A letter from Jeff Boyd serving in Central Africa, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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Mrs. Ana María OBONO ABESO NSI stood proudly beside me on the construction site of a new community health center. We were at Mokomo EFAK, a village in eastern Equatorial Guinea, not far from the border with Gabon, and in the company of the General Secretary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Equatorial Guinea (IRPGE), the local Presbytery Executive and several other men and women, members of the Mokomo EFAK congregation. As we took shelter from the tropical sun, Ana Maria, who is the national President of IRPGE’s Women’s Association (ACF), explained how the land for this health center had been donated to the Church by one of its members – a plot of 40 yards wide and roughly a third of a mile long. It provides potential for expansion of the center, and so much more. The congregation will, for example, be able to grow and sell crops in order to support the operation of the center, with demonstration gardens to introduce agricultural techniques so as to improve the production of fruit and vegetables. As we continued to tour the health center, Ana Maria showed us the veranda that would serve as reception for the registration of patients and as a waiting area, the consultation room where they will talk with the medical staff, and a lab that will be furnished with a bed to observe patients. Across the hall from those will be a delivery room, a pharmacy and a washroom with toilet. The health center is not yet finished, but, looking over at the church structure in the adjacent parcel, the women in the group already talked of their intention to build the sanctuary out of more durable materials than the dirt floor and wooden walls that currently make up the chapel. The Mokomo EFAK Presbyterian Church is one of about 25 congregations that comprise three Presbyteries in the denomination, which may be the smallest, and is one of the oldest partner church of the PCUSA in sub-Saharan Africa.
Named in memory of Mrs. Lois McNeill, the American Presbyterian missionary who founded the ACF in November 1948, the community health center in Mokomo EFAK is just one of the three that are being built with generous support from a Presbyterian Women Thank Offering grant. Each Presbytery benefits this way from the grant, in an effort to maintain balance and harmony within the church. In the same spirit I was taken to visit all, to see where land had been cleared, the foundation laid, walls raised and the roof put in place. Once finished each center will be staffed by a highly qualified nurse and a few nurse assistants, while the church will ask the government to include the health center in the regular visits by its itinerating doctors. The construction of the community health centers and their operations are overseen by the women’s association of the IRPGE.
Providing basic care and health education for the community is one way for the women of the IRPGE to express their faith in Jesus Christ and to demonstrate concern for the well-being of their neighbors. With few vehicles on the road, traveling the tens of miles that separate a community from the nearest-by hospital can be a financial and logistical obstacle, and a precarious undertaking for the seriously ill. Because the most prevalent illnesses, malaria and water borne diseases, are preventable by raising awareness and curable with affordable treatments if caught in time, the health centers are to provide a great service to the community at large. The medical staff will teach people how to avoid getting sick, and encourage them to seek medical care early rather than wait too long and having to make the expensive trip to the regional hospital. Only cases that are beyond the staff’s capability would then need to be referred.
One night, I was invited to stay at the home of a prominent church elder, who handed me a present after we had shared a meal. As I unwrapped the gift, he recounted how, under the Spanish colonial rule, the Presbyterian Church in Equatorial Guinea encouraged people to own and read the Bible even if it was declared illegal by the regime which took a hard line against the Protestant Church. And while I admired the wooden carving in my hands, the elder went on to explain that like the figure I was holding, his mother used to go to the fields with a woven basket on her back, as is still seen in Equatorial Guinea, carrying supplies to the field or produce back home. On days she had Presbyterian Church meetings, however, she would bury deep down her basket, underneath cocoa plants and palm tree seedlings, the bible that she had smuggled into the country from neighboring Cameroon, just like other members of her church had done. The Protestant Church in Equatorial Guinea is no longer outlawed and persecuted, but painful memories of repressive measures from that era remain, like the deliberate destruction of crops, the marginalization in economic and political affairs, and the prohibition of Protestants to freely worship and live out their faith, which made them feel like second-class citizens.
The story behind the gift serves as a reminder of the religious freedoms that are so often taken for granted. Christi and I are thankful for the possibility to freely serve the Church in Africa. We are grateful for the many who have walked with us throughout the years, and into 2017. Thank you for your prayers, for your words of encouragement, inspiration or challenge, and for financial contributions. These all work together to enable us to serve with Presbyterian World Mission. We are approaching the end of another four-year term of mission service. With the hope to return and continue our respective ministries, we will be available to visit churches in the US from June through mid-November and share about the mission of the Presbyterian Church USA with our global partners in Africa.
We ask that you join us,
• Giving thanks for the Association of Christian Women of the IRPGE as they seek the well-being of the communities in which they live, and for Presbyterian Women across the US who enable many around the world to do likewise;
• Expressing gratitude for the Catholic Bishops in Congo who accepted to facilitate dialog between opposing political forces with the aim to preserve life and respect the constitution of the country, while praying for politicians across the spectrum to put aside their personal interest for the well-being of the whole population.
• Lifting up in prayer the Church in the Congo as many long to hear the prophetic voice God would have it speak in these times of church strife, political and civil unrest, and social changes amidst grinding poverty.
• Calling on God’s guidance as the Presbyterian Church of Kinshasa is facing the challenge of selecting new leaders to help move its mission, ministries and partnerships forward.
• Praying for a peaceful resolution of political tensions in Cameroon as the Anglophone minority resents marginalization by the political elite, and protests are met by a strong show of force.
Peace of Christ be with you.
Jeff and Christi
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