By Stan Friedman
KARAWA, DR CONGO (August 13, 2012) – More than 8,700 Congolese men, women, and children gathered Sunday for nearly seven hours on an open field nicknamed “Times Square” to celebrate 75 years of Evangelical Covenant Church ministry in Congo.
Through word, song, and dance, the crowd honored the work of missionaries who established and developed the ministries of the Congo Covenant Church (CEUM), but also to declare with President Jules Mboka Ngate that “The CEUM has come of age.”
Under a mercifully overcast sky, yet still sticky air, multiple choirs and bands offered songs of praise and recounted the history of the CEUM. Among the choirs was one made up of pastors’ wives who marched into the assembly area singing. Young female dancers in white also accompanied musicians at various points throughout the day.
Speakers represented the CEUM, the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), other clerical bodies, and government officials. Leaders also lit candles of unity and presented honors in appreciation of the mission service. Guests included members of the Central African Republic church founded by CEUM missionaries, Evangelical Covenant Church of Kenya, the Evangelical Covenant Church of South Sudan, and World Vision.
Mboka, who was installed as president earlier this year, said the CEUM’s history could be divided into the missionary and post-missionary eras. For most of the first 75 years, the church was birthed and established through the work of missionaries, who led evangelistic work, started local congregations, and developed health and education ministries that have impacted the entire country.
It was announced that over the years, the church has grown to 238,000 members attending 1,614 churches led by 1,160 pastors.
Mboka praised the work of missionaries. “They have worked very hard for the church and to follow the model of Christ,” he said.
“Evangelization was the workhorse – the engine – that drove everything else,” Mboka said. He added, “Most of the missionaries suffered for the great work, and for that we are grateful.”
Mboka continued that the church has turned a page and is now its own full-fledged denomination that has entered into equal partnership with the ECC and others. The CEUM continues its missionary zeal with a deep sense of the dignity of every person, he added. That also spurs the church to pursue ministries of compassion and justice for all.
ECC President Gary Walter told the large audience, “The CEUM is its own church. You have great leaders. You have great churches, and you have a great heart for God. We will watch as God does ministry through your faithful efforts to serve God. We are grateful to be called your friends.”
Walter and others added that they look forward to continuing a partnership in which they work together to share the gospel holistically. It was obvious that the Covenant leaders have developed a deep love for the country.
“Congo has taken over my heart,” said Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, who spoke at several points. “Congo also has taken over the hearts of many people in the Covenant.”
Peterson encouraged the Congolese saying, “People pray for you every day. You are not forgotten.” Referencing the years that Covenant missionaries had to leave the country due to the civil war that killed millions, Peterson said, “Even when there are times when we cannot be together because of conflict, you are never forgotten.”
Clerical leaders from other churches and the vice-governor of the Equatorial Province told listeners that the CEUM is known throughout the country for its commitment to sharing the love of Christ. They noted that CEUM schools have educated some of the country’s top leaders and helped to provide a moral vision for the nation.
On Saturday, ECC representatives were greeted by a jubilant crowd that lined the road entering into Karawa. The anniversary celebration continues through Wednesday.
Members of the ECC will stay in Congo for several days and visit Gemena, where they will explore continued development of the Covenant Kids Congo powered by World Vision initiative that more formally launches in North America with a series of fall Hope Sundays in a majority of local Covenant congregations.
Editor’s note: Stan Friedman, news editor for Covenant News Service in the Department of Communication, is part of a Covenant delegation participating in the anniversary celebration and visiting various ministries in northwest Congo. He will be sharing periodic reports during that visit as technology allows.