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Charlotte’s Myers Park Presbyterian Church celebrates 75 years of ministry in Congo

After a trip there in October, the church’s Congo Team continues its work to strengthen the longtime partnership

Information provided by Myers Park Presbyterian Church | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Last month, members and friends of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, celebrated 75 years of partnership in Congo. (Photo by Steve Mezardjian)

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — More than 100 members of Myers Park Presbyterian Church and the Charlotte community celebrated 75 years of ministry in Congo on Nov. 19. The two-hour celebration included ministers, the church’s Congo Ministry Team, members of the Congolese community and church members and friends.

Dr. William Bradford, a physician who ignited the ministry during the early 1990s and into the early part of the 21st century, was also present, telling the group that it is seldom that people can see the ongoing strength of something they were committed to decades before. Other Congo travelers expressed thanksgiving for the trips they took to Congo to sustain a ministry that is thriving today.

“The main thing I’ve noticed is that in the midst of renewing our team in the past year, we have all benefited from the fellowship with new team members,” said MPCC’s Bob Davies, the master of ceremonies for the celebration. “Those of us who traveled to Congo [in October] benefited from faith-sharing with our Congolese brothers and sisters. It never seems to fail — when you offer yourself, you are blessed in return.”

The 21st century-era of MPPC’s Congo Ministry is focused on the education of Congolese girls. MPPC and its Presbyterian partners in Congo have established two schools. One is located in Kananga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and was established in 2012. The other is in Mbuji-Mai in the DRC and was established in 2018. Two thousand Congolese girls are currently attending these schools.

In the Congo Team’s fall newsletter, Davies writes about the team’s most recent trip to the campuses. At one, “two long lines of girls on opposite ends of the courtyard began singing with all their might. First one side and then the next. Then the girl with her back to us led a chorus of ‘welcome and gratitude’ on our behalf. They had us at hello.”

“Somehow, through first Ebola and then Covid, we managed to keep together through Zoom calls, prayer and the Holy Spirit,” Davies wrote. “Our partners see our presence as a gift from God and take our relationship very seriously. We are a blessing to each other, but there are significant changes and challenges ahead.” Team members are concerned about the viability of the secondary school in Les Mages. Its loss, Davies wrote, “would be a critical issue with respect to our mission of changing the lives of women in Congo.”

Still, against “some unimaginably harsh circumstances, the Congolese endure,” Davies wrote. “There is a spontaneous cheerfulness that is not difficult to find. Our sometimes-unexpected presence often created a pop-up celebration. A ‘bonjour’ said to a curious little girl almost always triggers a huge smile, sparkling eyes and an instant connection.”

For most of the students, “their waking hours are spent walking, riding some form of mass transit, collecting and managing water, procuring and preparing food, cleaning clothing, tending to personal hygiene and, for our girls, being in school,” Davies wrote. “We got the impression that their time in school was their primary source of joy — to be with friends, to learn and to dream about a future that holds greater possibility.”

A major force operating in Congolese culture is the faith communities that are present, including the Presbyterian Community of Kananga. Team members met with Pastor Isaac Kalonji, the CPK’s General Secretary, who supervises a district with 68 churches with an average membership of about 300. “Clearly, the spiritual life is foundational to the Congolese people,” Davies wrote, “and unlike water and transportation, there appears to be more than adequate access to church communities everywhere.”

Congolese worship “is not just punctuated by amazing music,” Davies wrote. “Everything about it is lyrical and rhythmic, and when our brothers and sisters in Christ are not devoting themselves to our savior, they are welcoming us, thanking us and honoring us … Their worship takes a little longer, but in just over two hours, we became their neighbors, an experience we will not forget. Thank God.”

Prior to 2012, MPPC focused on assisting with healthcare and took doctors and other MPPC members over to work at the hospital there or in nutrition programs nearby.

Dr. William Bradford, at left, was among those honored during last month’s celebration of 75 years of partnership in Congo. Pictured with Bradford are the event’s master of ceremonies, Bob Davies, and Congo Team Co-Chair Fay Grasty. (Photo by Steve Mezardjian)

Bradford made his first trip to Central Africa after college in the early 1950s. One of the missions was the Good Shepherd Hospital, a predominantly Presbyterian-funded hospital in Tshikaji, which Congo Team members visited in October.

Beginning in 1996, Bradford began taking church members to Congo. In 2004, church members dedicated a school funded in Tshkaji, about 500 miles from Kinshasha, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Under the heading of “What’s next?” Davies wrote in the newsletter that it’s been a “busy time for the Congo Ministry. We have increased the size of the team from less than 10 to over 30. We have developed sub-teams specializing in finance, communications, education, cultural enrichment, and faith formation. We are working to become more strategic and more faithful.”

“We encourage each of you to think about how you can get involved,” Davies wrote to fellow church members and friends. “As our Congolese friends have just reminded us, we don’t do it for them. We don’t do it for us. We do it to glorify the Lord.”

Watch a 2022 video about Myers Park Presbyterian Church’s outreach programs in Malawi, Uganda and Congo here. Learn more about the church’s Congo Ministry Team here.

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