A letter from Bob and Kristi Rice serving in Congo
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Tears came to my eyes on a hilltop church in Bukavu, overlooking Lake Kivu in Eastern Congo. We were worshiping together the Thursday before Pentecost Sunday. Just the previous day we heard story after story of human tragedy. However, watching Pastor Elia Kalume of Goma dance and sing with such joy amidst this backdrop of suffering and personal struggle was almost more than I could handle. Our partners in the Congo, living marginalized lives in a marginalized land, are leading us to God’s mercy seat. They are showing us, by example, what it means to trust God in the midst of dire circumstances, tragedy, death and pain. They exude a resiliency that defies human capacity. Our story as mission co-workers begins and ends with the precious people of Congo.
A large portion of 2013 was spent in the U.S. on our first Interpretation Assignment. We thoroughly enjoyed the chance to connect with many supporting churches in person for the first time and were encouraged by the interest and support of God’s work in Congo. One of the highlights was visiting churches with our colleague from Congo, Pastor Mboyamba, who serves as Director of the Department of Evangelism and Christian Education for the Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC). We also were encouraged by the generosity of many churches, particularly in the grand task of raising money for a new vehicle for the CPC. We look forward to the vehicle arriving in September and how it will facilitate further ministry and travel in Kasai. Our time in the U.S. reinforced our sense of our critical role as a bridge that connects the church in Congo with the church in the U.S.
Many people in the CPC have expressed their gratitude for the Bible subsidy program. Approximately 500 Bibles have been sold in the last year at about half of the retail cost, thanks to support from many U.S. churches and individuals. Several people from the rural presbytery of Bupuekele in West Kasai waited two extra days in Kananga in order to buy Bibles on Monday morning. Some of them had never owned a Bible before. After buying their Bibles, they began the three-day journey home on foot. Songbooks were recently added to the subsidy program, and this year the Children’s Bible in Tshiluba language will be included to help these resources be accessible to CPC members. We continued to have the goal of increasing the Christian literature available in Tshiluba. Books printed by the CPC, such as the Book of Order, Sunday school lessons, and guidance about youth or women’s ministry are also being printed and distributed.
Pastor Tshiaba directs the Mutoto Pastoral Institute, one of three schools that train future pastors who will serve in rural villages. With the help of our Department of Evangelism and Christian Education and folks like you, he recently purchased three sewing machines, tools for carpentry, and a bicycle, and he hopes to soon start an animal husbandry program. He has the vision of providing extra vocational skills to students and their families so that they will be able to supplement their modest income as they serve rural parishes. Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Pastor Tshiaba proclaims a holistic gospel whereby the material needs of God’s people and God’s servants are not overlooked.
In early 2014 the Ditekemena (Hope) program was launched, after nearly three years of planning and waiting. Pastor Manyayi has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the plight of children on the streets, and to promote this program within the church. There are 23 children now who were formerly living on the streets. They are thriving in a loving environment and will soon be reintegrated into families. Shambuyi is one of the young boys who used to earn money for food by scraping up the dust of dried fish in the markets to sell for pig food. The sellers of the dried fish would beat him and go after him with a razor because they saw him as a threat. Now he sings in the Ditekemena choir and is excited about going to school.
Hopes and Plans
Pastor Mboyamba envisions strengthening church leaders, helping them better understand their role in the church, and helping them feel real “ownership” for ministry and church life. We plan to continue conducting seminars with him throughout the two Kasai provinces, equipping lay leaders.
Pray with us regarding some important programs in Christian Education. Pastor Mpongo, Bob, and a team of pastors and teachers are creating a curriculum for all 500 CPC primary schools. This curriculum will help teachers share the Christian faith with their students. It is a significant endeavor, so we ask for prayers for perseverance to complete this program. Elder Ntumba has initiated the creation of a book of pictures and lessons about the life of Jesus for Sunday schools. We hope the book will be produced and a training held to equip Sunday school teachers within the next year.
Our hope for this next year is that we can ably stand alongside our Congolese sisters and brothers. Please pray that divisions within the church will be healed. Pray for open hearts and minds. Pray for greater knowledge of God’s goodness and mercy. Pray that God will give us His joy, love, humility, tenderness and compassion. Pray for a transformed Congo! Thank you for partnering with us as PC(USA) mission co-workers. Without your prayers and financial gifts, we could not be here. “Nzambi anusankishe bienu!” (May God truly bless you!)
Bob and Kristi
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 146, 147
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