Thursday, August 28, 2014

How Beautiful!

Christian vocalist Twila Paris recorded a song entitled “How Beautiful” a number of years ago.  In it she describes the body of Christ, not only Christ himself but his body, the church.  One line from the song came to mind during my recent visit to the Congo: “How beautiful when humble hearts give the fruit of pure lives so that others may live.” 

Bishop Johnson with Rev. Kumbe,
a D.S. in East Congo for six years
I saw this happening every day in the Congo during my 10-day tour.  Many are sacrificially preaching the gospel there with little or no salary.  One of the District Superintendents who just completed six years on the cabinet received $10 per month as her total compensation.  She has had no modern vehicle for transportation.  But even with the hardship of walking or riding a bike to visit her churches she also established five new congregations on her district during her tenure.
Our team had dinner with a Congolese pilot, Gaston Ntabamo, from the “Wings of the Morning” aviation ministry one evening.  He is one of our United Methodist missionaries who serves in the Congo.
Gaston Ntabamo, pilot

He makes numerous flights from the remote villages to the only full-service hospital in the area at no charge to the patients thanks to our United Methodist Mission giving.  He has saved hundreds of lives during his years of ministry.  In addition he serves as the pilot for many of the United Methodist bishops as they travel to areas where there are no passable roads. During the war in the Congo 10 years ago this pilot risked his life to evacuate stranded missionaries. 

Bishop Johnson with Dr. Phillpe
Okunda from Tunda
When I attended a meeting of pastors and lay leaders in the Congo they spoke about their evangelism methods.  They are the fastest growing area in our denomination and we can learn much from them.  A missionary doctor stood up to speak.  He said to me “You visited my home in Tunda four years ago.”  I then remembered this young doctor who I met when Rev. Jonathan Baker (Pen-Del Pastor and leader of our Congo Partnership) brought a team to the Congo in 2010. 

I recall how ill-equipped the village hospital was and how the medicine we brought was so greatly needed.  This doctor continues to serve in this remote area, giving a life line to thousands who depend on him.  He reminded us that evangelism begins with meeting the physical needs of people.
Presentation of donated
anti-malaria bed nets
I got to see malaria-preventing bed nets being distributed and I thanked God that we had a part in it by collecting money for “Imagine No Malaria.”  I saw boxes of Malaria medication, testing equipment and community nurses in action thanks to your generous giving. Never grow weary of collecting money to eradicate malaria! The need is still great.

We met a family in a large worship service who did evangelism using food. The bishop publically thanked them for providing all the meals during their annual conference session, which lasted for seven days!  They donated huge quantities of rice, casaba and several animals for butchering. 
Their college-aged son saved money all year to donate a sack of sugar for this effort.  They also did all the cooking and serving and sent people home with the leftovers.  Their daughter takes food ministry on the road and regularly travels to small villages and gathers people around a meal and shares the gospel.
Family that donated food for
Annual Conference
This family has hospitality in their DNA!  Long ago their great-great grandfather was the local tribal leader that first welcomed Methodist missionaries into the town of Kindu in 1922.  Imagine the courage it took to invite this stranger into their home at a time when no one had ever experienced a visit from a missionary. 

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Methodist mission in Wembo Nyama.  Rev. Jonathan Baker and Jackie Onwu (former missionary to the Congo from Pen Del) from our partnership represented us at this event.  Bishop Walter Lambuth and Dr. John Wesley Gilbert were the first missionaries there back in 1914.  They traveled by foot, by hammock, by river boat and by rail to get there.  When the church was born there local leaders were empowered to be in charge of their ministries and the work as continued ever since. 
Wembo Nyama has been an important educational center for Methodists through the years.  I am happy to hear that the children’s evangelism program that was started by Rev. David Ryan (a pastor in Eastern PA) through our Congo Partnership has spread to over 4,000 children.  Parents are seeing how their children have changed since they have come to know the Lord through this vital ministry.

Swahili for "Jesus is Lord"
I thank God for the hands that literally served the Deaf community in Kindu during my visit to the Congo.  At our celebratory service in which we dedicated new buildings paid for by the Nashville Episcopal Area of the UMC there was a sign language interpreter who signed non-stop in the hot sun for 3 ½ hours so that the Deaf worshipers would be included.  This he did for no pay and walked 10 miles to get to this event.
How beautiful is the body of Christ!  That is us when we give the “fruit of pure lives” in humble service to the world that Christ loved and died for.  How beautiful are you, Eastern PA and Pen-Del Conference churches, pastors and lay people.  I know of many of you who have gone out this summer bringing hope and wholeness to numerous missions all over the globe. 

Bishop Johnson preaching
at worship service
I thank God for the Congo Partnership eye surgery team that ministered to hundreds of people this summer helping people see again. I thank God for Miriam’s Table, that is a project that gives hope to many children in the Congo, thanks to Sue Keefer’s (of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference) efforts. I thank God for the many VIM work teams that have gone forth from our conferences rebuilding homes and lives after hurricane and tornados.  I am also aware of a number of local feeding programs, international pastor’s schools, summer camps and youth service projects that bring the light of Christ and trains up a whole new generation of believers.
Those who serve would tell you they don’t do it to be thanked or praised.  They serve sacrificially out of love of Christ and have the awesome privilege of being his hands and feet in the world.  I encourage you to find even more new ways to be “The Body of Christ” and enter into the joy of your Master as you give the “fruit of pure lives.”

(Please continue to give to our Central Congo Partnership by sending donations to our conference treasurers with “Congo Partnership” in the memo line.)
(From left) Bishops Gabriel Unda Yembe (East Congo Area),
Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda (North Katanga Conf.),
Peggy Johnson and Bill McAlilly (Nashville Area)

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