A letter from Ruth Brown serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo
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Merry Christmas to you all! And muoyo wenu! (Life to you!)
Thank you, each of you, for your support of our community development work here in D. R. Congo. Thank you for your friendship and your prayers. Your encouraging emails, cards, and letters are a lift to the spirit! The Community Development Program of the Presbyterian Church of Congo (CPC) focuses on one of Presbyterian World Mission’s critical global initiatives: “Identify and address the root causes of poverty, particularly as these causes impact women and children.” Unfortunately, my ministry hasn’t been fully funded for this current 3-year term of mission service. I also do not have sufficient funds coming in annually to fund a single year of the next 3-year term, which begins in 2017. Would you please pray about this situation? And, if you have not yet supported this position for community development in Congo, would you please consider contributing a year-end gift? For those of you committed to this ministry financially, thank you! Would you also consider advocating for this ministry with neighboring congregations, asking if they would join this mission? I would very much appreciate your help in these ways.
Our season of Christmas and the mystery of Holy Communion draw all of us closer. At Christmas, this joyful season when the love of God flows outward as love for each other, I consider that to love fully we must come to know each other. My past newsletters have focused on stories about development programs here, but perhaps I have not written enough about Congo’s greatest beauty—its people!
If we are called to love our neighbors, then who are these neighbors of ours in Congo? What are their hopes and dreams? What thoughts help to propel them forward in their day-to-day confrontations with poverty? To introduce a few of my closest Congolese friends to you, I asked each of them a few questions in the hope of strengthening your appreciation for these, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pastor Christine Ngalulu is a 63-year-old mother of five. One of Pastor Christine’s sons was killed during the war of the 1990s; at the time of her son’s death, her husband was exiled from Congo. This was 20 years ago. Her husband has never returned. Pastor Christine is one of the first women to graduate from the theological program of UPRECO, the Sheppard and Lapsley Presbyterian University of Congo. Pastor Christine has worked as the Coordinator of the Department of Women and Families for Central and West Kasai Province since 1992 when the program began. She coordinates a program that encourages church members to obtain marriage licenses as a way to protect the property rights of widows.
Elder Victorine Manga is the mother of five daughters and one son; she is the coordinator of our Community Development Program’s new micro-savings and loan program. Victorine Manga has been a leader for community development initiatives among women and a trainer of the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) program methodology.
Elder Mukulu Muamba is my 67-year-old Tshiluba teacher and the father of five. This past year one of his daughters died of AIDS, having been pre-deceased by her husband who gave the disease to her and her two small children. Elder Muamba is the Coordinator of the CPC’s radio office, where he tapes two weekly programs that are aired on an FM station in Kananga. One is a 30-minute Scripture study/sermon and the other is a 30-minute lesson for youth.
Mamu Marie Kapinga works in the small market across the street from the CPC offices (and my home). She is the widowed mother of six living children. She works six days a week, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., selling little packages of roasted peanuts and small packages of sugar. She lives with two of her grandsons. Mamu Marie attended only the first three grades of primary school. She has no Bible, and no ability to read Tshiluba. Whereas Pastor Christine, Victorine Manga, and Mukulu Muamba are members of the Presbyterian Church of Congo, Mamu Marie is a Kimbanguist, a Christian whose church professes pacifism.
Elder Victorine’s happiest time in her life was the marriage of her daughter. “My entire family celebrated together for several days. It was wonderful.” For Victorine a time of great sadness was when this young man who had married her daughter lost his job when the company downsized.
Elder Muamba’s time of great distress was when he was hit by a motorcycle while riding his bicycle. He was severely injured. To my question about a time in his life of greatest joy, Elder Muamba said, “Every year on my birthday I feel great joy when I remember God’s grace that enabled me to heal after that terrible accident.”
Pastor Christine said: “What brings me joy is the miracle of God’s intervention in my life. God organizes my life for me. For example, if I need money to go to a conference, through God’s intervention I receive the money needed to go.” What gives Pastor Christine sadness is “injustice and discrimination against women. Women with the same education and experience as a man do not receive a salary.”
Mamu Marie said her greatest happiness is “to be healthy,” and her greatest sadness has been times of sickness. Mamu Marie has chronic episodes of typhoid and malaria.
In answer to my question, “What advice from your parents do you remember and cherish?” Mamu Marie said that her mother told her, “When you marry, live at peace with your husband, and live with love for everyone.” Pastor Christine said her mother would say, “Make your path bright,” and her father said, “As the eldest, you must protect the family and have love to protect the people. Protect everyone who suffers.” Elder Victorine remembers that her father told her, “Don’t think that people can help you with their money, because, in reality, it is you who must help yourself.” Elder Muamba remembered both his parents telling him, as the oldest child, he must love his younger siblings. They said, “Don’t allow anything to separate you from your brothers and sisters.”
All four friends are looking forward to eating a good meal with family on Christmas Day. Most of them will add beans and chicken to their regular meal of cassava and cassava leaves. They will have a special Christmas Eve time when the children gather around a table adorned with many flowers, and everyone will sing hymns together. Then on Christmas morning each family will go to church, sing more hymns, and hear the Christmas story read.
Their favorite Christmas hymns? “Silent Night” (Pastor Christine); “O Come All Ye Faithful” (Elder Muamba); “Angels We Have Heard on High” (Elder Victorine). Mamu Marie sang a song unfamiliar to me. The translation: “Pardon our sins and help us enter the New Year with love for others.”
God With Us! Merry Christmas!
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 147
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