Modern day followers of Christ, both new and old, in the Church of the Nazarene in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are learning the lesson that Jesus taught his disciples that day on the banks of the Sea of Galilee: open up your heart and start sharing what you have and there will be enough. Even the smallest gift will multiply abundantly.
The Africa French Equatorial Field, being part of the body of the living God, is addressing peoples’ needs with what the Lord has put in their hands and in their hearts.
As God compels followers of Christ from Lubumbashi, Congo, to help new members of the church outside the city with their overwhelming needs for clean water, education, and agricultural development, the gifts of each are growing and multiplying.
FACING THE NEED
Although not quite Jesus’ crowd of 5,000, Rev. Celestin Chishibanji, District Superintendent and NCM Coordinator for the Africa French Equatorial Field, and Pastor Jean Marie Kasongo, a Nazarene Pastor in Lubumbashi, came upon a group of about 200 families eager to hear and see Jesus’ transformational Gospel in an unlikely new location for the church to take root—Katwatwa, DRC. Like Jesus and his disciples, when Pastor Kasongo first went to this remote area in 2009, he was not looking for a crowd of people in need. He was looking for some agricultural land to buy. But instead, he found people there living in extreme poverty—almost no water, low agricultural yields, and no clinic or school.
Only 22 kilometres (14 miles) from Lubumbashi (Congo’s second largest city), the families in this small village still live without any of the conveniences of the city. Their rural lives rely almost exclusively on small-scale farming that grows subsistence crops such as maize and potatoes during the rainy season; from November to March. The dry season is horrible to the plants and people’s lives, as there is no river to supply water.
When their crops produce any excess, they travel the 22 kilometres to Lubumbashi to sell their produce in the markets there. While this may not seem like a great distance, the first 14 kilometres are a wooded and, at times, overgrown path, where cars rarely pass and public transportation never ventures. The journey is formidable if not horrible, especially when carrying a heavy load.
The key means of transportation here are a bicycle and one’s feet. To go to the market, to take someone to the clinic for even the ladies in labour, to carry water, to visit a friend, the bicycle plays those wonderful roles. If you don’t have it then you are the poorest of the poor.
Katwatwa’s children walk these same 14 kilometres daily to the only school in the area called Kanyaka. Depending on the size and strength of the child, this journey takes two to three hours. The walk is even more tiresome for those who experience malnutrition. Most children in the area significantly lack protein, fruit, and vegetables.
One of the biggest challenges for the community, both adults and children, is its lack of water. Katwatwa’s nearest river is 8 kilometres away and very dirty. Most people rely on water from a few shallow wells that have been dug by the community. Families, including children, work hard to harvest this water using only a bucket, a rope, and the strength of their own arms. This task of fetching water is even more tiresome for those who already experience malnutrition.
In this context clean water means only what is available. There is no way to escape from this.
While these few wells are a source of water, because they are shallow, they are not a clean source of water. And the water the community can harvest there is simply not enough.
HOPE BUILDS AS THE COMMUNITY GATHERS
When you have a brother in Christ somewhere the distance does not mean anything. Five times we have travelled the 22 kilometre path to Katwatwa by foot—not exactly an easy pastoral call. We were moved by the poverty we saw when we reached there, but also by the hope of the people. We, in turn, committed to establishing a local congregation in the area and began mobilizing the community to start to change their situation through sharing the resources they already had.
On our next visit, the chief called the community members together, and Rev. Chishibanji and a team of people from the church in Lubumbashi heard the community’s dreams for the future. They wanted a church, a school, a clinic, clean water, electricity, and new agricultural and animal rearing opportunities. But the community was not just looking for a handout. They were looking for partnership.
The needs of the community have become less overwhelming as the community and the church have started to share their skills and resources. The community has realized just how much they have to offer. To build a church and a school, they have the land, the labour, and the skills and materials to make bricks. To build a well, they have people-power. To expand their animal rearing, they already have some animals to contribute to those most in need in the community. The local chief even offered the Church of the Nazarene almost 50 hectares (123 acres) of land.
In November 2010, the church officially opened with Francois Mashau, a local resident, as the Pastor. So far, the church in Katwatwa has dedicated the land for the church building and begun construction.
The animal rearing project has already started as well. NCM Canada donated 10 goats to Katwatwa. Together with the locally donated goats and chickens, the community has developed a system of sharing the animal offspring with the most vulnerable in the community—those who have been orphaned or affected by HIV and AIDS. They hope that within the next few years everyone in the community will have a goat.
The church’s agricultural plan does not just include animal rearing, but also crop cultivation. Because of Lubumbashi’s industrial emphasis on the mining of copper, cobalt, zinc, and other metals, its agricultural sector is less developed than neighbouring Zambia. Lubumbashi has become dependent on Zambia for food imports, so a fruitful agricultural project near the city could benefit not only community members, but also those in need of cheaper food in the city.
OLD PROBLEMS, NEW SOLUTIONS
The next steps for the church in Katwatwa are clear. Clean water is the priority. The church is working to raise money for a new well that will be deep enough to provide clean and abundant water to the parched area.
The church will also continue to provide education about HIV and AIDS prevention, voluntary testing, care-giving, counselling, and de-stigmatisation for those living with HIV and AIDS. The church has already sponsored one seminar on these subjects and is partnering with NCM Africa and DRC’s national AIDS program to expand these activities.
The church also plans to begin primary school classes in Katwatwa as early as September. They would begin with grade one through three—to keep the littlest ones from having to walk 28 kilometres each day—and add classes as resources develop.
As Jesus blessed, broke, and shared bread with the 5,000 who gathered, all were fed. There was enough. In fact, there was more than enough—an abundance. Through God’s faithfulness in the church in southeast Congo, people are beginning to see what is possible when the children of God faithfully share what they have in the face of overwhelming need. Working together, step by step, the church is preaching the salvation that comes in Christ while demonstrating his love that transforms communities. God is also planting new churches using his people who are using what they have in their hands while counting on God’s mercy. Local people have already made available 12 plots and are making bricks for the building. The roof is usually made with grass that does not resist termites. The salvation comes when people may get iron sheets for the roofing.
As this country went through the scourge of the war for many years the message of ‘Entire Sanctification’ is the most needed. The place where it will be preached in boldness, that makes our ministers courageous, even if it is to go and spend weeks in villages located in hundreds of kilometres for God’s glory.
By Rev. Celestine Chishibanji