The big event in July is the Centennial. Praise the Lord for 100 years of Methodist presence in this Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We might add that it is also the year for the centennial of the Roman Catholic Church in this area and the 50th anniversary of Congo’s independence. There is a lot of celebrating going on.
The Methodist celebration took part in two phases. The first was in Lubumbashi on the 9-11th of July. This celebration was the more high profile one that included invitations to all the political, social and religious personalities in the province. From our Methodist family:
- Representatives from Connexio (the Swiss Board of Missions)
- 4 members of the Board of Church and Society
- a delegation from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference
- Bishop Max Whitfield (NM and NW Texas)
- The Bishops of Uganda and Zimbabwe and the Bishop of the ECC (the Congolese Protestant Council).
- The General Board of Global Ministries chose us to be their representatives for the occasion (Bishop Katembo joked that we were the president of the Board for a few days).
Activities in Lubumbashi started on Friday with a symposium of authors from the Congolese Methodist Church who put together a book on the history of the UMC in the region, its present state, and its future outlook. The session was very well received and the Bishops felt that the book spoke to issues pertinent to other parts of the continent. Later there was a cultural event in which tribal drummers and dancers took part.
Bartlett Memorial UMC
Saturday began with the dedication of a new church building in one of the suburbs of Lubumbashi. To our great surprise this lovely church was dedicated and named the "Bartlett Memorial United Methodist Church". We did not know it, but Mom and Dad Bartlett had bought the land for the church just before they left for their retirement in 1985. In the afternoon, a boys’ orphanage constructed with funds from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference was dedicated. In the evening we attended a concert of the different church choirs of Lubumbashi.
Marching to an outdoor 5-hour service
Sunday’s service was a real celebration. The theme was "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8) Groups started marching from three starting points around the city and joined for the service at the main church. The service was held outdoors because of the number of people attending. Bishop Whitfield said that he had never sat through 5 hour service before. It did not seem that long because of all the celebration going on. It was a real tribute to what the Lord had done in this past century and how he has used missionaries and Congolese to build His Kingdom in this part of the world.
The second phase was held at Mulungwishi starting on Tuesday the 13th. This celebration was more geared for the United Methodist community. The day started with a visit to the graves Bishop John and Ellen Springer. They are the couple who started the Methodist work here in this part of the Congo. Joab Mulela (a pioneer pastor with the Springers) and the Bartletts (Lori’s parents) are buried next to the Springers. The worship service was again held outdoors because of the crowd. Bishop preached a wonderful sermon on the theme. This time the service only lasted four hours. Many of the local chiefs were in attendance. On our part being representatives of GBGM we had to say something. Naturally, we brought greetings from the GBGM. As the senior missionaries in the conference we wanted bring more than greetings. Our families in one way or another have been a part of the work in Congo on a continuous basis since 1936. There was a lot of appreciation for what our predecessors had done.
We also felt that we had to say that missionaries were humans and had made mistakes. We wanted to take the opportunity to ask forgiveness of the community for the wrongs of the past. Bishop Katembo in the name of the church offered that forgiveness and in turned asked for forgiveness from the church for wrongs committed towards the missionaries. It was a great moment of reconciliation to close out a century and move into the next. That evening was the opening session of Annual Conference which continued on for the next three days.
A century of sharing the Good News
In reflection on what the Lord has done during this past century, our hearts are filled with praise for what he has done. We have known in our life time many of these pioneers. They were heroes and grandparents to us and yet so very human. How the Lord used them to implant His church and bring His good news in this region goes beyond imagination. We are both humbled and overwhelmed by His grace. Indeed we have been privileged to be a part of this and we are most grateful. Join with us in thanking the Lord for his faithfulness.