GBADO-LITE, DR CONGO (February 8, 2011) – As Evangelical Covenant Church pastors return from the Midwinter Conference in Chicago and reflect on the week’s activities, Gary Gaddini says he was overwhelmed by what he saw while attending and speaking at the Congo Covenant Church’s (CEUM) recent pastors gathering here.
“The kingdom of God is alive and well and advancing in the Congo,” says the pastor of Peninsula Covenant Church. “This reality exists, not in spite of trials and persecutions, but because of trials and persecutions. I witnessed in the Congolese a joy that is genuine and supernatural. I saw the church – just years removed from civil war and rebel conflict – resilient and getting on its feet and on its mission to bring Christ to the Congo.”
Gaddini led morning devotionals and a workshop during the conference, which was held January 16-23. Several other members of Peninsula Covenant also participated in the conference and visited projects supported by the church. Click here to see additional photos from the conference.
More than 2,240 pastors and their spouses came from across the region to attend, some of them traveling for days on foot, by bicycle or motorbike. “Knowing the long distance and travel ordeal many faced to be together and encouraged was humbling and sharpening for me at the same time.”
That desire was evidenced throughout the week. “I heard repeatedly an appreciation for the word being taught with passion and a depth that challenged people,” Gaddini says. “So many had pen, paper and notebooks and placed such a high value on the word.”
A bicycle repairman from the Gbado-Lite church was representative of the desire to serve others. He offered to fix every bicycle that needed repairs. “It was a real generous offer that was surely much needed and appreciated,” says Covenant missionary Pete Ekstrand, who attended with his wife, Cindy.
In observing the passion for learning and serving, Gaddini says, “I saw the DNA of the Covenant played out before my very eyes. There was a deep fellowship and bond shared by brothers and sisters united by Christ.”
That fellowship extended to the visitors. “In a sea of thousands of beautiful African faces, I and the Ekstrands were the only Anglos in the crowd. For a week, I lost sight of the fact that I was white skinned,” Gaddini says.
“I was completely welcomed into the Congolese culture, customs and relationships. That is something I know will serve me well as we endeavor at Peninsula Covenant to become a multiethnic community.”
Gaddini preached from the Gospel of John and the book of Jonah, emphasizing the power of love and friendship in supporting one another and evangelism. Referencing John 13:31-35, he said, “Jesus is not asking me to love people to the best of my ability. No, he is asking us to love people to the best of his ability through us, his love flowing through us. He enables us to love this way.”
Meals are a significant time throughout the gospels, and Ekstrand was awed by the hospitality shown at the event even though the people live in one of the most impoverished areas of the country. “A conference does not work here like in the U.S., where we all head out to neighboring restaurants,” he says. “There is a team of men and women who cook all the food for the huge group.”
Despite the huge numbers of people, the meals went smoothly. “It’s incomprehensible for me to think about – how much of this and that do you need for this large a group? I heard from others that they like Gbado-Lite for a large event like this because the people have done very well with the food. They know how to do it and do it well.”
For the first time, the conference celebrated the retirement of pastors. Previously, pastors served their parish until they were no long able to do so. Pastor Kasambali Abraham Nakwafio, 68, had served since 1967. Pastor Gbate Natanayele Ngogbe, 72, served since 1968.
Each man was presented with a certificate of appreciation from the CEUM. Then those attending were invited to come forward with gift, which each of the 40 church regions had been asked to prepare.
Gifts included a mattress, large cooking pot, suitcase, clothes, and money. The superintendent of the region where the pastors retired were charged with continuing to care for them.
Women attending the conference cheered when Congo’s Vice-Minister of Education Sedea Zabusu arrived and presented large pieces of cloth that had filled five large bags. Congo President Joseph Kabila had said Sedea should bring a gift. Sedea delivered a presentation entitled “The Five Paths of the Head of State and Their Impact on the Church.”