Congo: We Have Lot to Learn About Faith, God

Post a Comment » Written on September 21st, 2009     
Filed under: News
GEMENA, CONGO (September 21, 2009) – Editor’s note: Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church, is currently traveling in Congo on the first of three key mission trips planned before the end of the year. During each of the trips, he will meet with local church leaders, explore partnerships with other Christian organizations, encourage Covenant mission staff in various areas, and evaluate needs and potential ministry opportunities. Additional trips will include countries in Latin America and Asia.

By Curt Peterson

At dawn each morning (5:30 a.m.) I am awakened by the sound of voices across the road as the first women and children arrive to collect water in their jugs and buckets from the community water faucet connected to the spring fed water tower (top photo). One by one they fill their containers of all sizes and shapes and place them on their heads, cushioned by wound, braided cloth, and then they walk back to their homes.

Water and kidsThis water supply is the gathering place for conversation and stories until darkness sends everyone home until another day. Young men are now at the well collecting water and loading five-gallon plastic cans and loading them on their bikes. None of the men carry water on their heads! The guesthouse we are staying in has some of that spring water fed into the building in pipes so we have clean water near our rooms. We are in relative comfort with cement floors, screens on the windows, mosquito nets over our mattress beds, and diesel generator power several hours in the evening. The cold shower is refreshing just before bedtime.

Bicycles are the trucks of Congo. With very few vehicles – all sturdy trucks and land cruisers – walking, motorcycles and bicycles are the primary means of transportation.  Most walk long distances to market – 10-50 kilometers – but some have bicycles. The back of bikes carry wood, goats, chickens, potatoes, fuel, vegetables, and bananas all stacked high and balanced as they traverse rutted roads and paths.

Sabuli in gardenGardens are the lifeblood of Congo families in this region. With little cash, families maintain a modest level of subsistence from the harvest of their gardens. This rainforest region on the equator survives on the fruit of the land. Thanks be to God. The second photo shows Sabuli Sanguma in her home garden. The fourth photo shows Sabuli’s sisters in their home.

We spent four hours Thursday morning hearing reports and engaging in dialogue with the Medical Committee comprised of doctors, administrators and the CEUM (Covenant Church of Congo) medical director. This committee and the medical director manage the medical program of the CEUM, which is currently made up of five hospitals and 93 village clinics serving a health zone with a population of some 560,000 people. Medicine and health-related ministry has been part of the gospel witness through the church and its mission since Covenant missionaries first came to the Ubangi Mongala region in the equator province of Congo in 1937.

Clean waterMissionary doctors, nurses, and pharmacists served in developing this healing ministry and quickly began training Congolese through a nursing school, medical training program and residencies for those who pursued graduate medical studies. Now this complex medical program is staffed and administered entirely by gifted and dedicated Congolese providing public health and treatment in extremely difficult conditions. Since the civil war period from 1996 to today, more than five million people have died in Congo. Many died in war and ongoing conflict, but the majority died from malnutrition, disease and preventable or treatable illnesses. The third photo shows residents at the community water supply.

The biggest challenges today include sustainable funding, adequate supply of medicine, repair and replacement of worn or outdated equipment, technology for record keeping and communication, and transportation between hospitals and the network of clinics. The Paul Carlson Partnership provides support for a portion of this program through the gifts of donors and foundations, but the desperate need far exceeds resources available to help.  Local receipts for treatment and medicine provide some funding, but with very little currency moving in the economic system and income levels of less than $100 cash per year for most of the population, funding in medical programs is a nearly insurmountable problem. We need to pray for wisdom and resources for this important work.

SistersThursday afternoon brought another four-hour meeting with the Executive Committee of the CEUM (comparable to our Administrative Council.) This committee included the president, vice president, and directors of evangelism/mission, communication, literacy, education, medical programs, women ministries, lay ministry, theological education, pastoral ministry, and Christian education. Each leader shared a report on their work and challenges they are facing.

A recurring challenge for each department is transportation to serve the churches and regions in this vast area with very limited infrastructure. Washed out roads, impassable bridges, limited vehicles and fuel make the efforts at connection and support of these 1,500 churches very discouraging for the leaders. The poverty and economic depression is so severe that many of the basic living resources we take for granted are unavailable.  Even many of the 260 students at the bible school cannot afford to buy a bible for their studies. Most of the 400 schools serving 65,000 elementary and secondary students are stick-walled, thatched-roof rooms that need to be replaced every 18-24 months due to damage from termites.

WorshipDespite all the challenges, dozens of new churches were planted in new villages this year.  A new CEUM region (conference) was opened. The CEUM now includes more than 210,000 members! Evangelism extends through Big Sunday campaigns and itinerant evangelists and lay witness in villages. One outreach gathering in a new community gathered more than 600 people to hear the gospel from a team of evangelists and 200 received the good news of Christ in faith for the first time.

Worship is vibrant and full of faith. People flock to worship, overflowing church buildings, and sit and stand for two to three hours with choirs, prayers and praise through song and dance, and preaching of the word with power. The Holy Spirit is active in Congo and we have much to learn from them about faith, joy, suffering and worship of God. I am reminded of Paul’s words, “you are the body of Christ. The foot cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you. When one part suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”  We are truly “in it together” and our prayers and compassion are so important for this vital member of the Body of Christ, our Congolese brothers and sisters.

To read previously published reports, select from below. Covenant News Service will publish additional updates as they become available.

Congo – ‘Face-to-Face’ Best Way to Build Relationships

Congo – A Place of Joy, Challenges, Opportunity

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