GOYONGO, DR CONGO (October 12, 2010) – Circumstances surrounding the landing of an airplane flying a delegation from the Evangelical Covenant Church were symbolic of the passion the Congo Covenant Church (CEUM) has to serve and to overcome the obstacles they face.
“The village cut the airstrip for our arrival using machetes,” said Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission.
The Covenant delegation includes President Gary Walter and Harold Spooner, vice president of Outreach Ministries, who are visiting the country for the first time. The top photo shows Walter greeting the welcoming crowd, flanked (from left) by CEUM President Mossai Sanguma, Spooner, and Covenant missionary Keith Gustafson.
Also participating are Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission, and his wife, Martie, along with several Covenant missionaries. Byron Miller, executive director of the Paul Carlson Partnership, joined them. He has been in Congo helping to establish the Farmers to Market microenterprise project.
The group received an exuberant greeting and then visited a seminary that is educating 40 people. The students and their families plant gardens for sustenance and raise funds to cover their tuition costs with the help of extended family and home villages, home churches and regions.
“It is evident to me that given the challenges in the country, our commitment to this partnership must remain strong,” said Walter. “The Congolese leadership is exceptional. In Christ, this partnership has the opportunity to transform a million lives in scores of communities.”
The Congo church has grown to more than 200,000 members with 1,500 churches. In visits to different locations, Walter has repeatedly observed that “the younger brother/sister (CEUM) has grown to be the tallest. We serve together in the mission of God, as partners, as companions with what God is doing.”
With assistance from the Covenant and individual churches, the CEUM is making a difference. The team has visited sites that demonstrate the progress:
- A soap project sponsored by the Paul Carlson Partnership is helping women start their own businesses
- Construction of a school that was started by members from Kent Covenant Church in Washington is now being completed by parents
- A medical clinic that is being constructed with help from Peninsula Covenant Church
The team also visited the Center for Future Leaders, a project symbolic of past, present, and future ministries. The center will give high achieving students a chance to be in a challenging environment so they are well prepared to pass the test required for receiving a high school diploma. Students then are able to take entrance tests for the next level of their education.
The school is located in the former Ubangi Academy, which was a school for missionary children. The Covenant and Free Church missions jointly sponsored the academy for nearly 50 years.
The first-time visitors are gaining a new appreciation for how the lack of infrastructure presents a sizeable obstacle to developing commerce necessary to provide opportunities for the Congolese, who are among the poorest people in the world.
Missionary Pete Ekstrand noted that only three commercial flights each week are available for travel between Kinshasa to Gemena, a distance of 600 miles. Only one flight a week serves Gbado-Lite and Bumba, sites visited by the team.
The Congolese do not have the opportunity to fly, however. “If people want to travel from Bokada to Karawa, for example, they walk and it takes two to three days,” says Ekstrand.
Even those hardships have offered the opportunity to extend grace. Covenant churches in villages along the way provide shelter to the travelers.
The team also has experienced the church members’ passion in worship. Services running two hours and longer have attracted as many as 4,000 people and included multiple choirs.
Spooner was amazed – and inspired – by the musical connections when one of the choirs sang spirituals in English. “Their tone and pitch was almost exactly like black gospel from the 30s, 40s and early 50s,” he remarked. “You would hear the same things in that music as we heard here – the tone, pitch and style of singing.”
Seeing former President Mobutu’s palace, which now is in ruins, drew a different response. “I looked at that thing and immediately thought, how the mighty have fallen. Thinking of how the rich and powerful don’t stay rich and powerful forever. If you have to spend as much time and effort as he did worrying about whether someone was coming to get his stuff, you have too much stuff. At the end, what happened? You lose it all anyway.”
The team will be traveling in the country until Friday.