The last few days we’ve been in Karawa celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM), remembering the sacrifices of generations past and responding to a call to go further, together. It has been an overwhelming experience. We’ve heard stories ranging from the history of the first Covenant missionaries Titus Johnson and Wally Thornbloom, to the martyrdom of Dr. Paul Carlson (as well as the witness and sacrifice of so many others) to remembering the first Christian convert in this region, Bemba, and the seeds sown for God’s kingdom throughout Congo, in particular the Equateur province. There’s a sense that God’s been at work over the generations, building something that no one quite grasped, but instead sensed by faith.
The choirs have been extraordinary. The drama presentations have been fun. The worship has been supercharged (the Sunday service alone went nearly seven hours!) and God’s word has been preached. One of the theme verses for this conference has been John 10:14-16, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” These past few days this verse has been lifted up repeatedly, underscoring that the celebrations weren’t just for a history past, but that there was a call, together, with a shared vision into the future.
The good shepherd knows each of us deeply, and loves us passionately no matter who we are or where we are. The task remains for us to keep tight to the Shepherd’s vision – that the lost would be found, the hungry would be fed, the marginalized welcomed, and those distant brought faithfully into the fold. We’ll be “found faithful” as we live out this good news.
For years I’ve dreamed of coming to the Congo. I’m a passionate student of Covenant history, and I also had the pleasure of sitting next to my friend Dr. Roger Thorpe for two years in the choir loft of North Park Covenant Church where I got the chance to ask him many questions of the work done here. I also know the statistics: 3 out of 4 people have no access to clean water, 82,000 kids under five die every year senselessly from malaria, that Congo rates in the bottom of eight countries for acute malnutrition, and that the DRC is deemed 187 out of 187 by the UN Index of human development.
187 out of 187 is not just a statistic: it’s real.
We were able to tour Karawa hospital today – the only real hospital in the region. That’s where the stories of the past and the cold statistics of the present collided. After decades of healthcare and healing, the hospital lays in a state of despair in the wake of civil war and forgotten promises. Don’t get me wrong: there has been faithful work done here despite the conditions; healthcare, sacrifice and loving kindness by leaders on the ground, friends afar and efforts like the Paul Carlson Partnership – in fact, there are over 200 surgeries planned for here in the coming weeks because of their faithfulness and generosity. But the image that came to mind were of those attempting to plug up the leaks with extended hands of compassion, while the levee was, in fact, about to break, flooding everyone below.
Rev. David Williams, short term missionary here and pastor at Abyssinian Covenant Church in Ft. Collins, CO preached today about the need for unity and coming together, as illustrated in John 10. In closing his sermon, he shared an image he sees outside his window most days. The image of a woman carrying a bundle of sticks back to her home for the morning cooking and chores. Each stick or branch left alone, can only light a small fire for but a brief moment. But each stick gathered together, can ignite a large fire, providing a radiant heat for the work to be done. Through God’s work, that’s us: gathered together to be the hands, feet and light of Christ in a world of darkness; in a world on the brink of a great flood of despair.
There’s a sense here that this 75th anniversary is a kairos moment, a unique moment gifted by God, pregnant with opportunity. We’re overwhelmed with thankfulness for years past, the work of the present, but burdened with a real call to the work that needs to happen for a new future. Thankfully we’re not only brought together with a shared vision, but that God is already at work here leading the way.