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Coming as Strangers, Leaving as Companions

A Letter from Jeff and Christi Boyd, serving in Congo

March 2018

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You will be in the right, O LORD, when I lay charges against you; but let me put my case to you. Jeremiah 12:1

Almighty God, your governance stretches to the ends of the earth!
Why then can the powerful rule by the force of their arms,
and the shrewd prevail by the influence of their money?
Youth are booted, jailed or killed, their dreams crushed,
And worshippers driven out as tear gas fills your temples,
While security forces drag along your servants, even altar boys.
When priests are assassinated for speaking justice to power,
I wonder, have you forsaken them, O Lord?

Are you not a fair and compassionate God?
Why then enjoy rapists’ impunity, and go pillagers free?
Communities are torn asunder by children lured into evil schemes of death.
As in a spell, their hopes are vanished, gone the regard for life that you created.
How can you stomach a young girl’s trauma as she witnesses the murder
of her parents and siblings, then walks the bush for months in search for safety?
You gave humankind stewardship over your creation to cultivate and nurture the land.
Why then do you allow crops to be destroyed, and homes burned
as people flee into the forests only to face hunger, sickness and death?

Why do you have people living in such fear
that for weeks they do not even feel safe attending church?
Because you are to be revered and worshiped, O God, and your name be praised.

Reading Lamentations in the Bible used to make me uncomfortable. The prophets’ graphic images are hard to read at home, let alone at church. Yet, they reflect situations and express sentiments that are all too relevant, in particular for the Congolese. Lamentations are therefore an important part of scriptures, and of our own relationship with God and with one another.

In early January, I was challenged to confront the prophetic lamentations at the Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) leadership institute that I attended in Kampala, Uganda. The GLI institute is an annual gathering billed as “a community of restless Christians yearning for ‘new creation’ — transformed families, communities and nations.” It serves as a network of Christian individuals and organizations working towards peace and reconciliation in seven countries of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. In seeking peace and reconciliation, one must also confront the pain and suffering from which the lamentations rise.

My fellow traveler Pastor Mboyamba of the Presbyterian Church in Congo was encouraged by the experience. “I was impressed by the hope people can have when in a time of crisis, like the people of Israel. When they were in a crisis, God did not leave them; God never leaves the people in pain. God is there to bring hope.”

Pastor Mboyamba takes copious notes during the Great Lakes Initiative leadership institute, notes that later help him share with his church what he has learned.

For the past three years, Presbyterian World Mission has helped three women and three men from the Congo attend the GLI institute. We also helped others from Sudan and South Sudan attend. It has been a joy to learn how Pastor Mboyamba, who has now attended twice, immediately began sharing with the broader church that which deeply moved him personally, and that which could help his own struggling community. When I visited him in Kananga a few months later to reflect on the gathering, Pastor Mboyamba expressed his thanks to the PC(USA). In particular, he thanked the sisters and brothers whose gifts to the PC(USA) have made possible the grants covering travel and attendance costs. It is true that without gifts from congregations and individuals, we would not be able to help our partners attend. Pastor Mboyamba called this gathering “a forum to bring together God’s children. It is not a political institution: it is purely pastoral and spiritual. That is what has attracted me. This helps the children of God to live the Christian faith, to bring a life of peace and reconciliation in all areas of societal life.” He then explained his surprise, and pleasure, at being invited by the local Muslim community to speak on the subject “Establishing Social Peace: The Responsibility of Religion.”

Pastor Mboyamba speaking to the theme “Building Social Peace: The Responsibility of Religion” at a conference on peace organized by the Islamic community in Kananga.

In Kampala, there were six seminars to choose from. The one I attended was led by a young Congolese Roman Catholic priest who studied at Duke University in North Carolina. We dove into key passages from Jeremiah, Nahum and Jonah as Father Jacob helped us explore how communities afflicted by conflict can find hope and healing in prophetic laments and judgments. In one session, Father Jacob made sure that we recognized our responsibility in the Church: “If churches can change people, we may get responsible politicians.” What a challenge before the Church.

Many of us were deeply moved by the visit to a martyrs’ museum, which tells the story of new Christian converts who, in the early colonial period in Uganda rule, accepted a torturous death rather than renounce their new, but powerful, faith. The remains of these 13 Anglican and 12 Roman Catholics, all Ugandans, are buried in the museum and are a humbling testimony of a commitment to the faith so strong that even the chief executioner eventually became a Christian. Walking amidst the life-size displays portraying in quite graphic detail the terrible torture and killing of these martyrs, I could not shake from my mind stories Christi and I have heard involving present-day atrocities committed by a multitude of militias and armed forces.

There is a tremendous need for peace and reconciliation, and the church is called to be part of that process. At the core, reconciliation is not about getting along with each other: it is about God creating something new in broken relations. Reconciliation is an invitation to live and participate in what God is doing to restore human relations. Says Pastor Mboyamba, “I am very proud that GLI gave me resources. I am an ambassador of peace, I have GLI materials and I work with that.”

As one of the GLI participants observed, “We come as strangers, but as we receive the vision of God’s mission of reconciliation, we hope to leave as companions.”

Thank you for your encouragement and support of World Mission and our global partners in mission in Africa and elsewhere.

Peace be with you,

Jeff Boyd

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