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.