as a Burning Bush Experience of Semper Reformanda ‘from the Margins’” by Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar, in the periodical Reformed World, Volume 64.3 December 2014. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Basking in beauty

We had the grand privilege of taking a week of vacation around Victoria Falls. We were excited to finally see these famous falls in Africa – definitely one of the top items on our bucket list! Bob’s parents joined us, and we enjoyed seeing them after two years apart, and exploring the area together. Here are just a few of the highlights:


Often, you can see rainbows reflected in the mist. Sometimes more than one!


An early-morning view down the gorge where the Zambezi River falls to create the Victoria Falls.



A view of the gorge from the Zambia side. We were there at the end of the dry season – in a few months there would be water pouring over the cliff on the right side – the eastern portion of the Victoria Falls. But, the bare cliffs have their own rugged beauty.

Trumpeter hornbill, Bushbuck Lodge, Zambia

This is a trumpeter hornbill, seen in the yard of the lodge that we stayed in.
We were thrilled to see lots of new birds!


We went on a one-day safari to Chobe National Park.
This hippo was not too happy when our boat disturbed his nap in the mud!


We got to see lots of crocodiles, of all sizes.

Squacco Heron, Chobe Nat'l park, Botswana

I have to admit, one of my favorite things about this trip was the great variety of
birds that we saw, especially near the water. This is a Squacco heron.


Elephants, pawing the grass to make it free for eating. They are such majestic animals!

Male Kudu

This is a male kudu, with his distinctive cork-screw antlers and “frosting-stripes” on his back.


We enjoyed afternoon tea at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel.


We rode the Royal Livingstone Express, a steam engine dinner train


…and we enjoyed some good African food and culture!

All in all, a wonderful experience of this place we have wanted to see for a long time. Now, we are back in Kananga and back to work! We are grateful for the chance to give our bodies and minds a break, and enjoy soaking in the beauty of God’s diverse and amazing creation.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Season of Giving

If your church is doing an alternative gift fair this year and you are looking for a few additional items, we want to give you a few ideas. Or, maybe you want to make a meaningful end-of-year contribution. Or hey, if you would like or if you would like to give us a Christmas gift, these ideas would work too! Here are a few ideas close to our hearts:Open Bible cropped

1. Subsidy for 10 Tshiluba Bibles: $70



women with songbook

2. Subsidy for 10 hymnbooks in Tshiluba: $30



3. Kit for 1 savings group (including metal ‘safe’, member passbooks, locks, stamp-pad, and all that is needed for a new savings group to start: $65




Kalambayi teaching cropped4. One day of a seminar for laity (on reconciliation, leadership, evangelism, or a mix of topics conducted by our department.): $400



5. One theology textbook for a Giving theology book to Muena Ditupastoral institute (this actually is only the cost of shipping the textbook, since the books are donated by another organization).: $30



6. Feeding one child for a month in the Ditekemena program: $40Ditekemena eating bidia cropped




The challenge in this is that giving for a specific purpose requires a specific account number. Giving instructions are described in more detail on our ‘projects’ page, or you can contact us to confirm the account numbers. If you would like to make an end-of-year contribution for ministry purposes wherever most needed, you can do so to ECO 318702, the account for the Department of Evangelism of the CPC.

Friday, September 25, 2015

God sees us, God hears us

It was one of those days.  My last words to Kristi as I left our apartment were, “I am praying that God would encourage me in some way today.”  While at the office, Kristi called me saying, “I have some news, and it is not good.  Pastor Manyayi just called.  The Land Cruiser is stuck on the way to Tshikaji.  The oil panels were not secured and all of the motor oil has spilled onto the ground.  They are stuck and need help.”  Just the previous day I had gone to get the oil changed and to have the vehicle looked over.  Indeed, this was not good news at all. 

I called Pastor Manyayi and Tatu Sammy, the driver.  Sammy encouraged me to go get 8 liters of oil, go get another CPC vehicle and the mechanic and come down as soon as possible to help.  I closed the office, called the mechanic, and headed out.  I went to buy the motor oil when fellow mission co-worker John Fletcher called.  From what John had heard from Pastor Manyayi, it did not sound good.  In fact it sounded dire.  John was concerned about permanent damage to the engine from the way the situation was described to him.  All I could do was pray and stay focused on my job at hand. 

I grabbed a second moto taxi and headed out to find another CPC vehicle.  Pastor Mboyamba was in Kinshasa but his wife was home.  We call him, learned where the keys were for the vehicle, and I jumped in the old, worn Land Cruiser and turned the ignition but it wouldn’t start.  What a day.  I asked his kids to help push-start.  On the second attempt the engine finally turned and I was off.  I picked up the mechanic who listened to John Fletcher recount his fears to him over the phone.  Without a lot of conversation, we drove down to find the stranded vehicle, our department’s prized new Toyota Land Cruiser.  We found Tatu Sammy and the vehicle off to the side of the road.  There were two large lorries ahead, stuck in the sand and blocking the road.  Tatu Sammy and Pastor Manyayi had taken a side road and gotten stuck when the oil began pouring out below.  Thankfully there wasn’t a long trail of oil which is what I had feared.  Moreover, when we inspected the filter we learned that the plastic lining was torn – the root problem.  Fortunately it wasn’t the dire situation we had feared.   

However, the immediate problems of the day continued.  We got stuck seeking an alternate route.  We dug the vehicle out but then the vehicle wouldn’t start.  We traded batteries.  After picking up Pastor Manyayi and Kanku Mukendi in Tshikaji, we came back to tow the immobilized new vehicle back to Kananga.  However, in Pastor Mboyamba’s old Land Cruiser it became apparent that the fuel injector was a problem.  We would stop every 5-10 minutes to manually pump the fuel.  The sun was going down.  Getting near the airport and main road, we heard some awful sounds.  The mechanic said “differential” - a serious issue.  The mechanic’s aid got out and got under the vehicle.  He worked, we talked, and the blaze of the sun nestled beneath the horizon.

Ahhh, a day in the life here in Congo.  I have to say that despite the challenges and obstacles, God gave me a deep peace within.  I had prayed for peace despite all of the problems and chaos.  If you can believe it, God even answered my prayer to be encouraged.  I was able to connect with my friend Pastor Manyayi in a significant way.  Also, it was a bonding experience for all of us to suffer together.  I arrived home around 7:30pm tired and dusty.  My wife was there with arms open and dinner ready.  Truly, God sees us.  Truly, God hears us.     

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The simple life

While at Lake Munkamba for a few days of vacation, we enjoyed walking along the beach. The lake is surrounded by houses and villages, and it is the primary source of water for those who live around it. It becomes the gathering place for a community – the place to share news, get the housework done, find some fish to eat, or splash around and have fun.

When we took an early morning walk – about 6:30 am - we passed by groups of women who were bathing, washing dishes, or washing clothes in the lake (sometimes all three at once). Despite being topless, they didn’t seem in the least embarrassed when we ambled by, and wanted to engage us in conversation. They laughed as they splashed and worked and enjoyed being together in the early morning sun. We admired their sense of community, and the unhurried way that they went about their tasks. (Sorry, no pictures of those group showers!)

People along the shore in the morning brightened


These women were happy to have their picture taken, and even started dancing for us!

In the early evening, people also gather in the shallows of the lake, sometime whole families bathing, washing, or fishing. As we walked one evening, we were passed by kids and teenagers excitedly gathering at a place ahead of us. We realized that a couple of men were dragging in their huge fishing nets with the final catch of the day. As the net got near the shore, clusters of children surrounded the net, holding mosquito nets themselves to catch any fish that might escape from the larger net. Again, we were impressed with the sense of community, of working together, and of not being driven by time.

Kids catching fish with net


The people we saw at the lake would be considered poor by most standards – they have to work daily to get the food they eat, they don’t have the luxury of electricity or technology, and they don’t have access to good medical care. At the same time, most are not encumbered with the abundance of ‘stuff’, the information overload, or the drive for productivity that I am. As the papers pile up at our house and I fight the daily battle with dust, bugs, and clutter, I am reminded that all of these tasks bind me to the ‘stuff’ rather than to community. We listened to an interview with writer Pico Iyer recently, who said “A lot of us have the sense that we are living at the speed of light, at a pace determined by machines. We have lost the ability to live at the speed of life.” Would I trade our 2-bedroom apartment and all of our books and ‘stuff’ for life in a mud hut with nothing? No, frankly. But it gives me pause, reminds me of the joy of the simple things in life, and helps me to temper my drive for productivity in the interest of engaging with people around me.

Didn’t Jesus talk about this? And live it? Jesus placed a priority on the people at hand, showing compassion or responding to requests. He was never in a hurry, willing to stop mid-stride to call blind Bartemeus, willing to stay and feed the crowd or bless children when his disciples urged him to send them away. “Don’t worry about tomorrow”, he told his disciples, and later “my peace I leave with you.” I am struggling to balance the call to be present with people, to slow down, and to embrace the ‘inefficiencies’ of Congo with my drive and desire to ‘be productive’ or cross things off the to-do list. And in that tension, I am grateful that God meets us and helps us in that tension, and reminds us of the things that have eternal significance. And I am grateful for the joyful people at Lake Munkamba who reminded us efficiency is not always the highest value.

Monday, September 7, 2015


Kristi and I returned late last week from several restful days at Lake Munkamba.  During this time we read the quizzical little Old Testament book of Jonah. 

It is difficult to know what to make of Jonah.  The story ends on a cliff hanger – a conversation left open-ended between God and Jonah.  Twice God questions Jonah’s anger.  Jonah is angry initially because God mercifully spares the people of Nineveh.  Jonah is angry a second time because a worm, appointed by God, has attacked and ravaged the bush which God planted to provide Jonah with shade.

It is easy for us, the 21st century reader, to quickly dismiss Jonah as a pious, xenophobic, patriotic Israelite who had no compassion for the other peoples of the world.  Yet, if we take more time to dwell on the realities of the Ancient Near East, we might cut Jonah a little slack.  Nineveh was known for its wickedness, even the king of that empire acknowledges their violent ways (Jonah 3: 8).  Perhaps with today’s geopolitical realities it would be like you or me being called to preach a message of judgment and repentance to the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. Who in their right mind would sign on for such an assignment?  Jonah doesn’t, at least not initially.  He runs in the opposite direction; Jonah flees the presence of the LORD.  Most of us know the rest of the story.  God hurls a windstorm.  Jonah is tossed overboard and swallowed by a large fish.  Jonah repents in the fish’s belly.  Jonah goes to Nineveh and preaches a message of doom and gloom. 

But here is the kicker – Nineveh responds with humility and repentance.  Everyone from the king to the lowest slave to all of the animals covers themselves and is covered with sackcloth and sits on mounds of ashes, neither eating or drinking water.  They cry out to God, asking God to relent and change His mind.  And guess what? God changes His mind and relents.  This course of events displeases Jonah very much.  He complains that he knew ahead of time that God would act in this way, which is why he chose to flee.  Jonah despairs of his own life – he would rather die than live.  So, what is the point of this story?  The God of the Biblical narrative is a God who transcends our understandings.  Jonah, prophet of the LORD, wants all-powerful Yahweh to crush this unworthy, wicked, hostile and aggressive people.  Jonah becomes angry because the LORD reveals his true self as gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, ready to relent from punishing (Jonah 4: 2). 

Perhaps like Jonah, we all need a seismic theological make-over when it comes to understanding the ways of Yahweh, the Lord of hosts, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.  We are quick to assume that God is on our side of cultural battles, church disputes, political wranglings and nationalistic ambitions.  We are quick to accuse and judge, when God is slow to anger and ready to relent from punishing.  We have an intellectual idea of who God is, but experientially we are often clueless.  Here in Congo it is helpful to be reminded of God’s grace and mercy, that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  To be honest, there are moments when we harbor anger and we would love to see God judge certain individuals and groups for their harmful behavior and reprehensible actions.  There are times when it feels like God stands aside and does nothing.  Yet, we can conclude from the book of Jonah that God is not standing aside.  God is looking for repentant hearts, even our own, to turn to Him and be healed.  God is looking for us to stop being unreasonably angry.  God wants us to feel His passionate concern and care for all peoples at all times in all places.  Jonah, I hope and pray, came to this realization even though the book by his name doesn’t give us that hopeful ending.  We also, I hope and pray, can come to this realization, comprehending in head and heart God’s care and concern, mercy and grace. 

Lord God, please destroy the wrongful perceptions we have fashioned in our hearts.  You know each person and all groups of people intimately.  You are slow to judge and quick to demonstrate mercy.  May we be the same.  In the name of Jesus, who did not come to judge but who came to show the love and mercy of the Father, Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Healing of our wounds

We are broken people. Most of us know that, but we have ignored or hidden our wounds for so long that we don’t realize the way that a festering wound affects the rest of the body. And how can we get healed if we don’t even realize that we have a wound? Last week we and our colleagues facilitated a workshop called “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict” in the rural village of Kabeya Kamuanga. Church leaders – pastors, elders, and deacons, came from five different presbyteries to gather for the three day workshop.

Pastor Mboyamba started by introducing God’s original intentions for humankind – His love for people and His desire that people reflect the love of God in their relationships with each other. Elder Kalambayi then talked about prejudice, and how the evil of prejudice poisons our thinking and relationships, and seeps out to poison others, including our children and grandchildren. We talked about the ways that we as people can be wounded emotionally – by our families, communities, or experiences. When we have been wounded, it is easy to blame others, and then become suspicious of them, especially when they are different from us in some way. Bob taught about God’s heart of love for us, even in the midst of our suffering and pain. And then we looked at God’s plan for redemption – that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins, but also to bear our pain and bring healing (Isaiah 53:4).  This is a truth that we often overlook.

Skit carrying burdens

Elder Kalambayi (right) picks up rocks and carries them in his backpack
in a skit that illustrates how we hold on to pain rather than giving it up to God.

Bob also taught about God’s vision for the church, and the way that the church often fails to be the salt and light of the world that God intended. In Christ, we can be made new and our minds transformed (2 Cor 5:17, Rom 12:2). But, that doesn’t happen automatically. On the second day of the workshop, each person was invited to share some of the deep wounds of their lives with one other person, and then pray for each other. Each person wrote these sources of pain on a piece of paper. People then came forward to nail the piece of paper to a large wooden cross – effectively giving the pain over to Christ. We took the cross outside, and burned all of the papers, encouraging each person to let Christ heal those wounds and replace them with life.

Nailing wounds to the cross 1

Burning wounds at cross 1

The following morning, people were invited to share if there were any specific ways that they had seen God provide or answer prayers in the midst of their struggles and pain. One woman shared that she had struggled with back pain for many years, but had noticed that morning that it was significantly reduced. Another man, Tatu Labai, shared that the struggle he had written on his paper was that he did not have good relationships with his sons-in-law. They did not respect him or talk to him or come to his house when he invited them. That very morning, Tatu Labai was preparing to leave home for the workshop when two of his sons-in-law showed up to talk to him. He was about to dismiss them so that he wouldn’t be late when he realized that their coming was an answer to his prayer – that God was bringing healing to this wound that he had given over the day before.

Rabai sharing testimony

Tatu Labai shares his testimony of healing

We praise God for His promises and for meeting and healing His children in these ways. We were careful to explain that the action of nailing our wounds to the cross was not magic – just a symbol of our giving up those things to the cross of Christ rather than holding on to them. When we accept both the salvation and the freedom that Christ offers, God can use us to shed light for others and open the doors for healing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Consecration of Lubi II Parish, Tshikaji

A week ago Tuesday our friend Pastor Tshiyoyo came to our offices.  He delivered an invitation for the consecration of the Lubi II parish in Tshikaji.  Finally!  We had been waiting for this event since we returned to Congo in early 2014.  Some of you will undoubtedly remember that the church building of this parish was destroyed in August 2010 by a terrible wind storm.  Here is a link which recalls that event.  The church was fully rebuilt in 2013.  Now it was time to consecrate this new church building.  Many churches in the US played a vital role in helping with the reconstruction of this church.  We thank you again!

Standing outside Lubi II parish on a foggy, August morning

It was a joyous occasion.  Pastors and elders from different parishes in the presbytery of Nganza came to join the local parish of Lubi II.  A choir from the local military academy came and sang several animated songs.  The local chief was present to give thanks.  Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) leaders spoke words of thanks to God and appreciation for the people of Tshikaji.  I (Bob) spoke on behalf of other missionaries and PC(USA), remembering the tragedy of 2010 and thanking CPC leadership, our department leadership, the local pastor, the contractor and friends and churches from the US for their unswerving commitment to stand with the people of Tshikaji and to help rebuild. 

Choir from local military academy sang with great fervency!  

Chief Kamenga of Tshikaji
came to express thanks

The consecration was timely in another sense.  Our Department of Evangelism and Church Life recently republished a book on “Liturgy.”  This book assists pastors and lay leaders as they lead and facilitate worship.  One section addresses how to consecrate a new church building.  Pastor Tshiyoyo and other leaders of the presbytery were greatly pleased to have this resource to guide them in the day’s events.  Let me describe some of the elements prescribed for consecrating a new church building.  First, we marched around the new church building three times singing songs of praise and adoration.  It felt as if we were the children of Israel marching around Jericho!  We then gathered in front of the church building where our colleague Pastor Mboyamba offered a prayer of thanksgiving.  He then cut the ribbon.  A leader of the presbytery entered and sprinkled water throughout the building, a symbolic act of cleansing.  Then we all processed inside and remained standing, again offering prayers of thanksgiving and petition.  After singing another hymn, the liturgist then offered a prayer to consecrate the building according to this scripture from 1 Kings -

Then Solomon said,
The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 
I have built an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”  (see 1 Kings 8: 12)

Marching around church building, singing
the classic hymn “Tutumbishe” to the
tune of ”Glory to His Name”

Pastor Mboyamba, Director of Department of Evangelism
and Church Life for CPC, offers prayer

At the beginning of the service elements for worship were brought forward and the liturgist consecrated them by prayer.  These elements included:  a new communion set, baskets for offerings, a Bible and a hymnbook.  The rest of the worship service was fairly typical, and Pastor Mboyamba praised the liturgist afterwards for keeping the service orderly and meaningful. The evangelist of the synod preached from 1 Kings, emphasizing that the LORD’s house is to be a place of welcome to strangers and foreigners (see 1 Kings 8: 41 – 43). 

Elements brought forward to be consecrated

It was a full house and a captivated crowd! 

This choir of young men from Lubi II sang a song recounting the
process of rebuilding the church, noting the sacrifices
made by their pastor, the builder, and others 

Afterwards we were broken up into groups and went to the local school to enjoy a nice meal.  We commended Pastor Tshiyoyo for putting this event together.  It was truly a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for all that you have done!

Our lunch group:  (left to right) Pastor Tshiyoyo, Pastor Mboyamba,
Pastor Tshipamba, Kristi, IMCK representative, Elder Shambuyi