Congo Church Brings Joy to the World
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
April 21, 2010—Katuba United Methodist Church has cracked concrete floors, wooden benches that rock on uneven legs and no air circulation.
There is no organ or piano. Instead, there are logs worn smooth with use into drums played by women and men with metal mallets. One man with tree branches plays “cymbals” on pieces of metal while using his feet to play a drum.
The offering plates are plastic baskets. The red one is for tithes, the green and blue ones are for gifts because God provided during the week. Farmers offer the fruits of their labor--cassava roots, peanuts and green plantains.
The one thing Katuba doesn’t lack is joy.
On this Sunday, April 18, the church welcomed the first bishop that had ever preached in their pulpit. Bishop Earl Bledsoe of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference was greeted with loud applause and cries of celebration from the packed sanctuary.
Bledsoe, along with two other U.S. bishops and the top executive from United Methodist Communications, preached in local churches in Kamina, Congo, a rural city of 450,000 about 300 kilometers from Lubumbashi. Bledsoe, Bishop James Dorff of the Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference and Bishop Thomas Bickerton of Western Pennsylvania, along with the Rev. Larry Hollon, were in the Congo as part of the launch of The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign. The Congo is one of the countries in Africa where insecticide-treated mosquito nets are being distributed.
Love of Neighbor
Bledsoe preached on Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Picking a man from the front pew, Bledsoe demonstrated how the stranger was beaten and left on the side of the road.
“There was a bishop who saw the man and crossed on the other side of the road,” Bledsoe said. “There was a lay leader who also saw the man and did not help him.”
Bledsoe said that in his travels around the world he has seen people with many different standards of living.
“There are those who are exploited, those who take without giving. I have known people who live their lives by the motto ‘What’s mine is mine and I aim to keep it.’ Others say, ‘What’s yours is mine and I will work until I get it.’”
Jesus gave us a new definition of neighbor, he said.
“Sometimes we can live our lives by passing people on the side of the road. But the ultimate goal of a Christian is to make sure that we not only live our own lives but help others to live. That is what it means to be that Good Samaritan.”
Sharing Joy in Christ
Reflecting on several days in the Congo, Bledsoe said, “I think by me coming and being in the midst of the people and actually seeing the need that this will help bridge the gap. To say that this is legitimate and we can make a difference in the lives of people.”
Though they have little, the people love the Lord and the church, he said.
“They are serious about their praise and their worship. … They have welcomed us into their homes, talked with us, shared with us the joy of the Lord. They don’t have very much. They are making do with what they have so I think we just need to make sure we help them.”
Bickerton, who preached at Kamina Centre United Methodist Church, said, “We don’t have to bring them joy, they already have it. … One of the most enviable things about Africans is that they have absolutely nothing materially, but they have absolutely everything spiritually.”
There is much to be learned from their faith.
“Our materialism has sucked the life out of us in the U.S.,” he said. “And we have got to find renewed perspective about what an African can teach us about faith. It is not all about what we give them.”
How to Help
United Methodists are encouraged to observe World Malaria Day on April 25, 2010 and participate in the denomination’s “Imagine No Malaria” Campaign, a focus of the United Methodist Global Health Initiative.
Gifts to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Community-Based Malaria Control Program, UMCOR Advance #982009, also support United Methodist and ecumenical health workers and hospitals as they work to combat malaria in their communities. The program provides community training on basic measures to prevent sickness, free medications and consultations to those who are ill or who are vulnerable to malaria. The program also supplies treated nets to protect pregnant women, and families with young children.
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service.