Bob and Kristi Rice
We have come a long way, but communicating in Tshiluba continues to be a big priority for us. We recently did an informal assessment and estimated that we are at 2.8 on a 0 to 5 scale of fluency. Our goal is to be at a level 3 by December (that does not sound like a big improvement, but it is!). Two of the requirements for level three we have not quite achieved are “I do not try to avoid any of the grammatical features of the language” and “I can understand two or more native speakers talking with each other about a current event or issue.” We made some strategies for continuing to improve.
A New Hope
The Presbytery of Tshimayi is the oldest presbytery in South West Synod. It has birthed many other presbyteries. At the August 2012 General Assembly (GA) a delegation from Tshimayi came to plead their case. They told the gathering that if the punishment period was brought to an end for four church leaders in their presbytery, a large group of Christians would return to their churches. The GA leaders listened intently to their case and feeling sympathetic and desiring to restore unity agreed that it was expedient and prudent to override the synod’s ruling and bring an end to the discipline period. The GA also decreed that the Evangelism Department should visit Tshimayi Presbytery before the end of September to host a seminar and promote reconciliation.
On Wednesday, September 26, Pastor Mboyamba, Pastor Kazadi, Tatu Sammy, Robert Tshisua Bantu, and Kristi and I loaded into the Land Cruiser to head 107 kilometers south to the prominent village of Tshimbulu, the district seat of a region comprising half the Province of West Kasai. On the way we picked up Mukulu Kumuamba, who serves as the Synod Executive and who has been greatly saddened by this entire affair. We arrived at nightfall and were welcomed with palm fronds and singing. The moon was nearly full, and it was a joyful feeling to sit under God’s lamp and to hear God’s people singing God’s praises. Thursday was spent visiting the different factions in the presbytery.
We invited each group to come to the seminar the following day. On Friday we hosted the seminar and invited delegates from each parish in the presbytery. We taught subjects such as servant leadership, the role of elders and deacons in the church, and the need for unity.
Saturday we toured Tshimbulu and again made ourselves available to different groups within the presbytery. I (Bob) remember sitting on the veranda of the guesthouse in the afternoon during some downtime. I had brought a sermon that I was prepared to preach the following day. Now I could just sit back, read, and relax. It was a nice feeling.
However, in my reading I was struck by some important themes of hope. As I began to ponder these themes, I realized that the theme of “a new hope in the midst of despair” was the needed message. Organizing and preparing a message in Tshiluba on short notice is never easy. It felt like a monumental task but having felt a prompting from God, I was also energized.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks to God’s people who are in exile. They are in Babylon, and they are in the midnight of despair. All is bleak and hopeless. Yet, into this black backdrop bursts forth these words from the prophet:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."… Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem… (Isaiah 52:7-10)
While this text is often associated with proclaiming the Good News of the gospel, the initial intent was to introduce a new hope to God’s people mired in a bog of desolate despair. Isaiah reminds God’s people that God reigns. Sunday afternoon members from the entire presbytery gathered in one place to sing and rejoice about a future together. Members from the different parties washed each other’s hands and served each other water as symbolic signs of unity and reconciliation. These were the beginnings of a new hope in the midst of desolate despair.
Kristi and I could not be serving in Congo without your faithful and faith-filled prayers. We also could not be serving in Congo without your generous gifts. Thank you, thank you, thank you! May our LORD Jesus bless you this day as you reflect on his goodness and love.
Grace and peace,
Bob and Kristi Rice