Stories from the Congo #2Posted: August 25, 2014
Sunday, August 17
Celebrating a new home
Excitement filled the air as we worshipped and assembled to dedicate the new episcopal residence for Bishop Unda as well as two office buildings. Over 1000 people attended the gathering in Kindu including many government dignitaries. As we shared life together, a number of different choirs sang great music, and many introductions and celebrations took place. I cast our vision in the Nashville Area of “Expecting Greater Things” and presented Bishop Unda one of the special stoles made by the Tennessee Conference for my first annual conference with them. Bishop Peggy Johnson, who speaks sign language with the deaf, was overjoyed when she discovered members of the Church speaking in sign language. It was powerful to see that sign language did not need translation; the language is universal. Complete with ribbon cutting and blessing, Bishop Unda’s home will be very comfortable and adequate for his needs. It is located about 150 yards from the conference offices and situated on the expansive, church owned property where several buildings destroyed during the 15-year war, have been rebuilt through the partnership of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences along with the General Board of Global Ministries.
Monday, August 18
We visited a health clinic, located a short distance from the Episcopal residence, where parents can bring their children under age 5 to be treated for malaria and receive bed nets at the same time. The number of patients at the facility overwhelmed us. On that particular morning, the clinic had already seen 26 patients before noon. Some patients were much sicker than others. Many were on IV drips, much like of M*A*S*H* unit rather than a medical clinic. The unforgettable image of those patients makes me realize the importance of our efforts to raise $1,000,000 for Imagine No Malaria. Not only are we equipping them with bed nets that will protect 3-4 people each night, we are also providing, along with the government, essential medicine to combat this killer disease. It was gratifying to know that we are making a difference in a profound way.
Tuesday, August 19
Happy Anniversary to Lynn!
Seeing the Connection
After returning to Lubumbashi, we visited our HIV hospital provided by UMCOR. While there, we spoke with doctors and nurses and saw firsthand, the incredible witness of the United Methodist connection through the Global Aids fund and its provision of much needed health care. Because of this assistance from The United Methodist Church as well as support from other partners, the clinic can offer free health care and medicines. Seeing UNICEF boxes of medicines in the clinic’s warehouse reminded me of the many times I collected money for UNICEF as a teenager. Wednesday, August 20 Experiencing the Connection The night before we were to depart, I realized my passport was missing. I searched high and low and retraced my steps. Our hosts, dear United Methodist sisters and brothers, assisted me in my search by calling the places we had visited. With no success, I resorted to what others do when losing a passport in a foreign country; I called the American Embassy in Kinshasa. As I figured out next steps, I discovered that a member of our group, Evette Richards, National President of the United Methodist Women, had a friend whose sister is the wife of the American Ambassador in Kinshasa. Through that connection, Evette obtained the contact information for the Ambassador’s wife. Before 8:00 a.m. the next day, Evette communicated my dilemma to the Ambassador’s wife and the wheels were put in motion to secure a new passport.
While others worked on the securing the passport, we tried to determine if there was a flight out of Lubumbashi, and received misinformation about it. In the midst of the conflicting information, we experienced a moment of grace, as we learned Vano Kiboko, one of our hosts and United Methodist brothers, had connections with the airline in the Congo. Vano secured for me the last seat on the plane that departed at 7:00 p.m. Flying to Kinshasa Thursday night was critical because the Embassy closed Friday at noon. If I did not make this flight, I couldn’t obtain a new passport on Friday and would be stranded in a Kinshasa until Monday. By this time, I realized I would not arrive home to be present for Bishop Robert Schnase’s presentation on his book, Seven Levers.
Throughout this experience, Bettye Kiboko, the wife of one of our pastors in Iowa, acted as my interpreter. While Bettye helped me report my passport missing to the police and secure a temporary one to fly within the country, the Conference Communications Coordinator worked diligently to obtain my new documentation and ensure our other team members caught their flight.
Over and over again, I was reminded that I was secure, as the good people called Methodists on the other side of the world cared for me because we were one in Christ through our bond as United Methodist sisters and brothers. This journey has been one of the most powerful examples of the United Methodist connection I have experienced.
I am indebted to Bishop Ntembo’s staff for assisting me and to Vano Kiboko for arranging drivers to take me wherever I needed to go, covering our hotel bill, and organizing transportation for from the tarmac in Kinshasa to my hotel. I’m also deeply indebted to Bettye Kiboko for guiding my steps and urging the people securing my temporary passport and flight to persevere.
Today is testimony to God’s amazing grace. I have never been so proud to wear my purple episcopal clergy shirt and collar, as they are helpful in finding a good way to get safe passage on an African Airline. It will be a shame if The United Methodist Church cannot find a way to remain united. The linkages we enjoy will be lost and we will never regain them. We are a Church that sends missionaries from everywhere to everywhere. Because 100 years ago United Methodist missionaries came to the Congo, I was secure in Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.
And…we are globally connected because I was able to stay connected to Lynn through the amazing wonder of technology.
Most of all, I had the sense in these days that angels were watching over me. When Vano took me to my hotel in Kinshasa Thursday night, we entered the room, and he said, “Before I leave, we pray.” And we did.
Our prayer reminded me of John Wesley’s definition of a Methodist long ago. He said, “by Methodists I mean, a people who profess to having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”
Vano, a lay person dedicated to the church, a man who lost his wife 9 years ago, and a person who is committed to sharing the gospel, at every point, lived out this definition of John Wesley. As he spoke of his desire to offer his life in service to Jesus Christ, I realized how he is a living testament to 1 John 4:21: “And this commandment I give you, if you love God, you will also love your brother.”
Listening To God
Coming to the Congo, my prayer was for God to show me what I needed to know. My prayer has been answered. God has shown me:
- We stand on someone else’s shoulders. Missionaries, who came to Africa 100 years ago, came without fear and served in love. Today, we won’t travel without security. Do I have as much faith as they had?
- Our American view of Africa is distorted. While it is true that poverty is rampant in many places, there are places like Lubumbashi, where The United Methodist Church is building up the body with wise stewardship and strategic church planting. Vano’s church is trying to put a roof on their building. In last Sunday’s offering, they raised $150,000 in cash and pledges toward the $250,000 they need for the roof. The roof will not be constructed until all the cash is in hand. As more churches are constructed, they are placed in the centers of communities to serve the greatest number of people and to partner with existing community leaders.
- In spite of great obstacles, the passion for serving Christ moves beyond personal comfort. The District Superintendents do not have any means of transportation except a bicycle. They do not have parsonages and their salaries are meager.
- Without the United Methodist connection, many, many more people would die from malaria and from HIV. The United Methodist Church is providing healthcare and education, the keys tools for evangelization in Africa. Pastors in the villages know who are sick and visit them. In this way, the pastor brings people into the life of the congregation and thus salvation. This personal way of bringing the gospel to people is making Church in Africa grow. It reminds me of what John Wesley taught us long ago but what we in the United States have forgotten.
- Finally, I have learned again, we have a great Church! In spite of our differences and in spite of our challenges, God has brought us this far by faith.
I will return soon and invite you to continue in the challenge to support Imagine No Malaria. We will continue to discover ways for the Nashville Area to support the East Congo Area of The United Methodist Church.
Asante Sana! Thank you for blessing our efforts in this place.