team1-850x441They walked or biked while carrying their loads of bedding, cooking pots, food and children. Some came from villages as far as 150 km out from the conference centre at Moba. As each delegation arrived at the conference site, cheers, singing and warm greeting ensued. By the time all had arrived for the four day event there were 5,617 people!

The initiative and motivation for this event came from local church leaders. Concerned by the attacks of false teaching from Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious sects in their region, local leaders responded by seeking help to bring the Christian community together for a conference to clarify important areas of Christian belief.

 

And so the preparation began. Contact was made with Dr Serge, 800kms to the South, requesting help. This resulted in a multifaceted response. Firstly Bible teachers were contacted and came together to discuss and pray over the issues needing to be addressed. Over the next few months these teachers came together for prayer, planning and the allocation of responsibilities for the teaching programme. Six teachers began preparing in a coordinated fashion for the twelve sessions. In a land where written material is hard to fi nd the teachers prepared notes to be left with the conference delegates.

Meanwhile in the local area work was begun on the conference site with a view to hosting thousands of people. Pit toilets were dug, grass surrounded washing areas were built, truckloads of fi rewood for cooking were brought in, tarpaulins and ropes to create sheltered areas were sourced, and sound systems were organised. The word went out to the surrounding district and churches began to pray and African choirs began to practice.

Meanwhile in Lubumbashi, team building continued. Flights were booked with MAF and team morale was boosted by the request from MAF pilots Dan & Sam, not only to fl y to Moba, but to stay and participate for the four day conference.

With our forty schools in the area, our next team member Alex Muleba began preparing a training programme and production of training manuals for our teachers. Dr Serge, the overall coordinator, had a double role of consulting and visiting village medical infrastructures. As a gifted linguist his other role was one of translator for the English speaking delegates which included a visiting speaker from NZ, Geoff Paynter and his wife CarolAnne. A further area of team work required the transport of literature, fuel, sound systems and fi lm projection gear. Mubanga, Andre and Murray covered all practical areas for the smooth running of the conference.

So what is a conference in Congo you may ask? In the Congo context, and by their express request, a conference has three components - Bible teaching, African choir singing and downtime centred around enjoying food together.

It is almost indescribable the joy as rapturous welcomes are given to each delegation as they arrive from far
fl ung villages, marching in with a spring in their step while loaded with personal baggage, cooking utensils and food. The children are quickly in joyful play with newfound friends. Women exchange greetings and their knowledge of motherhood and men slink off to the shade of palm trees to sit and engage in intense conversation. Murray and mates have traveled 800km in advance by 4WD vehicle in order to get literature on-site and to assist in fi nal preparations for arriving delegates.

The next morning at least 1,500 people proceeded to the airstrip to welcome the rest of the team coming in by MAF plane. As the plane appears on the horizon the dancing and singing intensifi ed. The plane did a sweeping circle and made a gentle landing coming to a halt before the massive crowd. As the delegation disembarked handshakes and joyful greetings ensued. Then, in joyful fashion, the new arrivers walk in procession towards the camp site. Singing and dancing for the three kilometres produces clouds of dust. In traditional fashion the team were brought to the location of the conference where prayers of thanks were given for their safe arrival.

The teaching sessions began that afternoon with some wonderful choir items of greeting and praise. Murray was privileged to give the fi rst address which immediately set the tone for the next four days with a large number of people responding to the message by coming forward in repentance, seeking salvation and others asking to be baptised. It is striking how as each choir sang, their songs were messages in themselves. Over the four days twelve teaching sessions were given all of which were translated from French or English into Swahili. Amazingly local radio and television also covered much of the conference which went to air each evening.

On two of the evenings Murray, Mubanga and Andre showed evangelistic fi lms in the open air. The crowds at these events were even bigger with many people coming from the village as well as the conference delegates. Following the fi lm one of our Bible teachers gave an invitation for response and the response was quite dramatic. It was encouraging to see many turning up the next morning for counselling.

Between sessions pastors, evangelists and elders conferred over plans for the future and ways of taking the teaching back to the wider community.

The fi nal day being Sunday, hundreds of people run several kilometres down to the river early in the morning to witness the baptism of 269 people. These were baptised in groups of seven by seven elders who stood in the water for about two hours while all the baptisms were done. They were visibly shivering by the end.

The closing event of the conference was communion. Although a logistical challenge with thousands of people participating, one couldn't help but feel the joy of seeing believers passing bread and juice one to the other, remembering the core issues of faith, and enjoying each other as brothers and sisters.

The greatest gift that the church in Congo has, is its people. Multi-gifted, full of faith, taking the gospel to the world.

How did this all happen? Engaging the gifts and releasing the gifted!

A strong leader or mission has the ability to enjoy the gifts of fellow believers or workers'! This I believe is a key element in the team approach in growing the church.

Murray and Joy

 

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