Saturday, May 30, 2015

From Action to Passion

One of the realities we live with in this world is conflict.  Conflict can be good and bring about change.  However being in the midst of conflict, one often does not experience much that feels positive.  Since Kristi and I returned to Congo early last year, church conflict has been a major theme.  The reason?  There are many:  an earnest desire for change, a desire for power and position, tribalism, and protection from the unknown.  Early on Kristi and I discerned clearly that our role is to be a neutral voice.  We have worked hard to listen to and love members on each side of the divide.  As you can imagine, this has not been easy.  As I write this blog post, a dear friend has been falsely charged of libel.  How do you remain neutral when your friend is unjustly suffering?  

Living and breathing conflict for 18 months has caused me to reflect on the nature of conflict.  The message I have preached most frequently of late is our Christian call and vocation to be women and men of peace, seeking unity within the Body of Christ.  I have also been challenged recently in reflecting on the life of Christ.  During Lent this year Kristi and I stumbled upon a wonderful little book called Bread and Wine.*  It is a collection of essays written by well-known Christian theologians and faithful servants of Christ over the last two millennium.  Kristi and I would pick up this book everyday and read various entries.  One entry by Henri Nouwen stands out to me.  Nouwen writes of the “Action and Passion” of Christ.  In reflecting with a friend who is immobilized after a lifetime of service, the two recognize that Christ’s life can be divided into two parts:  action (or ministry), and passion.  Regarding action, this theme is replete across the gospel accounts.  Jesus prayed.  Jesus healed.  Jesus called.  Jesus commanded.  Jesus is the active agent:  he prays, he wills, and he acts.  However, all this agency and activity comes  to an abrupt halt in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here in the Garden the mob comes.  They lay hands on Jesus and arrest him.  They take Jesus.  They condemn him.  They bind him.  They lead him.  They hand him over.  They crucify him.  Jesus goes from one with agency to one acted upon.

Who wants to be acted upon?  Very few.  Yet, in reflecting on this theme I feel that making the shift from action to passion is necessary in following Christ.  Having agency is the easy part.  We feel called to do something and we do it.  Like Jesus, we will and we act.  Conversely, giving control of our lives and our very bodies into the hands of someone else?  Therein lies the rub.  Yet, Jesus willingly allowed himself to be handed over.  A close read of the gospel accounts reveals that Jesus lived a life in conflict.  His interlocutors, the Pharisees and others, did not welcome his message. Jesus threatened the very foundations of their religiosity.  They sought to discredit Jesus and kill him.  Jesus shrewdly responded and evaded them for three years.  Yet, rather than letting this power struggle wage on indefinitely, Jesus gave himself over to his accusers.  He allowed himself to be handed over.  

Herein lies the challenge we all face.  We do not want to yield.  It is like two boxers in the 15th round, battling it out until one is left standing.  Yet, Jesus threw in the towel.  He gave himself up.  It was the defining act of trust.  He trusted that God had his best in mind.  He trusted that God would vindicate him.  And guess what?  God did.  The Resurrection is God’s ultimate vindication of God’s goodness in the face of humanity’s evil.  Friend, will you pray with me that those of us who boldly take on the Name of Jesus Christ can trust God, giving ourselves over in sacrificial love to others?  Pray with me for our sisters and brothers in Congo who need God’s grace to act in such manner.  From action to passion.  That is the radical call of Jesus. 

* Bread and Wine:  Readings for Lent and Easter (2003)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The cast came off!

You may not know that for the last 6 weeks Bob has had a cast on his arm. This means, as you might have experienced yourself, that doing even simple tasks like typing or bathing became much more laborious as he adjusted to having to do them with one hand. Bob has valiantly and patiently persevered through the six weeks, answering graciously the perpetual question of “What happened to you?”

This week, the six weeks came to an end and we took the cast off. Our doctor colleague told us that we could immerse the cast in water, and the plaster would gradually weaken to the point that we could unwrap the bands that held it in place. It was a slow and messy process, but it worked! Bob’s hand and wrist “looked like he came out of a nuclear shower”, as he described it, but after some time and several washings it is now looking more normal.

Bob cast removal 1Bob cast removal 2

Bob cast removal 3Bob cast removal 4

Somehow, it seemed that I was more excited about this event than Bob was. Perhaps because I am more optimistic and Bob is more realistic. I was thrilled that he would finally be able to use two hands again, and wouldn’t have to type by pecking around with just one hand one letter at a time. In reality, using the hand again is a slow process as he gains flexibility and strength again. But, it does seem to be better, and we praise God for the healing. Sometimes you don’t appreciate something until it is gone (or hindered for awhile!).

One interesting aspect of this experience is that SO MANY people have told Bob that he could have avoided having a cast for several weeks by using the traditional Kasaian treatment for a broken bone, called "Kalunga." In this practice, white clay or palm oil is first lathered on the broken limb. Then fibers from the strong branches of palm trees is tightly wrapped and secured to immobilize the arm or leg. Lastly and most interestingly, they then ceremoniously break the leg of a chicken! Bad for the chicken, but good for you because when the chicken's leg heals so do you! (this generally takes less than a week). When Bob was asked why he didn’t use kalunga, he sometimes said “sorry – you have to forgive us for our skin color and different culture!” Interesting learning process though – we had some wise locals tell us that kalunga often does work, but it is best to get an x-ray first, to make sure that the bone will actually heal correctly.

Ah yes – and you might wonder exactly what happened to cause Bob to have a broken arm. He was walking in Kananga one morning, and his feet got caught in some box binding. He came quickly crashing to the ground, breaking his fall with his hands. In the process, he injured his wrist. We thought it was just sprained at first, but when it didn’t heal, x-rays confirmed that a small bone was broken. So – if you are walking in Kananga, always always watch the ground in front of you!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Chickens for Bibles

It was early evening in the village of Mashala in the Dimbelenge Territory (West Kasai Province, DRC). . The sun was just going down and we were sitting in a circle, enjoying conversation, laughter, and fellowship. My colleague, Pastor Mukenge, was selling Bibles and songbooks and other Christian literature. One youth came to him wanting to buy a songbook, but he only had a chicken. I thought about it for a moment, and decided that I would buy the chicken for two thousand francs in exchange for the songbook he earnestly sought. I did not have a great need for a chicken, but I wanted to help this young man get a songbook. Pastor Mukenge then bought a giant rooster from another inquirer for two Bibles!

Pastor Mukenge, buys beautiful rooster
to help youth buy 2 Bibles

That night as I was going to bed, I could hear my colleague negotiating deep into the night with youth about buying Bibles and songbooks, often in exchange for chickens. Early the following morning youth came again to visit us. We would continue to negotiate Bibles for chickens. Later that morning I bought a handsome white rooster from an elder so that he could buy a Bible. We weren’t always able to help (one can only go back to Kananga with so many chickens!), but folks were grateful in cases where we could.

Bob with church youth who arrived at
crack of dawn seeking a Bible!

The main purpose of our Bible Subsidy program is to dramatically reduce cost to help church members and leaders have Bibles and songbooks. Village folks often don’t have much cash, but they do have chickens and other things of value which they are willing to sell in exchange for the privilege of having God’s written word in their grasp. I am grateful for our trip to Mashala and seeing the deep desire of God’s people to lay hold of God’s Word. May this program continue to flourish and take whatever creative turns will best serve the Congolese people. We extend our gratitude to all the churches and individuals who have generously given to make this program possible.  “Tuasakadila!” (thank you!).

On this particular trip, our Department of Evangelism was also
able to make available 50 children’s Bibles (gratis!)