A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice in Congo
Mamu Annie and her family were mourning because her baby niece (6 months old), who happened to be named after Annie, had died suddenly. Annie had just lost her oldest son to meningitis two weeks earlier. Annie makes and sells donuts in the small market in front of our house. We do not know her well, and she is not part of our church. But we were grieved to learn about the wave of loss hitting her family and wanted to show our sympathy. One Saturday evening we found someone who could show us the way to her house. We walked to her neighborhood at the edge of town and found all of the family gathered in mourning. We sat with them, prayed with them, and gave her a small contribution as a sign of our support. It started to rain just as we left, and despite waiting out the worst of it a few times, we were soaked when we got home. The next week we were surprised to learn that word had spread all over the market that we had gone to visit Mamu Annie. Several people expressed their gratitude that we had gone, and we found that this simple act had produced a greater connection with many of the women in the market and helped us know more about their lives.
We found greater meaning in our visit to Mamu Annie recently when we were interviewing about 15 church leaders in Kananga about evangelism. Some of the women pastors shared that visiting and showing care for people during a time of crisis is an important form of evangelism. A visit shows concern and value for the person or family and provides an opportunity to tangibly encourage them that God sees them and cares for them in the midst of their need. It is in times of crisis that the message of God’s love and grace can be most relevant to a person’s place of need. We hope this was true when we visited Mamu Annie.
During our first term we have put a lot of energy and effort into understanding the language and culture of Kasai, as well as the life and needs of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC). Yet we found it helpful to hear directly from our Congolese colleagues about their experience and perspectives on the growth of the church. Some of our questions to CPC pastors, youth leaders, and church administration included: How did the church do evangelism in the past? What methods of evangelism do you think are best for today? What challenges/obstacles to evangelism do you face?
We know that evangelism is about the grace and salvation of God being communicated. However, sometimes there are tangible things that we can do to create an opportunity for that message to be heard. For example, we also heard from two people that church buildings themselves can be an evangelistic tool—people are much more likely to visit a well-built attractive church building than they are a church that meets under a tarp and doesn’t have benches to sit on. This helps us to understand why the Department of Evangelism identified rebuilding the Lubi II parish as a priority. Other people emphasized to us that the character of a person really makes a big difference in whether others around them are interested in the faith they profess.
Music runs in the blood of every Congolese (or so it seems), and at least five people mentioned music as part of their answer about which methods of evangelism are effective today. The youth in Kananga regularly organize a “worship day” with choirs and a praise team, and send out invitations far and wide. Some parishes invite visiting choirs as a means to draw people in. Three people said that having instruments is an important attraction for people—especially youth. We also learned that the Kananga Presbytery youth choir (who traveled with us to Mutoto) has been a magnet for attracting youth who were not attending church to learn more about faith.
A few of the challenges to evangelism were not so surprising. A lack of Bibles and Christian literature is a severe hindrance to God’s word being effectively preached. (Good news on that front! 500 Bibles have been sold in the last six months with our subsidy program.) Transport in Kasai is difficult and expensive (whether by foot or by car). New churches form frequently—especially in the city—around a prophet figure who claims to have new revelation that promises prosperity and an end to physical problems. These things highlight the need for Christian literature and discipleship materials to empower and train believers.
This short survey that we conducted excited us about the tremendous potential for the growth of the church (both deep and wide) in Kasai. We long to see the reconciling, freeing, transforming grace of God known to more people and to see the church grow to embrace their calling in making God’s salvation known.
We return to the U.S. in April for our itineration assignment. Please pray for us—for safe travel, health, wonderful connections in the churches we visit, and that we would effectively communicate God’s work in Congo. Please pray also for our colleagues in Kananga—the board meeting for the Evangelism Department of the CPC is being held this month (April). Please pray for vision, creativity, and wisdom in the use of very limited resources.
Christ is Risen!
Bob and Kristi Rice