Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Appreciating rural faith

Last week we went to the village of Mbala for worship. We love the experience of worship in a rural church, where despite not having a lot of wealth or ‘things’, their worship is full of life and their faith very real and tangible. We were accompanied by our colleague Jeff Boyd, and also three of the children from the Ditekemena program. Here are a few of the images and memories from the day.
Road to Mbala

Our link to the church and guide for the day was Mulami (deacon) Simon, who we knew from Kananga before he moved to this village. When we arrived, our first stop was his house, where according to the extravagant hospitality of rural Kasai they wanted to feed us a meal. So, although it was only 9:30 in the morning, we happily ate the bidia, chicken, and beans that they generously served.
Mbala - in Mulami Simon's house(left to right) Serge, Jeff, Bob, Noella, and Espoir,
seated in the main room of Simon’s house.

After reaching the church, we were served some peanuts and bananas (when arriving from a journey, you must be hungry!) while also learning a little about this church. Pastor Mbambila had been there about 4 years and had studied theology at the pastoral institute at Mutoto. They typically had 75-100 people in worship – but today several people were visiting from neighboring parishes because of the excitement of our visit.
We processed into the simple church building along with the
choirs and leaders. Many people bring their own chairs to
worship because there are not enough benches!

Mbala 1- adult choirWe admired the traditional sounds of the adult choir
and their locally made guitars and other instruments!

Faces pressed in, surrounding those who were fortunate to be seated ‘on the inside’. The church did not have any walls, so it was easy for curious passers-by to come and stand at the edge to watch the proceedings. Today, a band several people thick surrounded the church, appreciating the rhythm of the choirs, the preaching by the visiting missionary, and the baptism of several infants. Mbala is just about 25 km from Kananga, but it felt like we were days away from the city. Young kids were crowded together on a mat on the dirt floor. Others were relegated to standing at the perimeter. The church does not have a Sunday School or time for children, so the kids just glean what the can from a message directed to adults. They were relatively quiet and attentive though, through a long service!

Mbala 1 - congregation and Ditekemena kids

Bob preached a message from Ephesians 2:11-22, exploring the way that Jesus broke down the barrier between us and God and between different groups of people. Jesus modeled reconciliation for us, and therefore we can humble ourselves and practice reconciliation and forgiveness with the people around us. After the service Mulami Simon said to Bob “it was as if I had told you before-hand what the struggles in our church were! That message was perfect!”

Near the end of the service, the offering was taken. People processed or danced up the aisle to deposit their offering in the box. Those that did not have money gave a handful of corn or a piece of cassava – the fruit of their recent harvest. It was a joyful time, with the thick mass of children and women seeming to pulse and surge as one.  Everyone enjoyed the dancing and singing during the offering.

Mbala offering box 2

After the service, we were served another meal of bidia, chicken, beans, and rice, as is customary. We had now eaten 4 times in one day, and it was only 2pm! The church had really hoped that we would bring Bibles and songbooks to sell, but unfortunately neither were available. We did bring some other books though, and several people seized the opportunity to get a book about women’s work, a biography of a Kasaian criminal-turned-pastor, and a new songbook of worship songs to Kasaian tunes. We were grateful to see the commitment, creativity, and simple faith of this community of believers!

Thanks to Jeff Boyd for taking and sharing some of these pictures and videos!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

One of the things I appreciate about vacation, aside from exploring new places, is the time to read. During our vacation in December, I finished 3 books, one of which was The Challenge of the Disciplined Life. I read it interspersed with other reading, since it is one of those thought-provoking books that you don’t want to read too quickly. After almost every section I read, I would share some of what what I was reading with Bob, and say “This book is so good!” I would call it one of those classics like “The Pursuit of God”, which clearly articulates the fundamentals of life as a follower of Christ and also highlights and brings to life the Scripture.

Challenge of disciplined life cover

The book focuses on three main areas – money, sex, and power. In each area, Foster illustrates the ways that these ‘gifts’ can be perverted and used for evil purposes. However, each can also be used for good when we have the right perspective and discipline. While I enjoyed each section and though that it brought out some significant and relevant truths, the section that perhaps spoke to me most was the one on money.

In the section on money, Foster describes the greed that our culture encourages, and even how subconsciously we allow money to dictate our decisions. He describes specific ways to combat greed and “dethrone” money’s high place in our minds. For example, the disciplines of giving, simplicity and trust, and making a conscious effort to value people over things. I also appreciate that Foster encourages us to really question the status quo by the standard of the Bible, and his words are prods that might allow the Holy Spirit to convict us or guide us into a deeper inner life if we are open to it.

I want to share a few quotes – although each of these are explained much better in the context of the rest of the chapter. In a chapter dedicated to exploring a mentality of simplicity, he explains:

“If we take the Biblical witness seriously, it seems that one of the best things we can do with money is to give it away. The reason is obvious: giving is one of our chief weapons in conquering the god mammon. Giving scandalizes the world of commerce and competition. It wins money for the cause of Christ. Jacques Ellul has noted, ‘We have very clear indications that money, in the Christian life, is made in order to be given away.’”

Foster then proceeds to give some helpful recommendations about how to give, including “with glad and generous hearts, let us keep in creative tension “reasoned” giving and “risk” giving. There is one kind of giving that carefully evaluates the track record of organizations and individuals, and another that gives without calculation. Both kinds of giving are essential.” This spoke to me because I tend to be one who wants to ‘reason’ when I give, and know that it is a valid cause, or a worthy person, etc. Yet, I feel challenged that I also have to be open to the Holy Spirit and sometimes willing to give when it doesn’t make ‘sense’.

In our lives in Congo, we are often presented with opportunities or asked directly to give. Being open to the Holy Spirit and free from the power of money means being willing to give to something that is a “risk”…even if it means a sacrifice on our part. I admit that a few times we have given some money or tried to help someone we didn’t know well, and it turns out they lie to us or steal things from us and we feel taken advantage of. But far greater than those cases are those people we gave something to who were also a ‘risk’ but have become treasured relationships or where we have seen positive growth in their lives. As Foster articulates, I think erring on the side of giving is better than erring on the side of withholding because it helps discipline us not let money have too high of a value in our minds.

I happened to pick this book up at random at a guest house. It looked dusty, old, and worn, but when I started reading I was drawn in by the engaging way of illustrating powerful truths. I appreciate Richard Foster’s humble and vulnerable descriptions of the importance of discipline in the spiritual life and a constant searching to understand God’s heart.

This is one of those books that is a rare treasure – you read it slowly and thoughtfully, and have to be open to change. Even though it was written first about 30 years ago, it seems very relevant and current. It also felt like it brought to light and gave practical contemporary interpretation to the truths of the Bible. I always felt like Richard Foster was bringing truth out of the Bible rather than selectively using the Bible to support his own truth. I think this is one of those classic books that every follower of Jesus should read. If you do or already have read it, I would love to hear your reflections too!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Land

This Land, a thousand hills
A thousand hidden hurts
A thousand sudden smiles
A thousand gentle sighs
Oh, a thousand hidden cries! 

This Land my heart
This Land my home 
Blood soaked earth 
Never to forget
Once again, met.  

Blood spilled, oh this Land by One…
Knowing each curvature
Each address, each mudugudu
Each sheet-metaled heart
Each yearning, home.

Emblazoned on my bosom
Rwanda, rises, Fire-Lily-stretching 
Forged in ruinous burn
Upwards meeting
Son’s sweet, bloom.

Oh hills, we pray your peace.
We bless your roots.
We admonish your guardians.
We sanctify your dreams.
We ache, your pathos.

Today mind and heart,
We live your story tell.
Friend closer brother
Yours we always are  
A thousands hills not beyond
This Land blessed, not gone.