Worship began with one of the choral groups parading from the beach swaying, clapping and singing their way up the ladder of steps to the sanctuary. Ministers and guest preacher (yours truly) followed, the latter noting carefully the gaps in the wooden boards five feet above the sand below. After a night, or in some cases several nights, of fishing the great river surrounding the island fishing village of Kinshasa, the fishermen and families were preparing for their day of rest.
Our half hour wait after crossing the river permitted me to learn some of the history of this Disciples’ parish. The veteran preacher, one of the two serving the parish, had first come in 1970 as a fishernan and a decade later began to preach here. The faithful of Kinshasa had achieved the milestone of purchasing sheet metal roofing for the sanctuary in the seventies, ten years after the Disciples Community became an autonomous church led by Congolese.
That the village was largely a poor community was seen in the appearance of the children and the rudimentary houses on stilts extending a quarter mile along the beach. What was not apparent was the fact the village had been pillaged this year by the small band of rebels who attempted to take the city of Mbandaka on Easter Sunday. Their minister informed me that not a few residents had still not returned after fleeing the men with machine guns who briefly occupied their village in April.
An hour into the worship service, the sanctuary was mostly filled with nearly 300 singing and clapping children, youth and adults. Among the five or six chorale groups of varying size and composition, the group of 25 men, all in white shirts with blue stripes, stood out. “They rocked” and “we rocked” seems inadequate, even mild, as a description of the mood created before the sermon.
Old man Simeon’s blessing of the infant Jesus in the temple was my scripture selection for the Sunday before the 50th Anniversary of Congo’s independence as a new nation. The theme of waiting, one any fisherman can appreciate, was associated with Jesus’ fulfillment of the nation Israel’s hopes. Parents of the community were celebrated and congratulated for their commitment and sacrifice in enabling both boys and girls to cross the river daily for school. I concluded with mention of my father’s upcoming 98th birthday and a tribute to his perservenace in awaiting the birth of two great grandsons.
“Every child comes into the world with the message that God is not yet discouraged in the creation of human beings”. Rabindrath Tagore’s quote summed up my message which was followed by me singing “Jesus Loves Me” in English while another guest minister sang in Lonkundo.
An offering for the guest minister yielded 58 crumpled and tattered bills totaling more than $5 and a large fish. A final prayer for a safe crossing before the canoe’s outboard motor was started concluded what had been an unforgettable worship experience.