A gathering of over five hundred people, including pastors, deacons, deaconesses and other lay leaders, pack into the Moliambo church building. Palm frond shade covers sheltered those forced to sit outside.
Pastor Mulama introduces the first day of the retreat with a special emphasis on the church and development in the villages where we live.
Philo Bidimbu shares with deacons and deaconesses how they can be forces for life-giving change in their villages.
Pastors from the 14 different congregations in the Moliambo area take in Philo’s presentation.
I was again surprised at the enthusiasm of offering times. Offerings in rural churches often include agricultural produce -- here newly harvested corn.
Yesterday was the first day of the retreat. More than 500 adults packed into the long, narrow cement-block building with a tin roof – the Moliambo center church. This was a remarkable show of enthusiasm from people who (from all reports) have been discouraged by church leaders and the difficulties of life. Someone asked Pastor Mulama, “How did you get so many people to actually respond to an invitation?” It’s a mystery even to him. But it is clear that many people hunger for renewal in their churches.
But we even saw signs of unexpected and encouraging openness
as we drove into Moliambo yesterday morning.
The last four or five kilometers the road winds down through red-clay
hills to the church center. We found
villagers out in force, fixing the road, and hardly anyone asked for a handout. This is unusual. Only a few days before the road had been in
very poor shape. But by 7:30 that
morning every place where heavy rains had gouged deep gullies out of the road
holes had been filled. The road was
mostly leveled and mudholes filled in.
We learned later that Pastor Mulama had met with village chiefs day before yesterday, partly
to tell them about the retreat, partly to urge them to improve the
infrastructure that is their link to the outside world.
Three of us from the Lusekele team responded to Pastor Mulama’s invitation: Philo Bidimbu, whom a few of you may have met; Philippe Kikobo, ACDI’s lead extension agent; and me. Philo spent an hour talking about how deacons and other lay leaders can be effective leaders of life-giving change in their congregations and villages. Philippe gave a similar message to a group of intercessors. And I talked to the gathered group about how working hard is often not enough. Farming “smart” as responsible stewards of God’s land is part of the deal. I illustrated this with examples of how disease-resistant cassava can unlock opportunities that the average poor farm family doesn’t even dare to hope for right now.*
What all three of us want people to understand is that God has already prepared a blessing for us and even for our non-Christian neighbors. This is a blessing that would guarantee basic food security for the average family. This is a blessing that would make it possible for every child to get a primary education and most to get a secondary education if they are motivated. This is a blessing that would make primary health care accessible to most families. Our churches can be the channel of this blessing. Personally, I hope that the resulting changes in our congregations would give us an opportunity talk about God’s love, his concrete provision in our lives, and his purpose for us and for the world.
Pray for Pastor Mulama, the pastors of those 14 local congregations in the Moliambo district, and the lay people that came together for reflection this week. Pray that this is a week not just for enthusiastic worship and encouraging Christian talk. Pray that leaders will capture a vision and turn it into concrete, life-transforming action and powerful witness to the many non-Christians who live beside them.
*I have said this before. Mosaic-resistant, high-yielding varieties can double or triple cassava yields in central Bandundu province. A typical family could move from having a surplus of about 14 sacs (about $130 worth) each year to having from 45 to 80 sacks of surplus (worth $400 to $720 a year). Yet there are still literally hundreds of villages in our working area who know practically nothing about the blessing that God is offering farm families.