From July 28th until August 12th I visited the Central Congo Area of the United Methodist Church with a team of people from both the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conferences. On this team were: Rev. Jonathan Baker, Rev. David Ryan, Rev. Michael Johnson, Ms. Jackie Onwu, Mr. Bill Innes, and Ms. Karen Morgan. Much credit is due to Rev. Jonathan Baker, who organized the trip and handled an enormous amount of administration. Ms. Jackie Onwu, a former GBGM missionary in the Congo also was an invaluable help to the team as she served as our French and cultural interpreter throughout our visit.
The purpose of the trip was to visit the mission sites, attend sessions of Annual Conference with Bishop David Yemba, and explore new ways of partnering with this amazing area. The Central Congo Area consists of 6 annual conferences, all of which meet for one week when they have annual conference. Many of the participants walked for weeks to attend conference and many slept out in the open air with no conveniences. Their dedication, spiritual fire and dependence on God for daily survival was a humbling and awesome thing to experience. They provided comfortable hospitality for us in the midst of their poverty as a sign of God’s love. As I participated in the ordination service of these fine pastors I asked myself if I would be willing to serve as a pastor in a land where there was either no or very little compensation and survival literally depended on having a garden in the back yard.
When we arrived at the annual conference session in the city of Kananga we were greeted by a large crowd of United Methodist people who sang joyfully and played drums that were shaped like a thin, bowed suitcase with holes on either side. The drum was similar to a steel drum that made a variety of tones as well as percussive sounds. We attended a special ceremony in which Bishop Yemba was honored and we guests were officially recognized and welcomed. Each district presented the bishop with a gift and each gift had symbolism that speaks to the heart of the meaning of Christian leadership.
Eagle Claw I was a bit shocked to see them hand to the bishop a large, severed claw of a dead eagle. The presenter said that the eagle was a symbol of a king, as the eagle was the king of all birds. Leadership involves power, speed and the ability to rise above and see the big picture.
Bird This was a carved wooden bird and not a real bird, the first of many fine and intricate carvings we saw during our trip. The presenter explained that the bird was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is the source of power for the work of ministry and the direction for all of life.
Civet This was an animal, about the size of a house cat, that I had never seen before. A civet looks like a cross between a miniature leopard and a weasel. This creature was stuffed but appeared very life-like with shiny eyes and whiskers. The presenter explained that the civet is a tenacious creature that always finds a way to overcome obstacles by climbing over top of them. Leadership involves moving forward in the midst of adversity.
Machete The presenter of the machete explained that leaders need to cut away what is superfluous in ministry in order to keep the main thing, the main thing. The ability to prioritize and eliminate the less-important agendas is a vitally important skill for effective leaders.
Chairs The bishop received two chairs that look much like the American plastic lawn chairs that Walmart sells. These plastic chairs were everywhere in the Congo and usually were blue and had French words embedded on the back. They typically said things like “God bless you” or “I love you.” The presenter explained that a leader must have the gift of hospitality in order to bless people and show the welcome of God to all.
In those short minutes of presentation I received an insightful lesson on leadership that applies not only to bishops but to pastors and lay people alike. As you begin this fall season with all of its newness and agenda seek to be the leaders of the church! How do we do this? By depending on the Spirit of God for power and direction, by keeping an eye on the big picture of ministry and not just the day to day tasks, by overcoming obstacles and never giving up, by keenly prioritizing ministries and by exemplifying the welcoming heart of Christ’s hospitality.
It is also my prayer that we will continue to support this partnership in both conferences and find ways to resource our sisters and brothers in the Congo for years to come. Check it out on the website www.congomission.com.