Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in Kinshasa

Christmas in Kinshasa is much less commercial than we are use to. The streets were decorated two weeks before Christmas with beautiful many lights . They put lights around the huge trunks of the trees that line the main avenue and decorated the starues that are in the roundabouts. Christmas decorations were sold on the street by the vendors. Most people do not give Christmas presents because they can not afford to not even to their family. We received several text messages wishing us Merry Christmas (everyone has a cell phone). We spent Christmas Eve doing a service project at the Polio Victims center where many children stay while they have surgery and then recover. It is very barren without any amenities and they often do not have enough food to eat. We wanted to give them a little Christmas ans were thinking of giving baskets of fruit and a treat with a small toy but our Congolese office staff told us that the Congolese are happy when they have a full belly and we should give beans and rice. So, we gave 50K sacks of rice and beans and a little bag with some cookies, candy and a toothbrush. They were very pleased to get the rice and beans and accepted the bag of goodies graciously. someone brought them big baskets of bread and they were eating it like it was their first meal in days so we decided the advice of beans and rice was good advice.

We then had dinner at the mission home and pretended that we were the grandparents of the mission staff families and had a great celebration.

Got up early on Christmas morning to go to a Church Christmas celebration at a penacostal church, Eglise du Louange. We had our advent celebration at the Tweedy’s Sunday and one of their guests, Julie invited us to come hear her sing with her group. Julie is a native Congolese who is dating an embassy friend of the Tweedy’s. We accepted but about changed our mind when we found out we had to be at the church at 7:30AM and that the meeting would last 2 hours. We felt an obligation to go since we had already accepted the invitation. The Thomases picked us up at 7:15 and took us out to the church. When we arrived we found a large plain bldg on the outside and another building across the street and both were filling up with people. We thought at first it was two different churches but found out it was one and they were televising the program to other buildings. A man came up to us immediately and had us follow him in to the main building where we found hundreds of plastic lawn chairs set up and the hall decorated for Christmas including a stage with podium and a platform with bongo type drums, guitars and an electric piano. Their was a group already singing “Praise the Lord” songs and they sounded very good. We were escorted up to the front of the hall where there were 4 rows of lawn chairs with cushions, all seemed to be reserved. We sat down in the backrow on the end trying to “blend in”. The row behind us smiled and greeted us with Joyeux Noel. After a few minutes when the hall was filled the main pastor entered with an entourage of pastors from the many churches that the congregation represented. They proceeded to the front and sat down on the podium. The grand pastor was seated in a chair that looked like a throne. Immediately a man came down off the podium and asked us to move. He told us that the grand pastor had asked that we move to the front row and sit in the middle immediately in front of the stage where there was 3 clear podiums with neon lights defining the edges. We were not given a choice so we got up and moved up four rows to the front and into the center chairs. By this time we were feeling quite conspicuous as the congregation watched our every move.. As soon as we were seated the 4 rows were filled with people and the meeting got underway.

The program was loud, with lots of audio equipment being dragged around including 3 camera men who would stand in front of us and zoom our faces and our missionary badges. Who knew this because we could see ourselves on the television screens that were set up throughout the hall. We began to wonder if we were being televised on the congo TV and were praying that we were not.

The program consisted of a choir that was all dressed in bright orange print Congolese dresses and shirts. There were several children’s groups that came dancing down the isles and then danced and sang on the stage in front of the podiums and at least 2 feet from us. The dancing was a range from rock and roll to breakdancing. Each group of children were dressed alike in bright color costumes.

We had preaching, and singing, and praying for 3 hours. We prayed sitting down, standing up and kneeling during a very long prayer session. The praying was done by the pastors sometimes and sometimes we were invited to praise the Lord in our own words and then we would have music accompaniment while people prayed aloud and with much ferver all at the same time.

We had a children’s testimony session which reminded us of the Church’s primary program where several children came out and quoted scriptures and gave testimony of their love for Jesus Christ. They had their parts memorized and gave their remarks in loud, clear voices that were enhanced by the fine audio system that was set up in every corner of the building. One little girl told about having a problem and she went to her friends for help and her school and nothing helped so then she went to Jesus Christ and her problems went away. She gave thanks for Jesus in her life.

The Head pastor of the church is a singer and sang his praises several times. He had a great voice and was accompanied by the band and a back up group. One of the under pastors gave a fine sermon in French which was translated into Lingala for all to understand (except those of us who didn’t understand and relied on Farrell to translate the French for us. He told us we just don’t have a star to guide us to Christ but we have many things that lead us to Christ. At one point he went over the reading assignment for the week and everyone in the audience pulled out a journal and started writing down his comments and references that he was giving them. It was very impressive and made us realze this wasn’t just a Christmas thing, going to church, but they were meeting on a regular basis having Sunday school and congregational meetings.

The pastor said, “Magi brought gifts to the baby Jesus. What gifts did you bring today for Jesus?” Immediately canvas bags were passed for donations. Then a basket was brought to the front and people started coming up and laying down wrapped gifts and placing envelopes in the basket. Plastic baskets with a sign on them saying Mission, were passed and more donations were given and then again a basket was brought to the front and more letters were put in the basket that we think were letters of people pledging their lives to Jesus Christ. Two bottles of cooking oil were placed near the basket and then a man brought up a goat as his offering. The goat was terrified with all the music and the shear number of people. The goat was taken out a side door very quickly.

At the end the pastor went over to the band and picked up the guitar and the other pastors sang with him along with the choir and congregation a final “Praise to the Lord”. The congregation loved this and went crazy with their shouting and singing; Oh and whistles. When ever you have a ceremony or celebration here people bring whistles and blow them without mercy. By the end of the meeting our ears were ringing.

Now the pastor turned to thanking people for coming and they had us four missionaries stand and be recognized, introducing us to the congregation and asking them to welcome us which they did by singing and many coming over to us and giving us hugs and the 3 kisses on the check, Congolese greeting.

At this point a man came down and escorted us out of the building while all the people watched us leave. We were escorted to an office and asked to wait a minute and the main pastor came in to receive us. He was very gracious and offered us refreshment. He thanked us for coming to his church and being a part of their Christmas celebration. We were now three and a half hours into this adventure and were expecting to host a party at our apartment so we excused ourselves. The Pastor walked us out to our truck thanking us again for coming and had his people clear a way for our truck through the throngs of church members who had filled the street.

What a great experience we had sharing our Christmas morning with the Church of Praise. We had not anticipated being treated so graciously and having the experience we had. Julie, who had invited us was so happy we came and thanked us several times for coming to her church and meeting her Pastor. Certainly it wasn’t a worship service we were use to but we were touched that people were focusing on Christ and reading the Bible and that children were being valued as an important part of the church.

On the way home we braved it and bought bread from a lady carrying a huge bowl of bread on her head. She had just left the large Victoire Bakery where all the vendors pick up the bread so we were fairly sure it was clean and had not been handled a lot or had time to gather too much street dust.

We had the couple missionaries and the Tweedy’s to Christmas dinner. It was a little unconventional Christmas dinner of coldcuts, cheese, street bread, bowtie pasta, fruit, roasted chicken, corn mango salsa and a variety of cookies and peppermint ice cream.

We played a game with white elephant gifts that we traded around and then Farrell put on a BYU game that Matt had sent. All the guys spread out on the couches and promptly fell asleep and the rest of us just visited and relaxed. We were going to play games but enjoyed just talking and sharing.

I was very proud of myself for not getting home sick until we started SKYPing the kids. We got to talk to Ben and Tiffany, Matt and Shirlene (all though their video doesn’t work) and then we went to bed.

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