Leaving Longa

The twenty five horsepower motor fired right up and the ten or twelve passengers settled into their plastic chairs or into their nests at the bottom of the pirogue. Before sitting we sang, “Biso tokobima na mpusa matembe/ Tokotambolaka nde nkolo Yesu”.

We are on the Ruki River which connects the mighty Congo to the Tshuapa, the tributary which has served as the route of successive waves of rebels seeking to overthrow the feeble governments of the country. The Ruki flows into the Congo at Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur Province, the least developed of the Congo’s 10 provinces. Equateur’s capital is also the headquarters town of the “Communaute Disciples du Christ au Congo”, number ten among 65 “Communautes” now making up the Church of Christ of Congo.

“We leave now on the next step of our journey/ The journey we walk together with our Lord Jesus” we sing before taking our seats in the pirogue. On our way, we all think of the Regional Minister for the Ingende/Longa Region who died in the Ruki just below Longa. On a night with little to no moon five months before, his over loaded pirogue had capsized and fifteen drowned. After we sang someone prayed for the deceased’s widow and family still living in Ingende where we would spend the next two nights.

A Season of Joy

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

About thirty minutes into the worship service in the Ikengo parish church, the sermon came to me. I had the scripture passage, Jesus referring to a child as the greatest among them, but as the service began I still felt stymied to find words for the grand paradox of the message. Gradually, the setting, the singing, the heat under the tin roof freed me and I simply decided to try to describe the sources of my joy in worshipping with them that morning. It was the first time in my life I had discarded my notes for a sermon and I exulted as I scribbled “A Season for Joy” above three points on a page of my notebook.

I began with thanks and praise for the vision of Rev Paul Elonda in the founding of the Centre Agro Pastorale (CAP) in 1969. The village’s two primary schools, secondary school and health center were cited as among the fruit produced by the vision of a church leading the way in rural development. Most recently, the visit of the Equator Province’s Governor to the CAP had brought about the construction of a new school building by a British non profit. Having heard the villagers’ testimonies regarding CAP’s aid in improving their crop yields and quality I moved on to a more personal testimony.

Whites have been coming to the Congo for over five hundred years either in search of riches among the incomparable natural resources of the country or they have come seeking to give of themselves. It is another grand paradox that those who have come to give return with the greater riches. We who come to help strengthen the Church in Congo find ourselves strengthened as those who came in the past to evangelize were themselves evangelized by the Congolese. What a joy to discover spiritual resources within the people here richer than the coltan and the cobalt prized by the powerful.

But the greatest joy, I declared, comes with having discovered that God liberates peoples and persons from enslavement and from the exploitation suffered by the Congolese in these days. In the biblical accounts, the liberation of a people does not result from foreign intervention or initiative. Liberation comes in the biblical record when the captive people find the way to free themselves at hand within themselves. Some day the Congolese people will take up, like David, their five smooth stones or be led from their wilderness by a stuttering Moses and an Aaron.

Just as South Africans freed themselves from white rule under apartheid so will Congolese free themselves from the foreign plunder of their resources and the resulting deprivation and impoverishment. Nothing brings greater joy than this knowledge of the source of the people’s power and liberation. It was I proclaimed this knowledge that caused Jesus to “quiver with joy” (in the French translation of Lk 10:21) for God had hidden such things from the powerful and revealed them to the simple and the common people.

Among the medley of hymns preparing us for the “sainte scene” of communion, we sang “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”. I leaned over and shared with the Ikengo pastor Luka Is’olenge that it had been Gandhi’s favorite. Its meditation on Jesus’ call to draw on the best within ourselves described for the lifelong Hindu why he considered himself a follower of Jesus as well.

On the return to Mbandaka Sunday afternoon, I rode on the back of a motor bike piled with my gear. We fairly flew by children and adults, some of them waving and calling “mondele” (white man), and I couldn’t keep from smiling. It had been a great day.

 

Lokoleyacongo posting

ON RETURNING TO CONGO

“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?  A reed shaken by the wind?  What then did you go out to see?  Someone dressed in soft robes?  Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”   (Lk 7:24-26)

  It was nearly midnight when we entered the town on the Tshuapa River. Boende most likely.  The church was packed still, the congregation having waited for untold hours, cement block walls decorated with palms. As we entered, the throng inside exploded in song.  Kerosene lanterns lit the space casting shadows as Rev. Elonda preached for upwards of  an hour.  I understood little of the sermon but rode the waves of hums, the listeners’ acclaim for his words.  It was the first of several “posts” with schools, clinics and churches we were to visit on the upriver trip.  Each greeted Rev. Elonda, the President of the Disciples “community” of the newly united Church of Christ of Congo, and his entourage, with palms, flowers, song and hums.   We returned to Mbandaka the day before Christimas.  

In 1969 I went to Congo expecting to catch a glimpse of the future of Africa during my two year assignment.   I was to serve as a “conseiller/advisor” to the Youth Department of the Disciples.  Having studied African politics and history in college, I was excited about the potential of the newly independent nations of Africa, the wealthy former Belgian Congo outstanding among them..  Now looking back as I think about returning to Congo, the two years I spent there have shaped me like no other experience of my adult life.