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A letter from Ruth Brown in Congo

December 2012

Merry Christmas!
and…. Muo.yo webe! (Life to you!)

The Christmas story holds much promise here in Congo where so many are oppressed.

AnAnna, the prophetess, with the Christ child, Mary, and Joseph (Luke 2:21-38)na, the prophetess, with the Christ child, Mary, and Joseph (Luke 2:21-38)

Every year we hear the story:  It is a young woman who first hears the news of Christ’s imminent arrival.  Then we read about a man who foregoes the usual practice of shaming or stoning a fiancée found to be pregnant, and, instead, supports her with loving care.  And in this beautiful Christmas story among those who first worshipped Christ were those of low and humble social order, those shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night.  God’s choices of unlikely, humble characters are reminders that God’s grace is available to everyone, regardless of position or education.

In Luke we read of a widow who enters the story of Christ when he was 8 days old.  The painting on my greeting to you this year is of the prophetess, Anna, at the temple with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus (Luke 2:21-38).  In this text we read that Anna “ lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  Coming up to [Mary and Joseph and the baby, Jesus] …she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”  An elderly widow in Congo would use a straight shaft of a tree for a cane, but in this drawing is the curved cane of my grandmother, who was a widow for 48 years, an anachronism added for the significance of my Granny’s name: “Grace.”   In this drawing, as the widow approaches Jesus, she is walking off of a woven, straw mat, a sign of the presence of Christ enabling the termination of oppressive practices.  (To learn more about the significance of the straw mat and treatment of widows, please see my Mission Connections newsletter of March 2012: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/letter-ruth-brown-congo-03-14-12/.).

Your Thank Offering gifts support an outreach education program here that promotes human rights for widows.  Currently fewer than 5 percent of married couples have marriage certification in Congo.  By the end of the two-year Thank Offering grant period, we anticipate that 378 couples (5 percent of the number of couples outreached in this program) will apply for and receive marriage certification.  With the certification these 378 women will have legal protection that will enable them to keep their children, home, and possessions in the event of the death of their husband.  These 378 women will also be protected against rape by the brothers of the deceased.  Additionally, 378 families of children will not risk separation from their mother in the case that their father dies.

“There’s a Song in the Air,” always, in Congo! Youth choir and dancers in the Presbyterian church where I’ve been a guest during November 2012

During the month of November I have been living as a guest in the home of a widow and her four children, spending this time in a family setting in order to better learn the language.  In Tshiluba (the language of the Presbyterian Community of Congo in the provinces of East Kasai and West Kasai) the word for “guest” is the same word also for “stranger” and “foreigner.”  Think of that!  Guest = stranger!

In the States I lived where community members argued at public meetings to keep migrant farmworkers from living in their town.  Now it is a joy to live where the word for “guest” and “foreigner” are the same.  As with people everywhere, the people of the Kasai draw divisions between foreigners and native residents; however, special, purposeful outreach to strangers is also evident.  This outreach to strangers is noted in the work of Kananga’s CHE team (CHE = Christian Health Evangelism, a process for community development through Bible study and discussing scriptural application to recognized community needs).  Two CHE team members recently visited a family four times because 2-year-old twins had measurable indications of starvation.  At each of the four visits, the team found the twins in the care of their older siblings.  On their fifth visit, the CHE members finally found an adult care provider, the father, at home with the children.  This father told the CHE team that his children had informed him about the team’s several visits.  He went on to explain that he was new to the area and that he very much appreciated being visited and assisted by church members.  The team will continue to plan with the father about how to introduce more food into the children’s diets.

The special care that these Congolese volunteers offer and the love that each of you give through all nature of your support to the work of the Church—all this love brings forth the joyful message of Christmas:

Christ with us!

 Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas.

During this beautiful season, may love surround you and lift you up ~

Ruth Brown

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 102
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 110
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