Monday, October 24, 2011
This October two friends (Derek and Jake) and I ventured into the Democratic Republic of Congo to form relationships and scout spots for Overland Missions to work in the future. The trip offered abundant blessing, surprise, and connections with great potential to bear fruit in the future.
In all our research and asking advice for this trip we were consistently warned about the aggressive corruption in the Congo, and the potential for plans to go awry amidst a frenzied and unpredictable environment. In fact, all this is true. But even more amazing than the corruption and the aggressive nature of the Congolese was to see God’s divine favor move three naive, language challenged missionaries through every situation with a provision and favor that was nothing less than divine. Every opportunity for things to go wrong- from border crossings, to police check points, to relationship building in the villages, and local transport- proved smooth and enjoyable against all odds. Yes, plans were broken. Yes, most situations were unpredictable, but it seemed that doors opened for us that we neither had to strive for nor could we have planned better.
In total we spent 11 days in the Congo. Seven of those days we spent in Pande village. We entered through the Kasumbalesa border, headed 95 kms to the big city Lumbumbashi, another 100 or so to Likasi, caught another transport to Lwambo and then traveled a short distance to Pande.
We began by greeting the Chief of the Basanga tribe in Lwambo. We met his gregarious wife and family and told them of our plans to work in Pande village. We received their blessing and they allowed us to stay the night on the palace grounds and fed us. Our first ministry opportunity came that afternoon after a soccer game with the local kids. We preached a short message and prayed for anyone who wanted it.
Early the next morning we bargained for a taxi to drop us off in Pande. Through the broken windshield of the taxi we passed green forests and rattled over decently grated red dirt road. We later found out that the road was the main route to Bukavu in the East. Throughout the week we saw truck loads of soldiers careening down the road, armed and lively.
We sat down with the chief in Pande and explained our purpose and vision for being there. Initially, we were told that the village elders were asking that we pay a ‘hospitality’ fee for our stay. We addressed that right away and said that our purpose was to build into the community and develop leaders, and that we only wanted to work in places that sincerely desired the Gospel more than material gain. We could head down the road if they just wanted money. To start off the week like that would set a bad precedent. We didn’t want to become walking village ATMs. They were receptive of the idea and that initial stance to place the Gospel first set the tone for the rest of our time in Pande.
Our first home was an abandoned school house. A thousand kids filled the window frames and packed into the house to see the curious ‘Mzungus’ as we set up camp kits. The pack of kids walked with us past the central market towards the soccer field as we tried to recruit the local guys for an afternoon pick up game. To our astonishment, we found out later that our warm reception of the kids proved a powerful witness. Simply holding hands and smiling at the kids showed the people our intent more than anything we could have preached from the very beginning. Normally, whites and other foreigners just beat the kids and yell at them to back away. The kids met you with a stand-offish air complete with squinted eyes and scowls. Their veneer of skepticism and subtle hostility quickly broke by a simple smile and wave. Big white grins accompanied that uniquely African outpouring of genuine joy and hospitality.
Our first soccer game also proved key in relationship building. That afternoon we joined the local team, JSC (Jeunnesse Sportive pour Cabundo), and over the course of the next three days played three full length games with them and practiced with them every day until we left. It’s amazing how team competition brings people together so quickly. Even though we didn’t speak the same language we worked together with hand motions and basic words. By the end of it we were flowing and covering pretty well as a unit. I fell into my natural defensive-mid role. Jake and Derek played up front. Through the soccer team we were able to meet the police force for the village and a lot of the business men who managed the team. We even had our first cold coke in the team president’s house after a big win against the neighboring village.
Our days fell into routine: mornings were usually low key, playing a lot of ‘square soccer’. Afternoons and evenings were packed. After lunch we held open air meetings where we preached in the center of the village. During those times we had people commit their lives to the Lord. We each felt a burden to simply show Jesus to them through the scriptures. As Paul said, we didn’t come with clever words but simply gave room for the Holy Spirit to move as we shared scripture with them with the intent to glorify God.
After the open air ministry times we trained with the soccer team. After practice we began our night meetings with the pastors. I would say those meetings, more than anything, proved the most fruitful part of our time. Our first Sunday in Pande we split up to go to three different churches. This enabled us to meet many different pastors and see the different churches. From there we spread word that we were going to hold pastors and leaders meetings to learn about the village. In our first meeting 15 different churches attended (Pande is an area of approximately 14,000 people, these churches serving them).
The pastors openly discussed their experiences and struggles, displaying a genuine desire to see the peace of God translated into the hearts of their people. We packed 25 men into a small, hot, muggy sitting room. Through the early evening darkness we explored the scriptures to discuss unity, development, and our primary role as Christians- ministry unto the Lord. Night after night attendance increased and for the first time leaders from different denominations sat together and discussed how best to reach Pande despite theological differences. By the fourth day pastors split into groups of three and four and went hut by hut to minister and pray with families. That was the first time they had ever done something like that.
By the end of our time we helped the pastors to form schedule time of meeting together to share the Word and to do out reach in Pande. There aren’t many places in the world I know of where pastors from every denomination purposefully meet together every week and look for ways to grow the church as a whole, as opposed to expanding their own reputations and weekly attendance. These men in this small village in the south of Congo have that vision and will exalt Christ’s name in their nation.
We ended our time by renting local motor taxis and heading east down Bukavu road for the day. We went 90 kms before one of our little 100cc Bajaj bikes gave out. Discovering that there wasn’t oil in either bike we sent one ahead to the next town to buy oil and hopefully make it back. Jake and I sat silently on the side of the bush road for an hour with our shirts over our head as the Maponey flies and horse flies flew in our ears, eyes, and nostrils and bit every area of exposed skin. It was maddening. I don’t know how early African explorers stayed sane. But it made the day memorable. We drove through forest and flood plains all through lush, green rolling hills. The DR Congo is a beautiful country. We sat in the midst of villagers as they scattered when a truck full of soldiers began fighting (once again I thanked God for the United States and that I grew up in a place where I didn’t have to fear the very people trained to protect me). We swam in a small river with local kids and were told by a man lurking in the shadows that he could show us the “minerals” if we were interested. No thank you sir.
What an amazing trip! Even the smallest details, that we had no hope of planning, worked in our favor. God’s goodness guided us through a place known most for its misery and hopelessness. With God all things are possible. Jesus is the hope of the Congo.