Saturday, September 3, 2011

Scott with General Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Congo, Jean Pierre

'The ways I saw the Lord at work' by Scott

Where to begin to describe the past two weeks?  On the surface, home appears so different: no smiling people waving back at you at every turn, no dusty and bumpy roads, no scent of smoldering charcoal fires, no boisterous songs that the heart understands, even if the mind cannot comprehend the language.  Yet these differences seem minuscule compared to the overwhelming similarities: The love for the same Lord.  The same daily struggle with life, even if in different ways and intensities.  The same mix of people trying (or not trying) to know God better.  The same need to praise Him-- all blessings are His, regardless of our perception of their value.   We are all parts of the same Body.
I will miss spending moments and meals with the Congolese brothers and sisters whom I now know by name-- especially Chantal, who tried to make me eat second helpings at every meal!  So many times, I felt as though I'd known each person for my entire life!  Every day brought new faces, new experiences, and, as was so often said in prayer, new mercies.  I feel blessed to have had this opportunity to go, and to return with an echo of the greeting offered by all the senders.  It is a joy to think of these new friends whom we can pray for by name,  and whom  I hope others in our church come to know .
On the surface, I am certainly left with a bundle of funny stories about adapting to preposterous circumstances.  They add joyful humor and color to any description of our time in Congo.  But these are not the core of my memories.  Instead, I will cherish the deeper ways I saw the Lord at work:  The loving hospitality in the Name of Christ.  The power of prayer.  Witnessing a testimony impact another.  The protecting and strengthening hand of the Lord.  The incalculable value of encouragement.  God’s guidance and His hands at work in building a new parish.  All tangible evidence of the truths we affirm. 
For some time, I didn’t feel ready to go on a mission trip.   I was uncertain of what I could offer (and sometimes I'm still uncertain).   Now, having gone and met with so many dedicated to Christ, I realize I placed these roadblocks around myself and blocked my ears to what God  might ask me to do.  For all the encouragement I hoped to bring, I feel it returned to me in multitudes.  After all the joyful praises in thatched, dirt floor churches, how could I not praise Him in all circumstances?  After the “chance” meetings, when I thought I couldn’t go any further, how could I put my choices of comfort before His call?  When I saw how overcoming my own insecurities could touch another life, how could I be timid?  I will be forever grateful for the way our team, Fred, President Mavoungou, and all those I met have helped deepen my faith.

In Christ,

Stephanie, Lori, Victorina (President Mavoungou's wife) and Sarah (President Mavoungou's niece)

'Thankful' by Stephanie

I am truly thankful for having been given the opportunity to go to Congo with OLSA.  I would like to thank all who prayed for us and supported us during out trip.  I especially thank God for hand picking the group of people, both from the US and from Congo; they were all a blessing to travel with.  There were so many blessings we as a group and individually received from the people there, and I pray our visit was as sincere a blessing to them as they were to us.  Everywhere we went we were received with open arms, singing, and praises to God for our arrival.  Please continue to pray for the churches, church leaders and people in the Congo as they persevere in the name of Christ so that all may know Him.

In His Strength,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mother and baby worshipping our great God!!!

Team at Wittenberg congregation in Pointe Noire

Matthew, President Mavoungou and the vice president of the Lutheran church of the Congo

Scott dancing with the Sunday School children!!!!

'Time flies when you're having fun serving the Lord' by Lori

Hi family and friends,
How time flies when your having fun serving the Lord!  Our last two church services were memorable, to say the least.  Sunday service was held at St Augustine's in Brazzaville.  The church service was traditional with President Mavoungou and Vice President in full robes and the church was overflowing.  So far I can say, from the different places we have lived, no people praise the Lord quite like the people in the Congo. The love for Jesus pours out of there very being!  The service began at 9:30 AM and ended about 1:30 PM but there is so much joy, one losses track of the time and you find yourself worshiping with pure pleasure.
We presented gifts to Pastors, Vicars and leaders of the church as well as the leaders of the womens group. They in turn presented us with lovely outfits.  I must say its quite different being redressed in front of the church while the whole congregation looks on in great laughter!   After service we were guests of the Vice President and his wife in there home.  The ladies cooked a wonderful meal and we had a great time in fellowship.  I have to take a minute to inject a note about the meal.  When we talk about a great meal often times these meals were cooked out side over open coals.  They cook all morning because they do not have the  modern appliances we do.  We were so appreciative of time and efforts.

Monday was probably the most relaxing "fun" day of our whole trip. We rode the "song bus"  appropriately named by Scott because it was full of singing, including drums and all.   Pastor Mavoungou and members of his church joined the team and we rode in a very full bus to Impani, about 45 km north of Brazzaville.  There we were greeted, like always, with great such joy and lots of singing.  The service was shorter then most but not lacking in praising God.  Matthew gave a wonderful message, Scott and I gave our testimonies, and the team did the puppet skit.  The most fun was when we sang our "silly" song!  Everyone got into it, and I mean everyone: Pastor's, Vicars, heads of the church all the way down the line to the smallest of children!  We have great pictures for you to see. Oh the joy and laughter!   After service we had a B.B.Q picnic under a spacious tree for shade.  Fresh French bread, smoked sausages, fresh veggies, and drinks.  Later on, even chocolate ice cream bars!  The ride back was relaxing while watching the beautiful country side, and listening to the youth sing there beautiful songs.  Matthew and I hope to have one of the songs ready to sing in church.  It was a perfect day.

President Mavoungou, who we affectionately call PaPa, is truly a Church Man in every sense of the meaning.  His love for the Lord and his people is evident in all he says and does.  He is a most humble man, full of compassion and love for all of God's people.  He certainly went out of his way to keep us safe, happy,and to please us in so many ways.  Always thoughtful and kind.  I cannot say enough good things about this man of God.  Continue to pray for him and the enormous job he has.  
We thank God for the opportunity  to go on this trip, for the team He put together, for His beautiful people we met, our safe travels, good health and the chance to encourage His people in the Congo.  God is definitely good --all the time! 
In His Love,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Back in the USA--thank you for your prayers! New photos and posts coming over the next 2 days

Thank you all for your partnership in this mission journey to the Congo!  We arrived home safely yesterday afternoon.  God indeed blessed our time and we were blessed to be in the Congo.  Each one of us will write a blog entry over the next day or so so please check back!  I will also post more photos.  Our Congolese brothers and sisters along with missionary Fred Reinhardt send their love and prayers to all.  We were the first American missions team that visited the Congo, and we were very humbled and thankful for that honor.  Wherever you go today, know that God is with you!  In you comings and goings, share His love with all you meet!

 'Be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances.'  1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Our Way Home

We received the following update from the team in the Congo.

It's Tuesday morning here and our flight leaves at 1:30 pm.  We have had little time or access to the internet since being in Brazzaville. Thank you to everyone for your prayers. We are all joy filled, healthy, and thankful for an amazing mission here in the Congo. We will post new photos and updates upon returning to the US. God willing we will arrive Wednesday afternoon into Boston at 2 pm.  We love you all and thank you for your prayers.  Here in the capital we have worshipped and led training workshops at 3 churches. Amen!

God is indeed faithful!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

President Mavoungou holding gifts our team was given after our training workshop in Kingomo--chickens, palm wine, eggs, bananas, peanuts and more! (notice that the chickens are alive? Yikes!)

On the way to a training seminar at a church

Sisters in Christ

The church in Dibemako

A vicar and his family--what beautiful people inside and out!

The joy of the Lord!

Greetings from Brazzaville on a sunny Saturday afternoon by Matthew

Hello family and friends!

Thank you so much for your prayers and love.  We are doing well, by God's grace.  We arrived safely in Braazaville (the capital city) on Friday afternoon around 4 p.m.   Here in the capital city we are staying at the SIL Gues House, which is very clean and comfortable.  Last night the church hosted a Night of Music for us, which was amazing!  The Congolese love to sing and dance, and we were singing and dancing along with them!!!  It was a joy filled sanctuary!  Today (Saturday) we have been shopping and are taking a break to send some messages now before meeting with another congregation for training and encouragement later this afternoon.  Stephanie was not feeling well yesterday, but is back to good health today, so praise God!!! 

We have been treated with such kindness and love during our days here.  God has given us many opporutunities to encourage and love His people here.  It has been a blessing to share life with them and provide verbal encouragement as well as ministry tools to strengthen them in their ministries.  Our team has been joyful and patient and have demonstrated the compassion of Christ to all we meet.  I am so thankful for Scott, Lori and Stephanie and their willigness to love God's people and experience life in Africa.  As they share their testimonies, put their arms in puppets to teach the Gospel message, put those same arms (minus the puppets) around brothers and sisters in Christ here, and take photos for Missionary Fred Reinhardt's furlough presentations, they are doing it all for Jesus!  We especially have been thankful for the kindness of President Mavoungou as he has been our primary host.  Stay tuned for more blog entries and and prayers to all!!!
Together in the Great Commission

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Presenting the Gospel message--the joy of Jesus' resurrection!

Puppets presenting Psalm 139 truths to children (can you guess what team member is what puppet?)

Team with congregation at Sion

President Mavoungou giving the blessing

An "honorary" African arrives in N'kyai after our four hour ride there (read below for more information)

Precious Congolese children loved by God!

Lori and Stephanie with the women at Sion Lutheran Church in Dolisie

Greetings to all from Missionary Fred Reinhardt

Greetings to all at Our Savior Lutheran Church, Topsfield!

This is your missionary, Rev. Frederick Reinhardt.  I just wanted to thank you as well as the pastor and members at Mount Calvary Lutheran, Ft. Wayne, for supporting Matthew, Lori, Stephanie, and Scott to be able to make this “first” of a mission trip:  first time for Lori, Stephanie and Scott in Africa, first time for Matthew in the Congo, and the first team of short-term LCMS missionaries to visit the Republic of the Congo!   The President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo (EELC) is so happy to accompany us, and he is very pleased at the spiritual encouragement that the team brings, as well as the teaching, the excitement, the friendship, and the creative activities.  The six of us get along well, and make very good travelling companions.  This is also a “first” for me, as I have never before had my “own” short-term team to accompany and introduce to one of the national churches with which I work as the Area Facilitator for Francophone Central and East Africa.  Africa is an adventure, and we are having the opportunity to experience it together, while hopefully being a blessing and edification to the Church in this place!   We are certainly being greatly blessed by the people here and the whole experience.  I thank God for you all, and am looking forward to visiting you in early December when on furlough later this year!

God bless you,
    Missionary Fred Reinhardt

Traveling adventures and Encouraging the women by Lori

Dear family and friends,

As Scott has already given you the lowdown about our adventures so far, we have decided that there are new meanings to certain phrases such as ‘four wheeling’, ‘detour on outer road’ and ‘eat my dust.’  Our drivers have been wonderful to keep us safe and get us to our destinations without any harm. 
We have to use taxis for most transportation and I have to say they are the most skilled drivers I have ever seen.  Their judgment on distance and maneuvering around other vehicles, pedestrians, goats, chickens and any other known thing to cross their paths is a sight to behold (if your eyes are opened).  

On a more serious note, for myself, greeting one on one certain ladies of the congregations has been a true blessing from God.  It is a joy to see their happiness when they see you care for and love them.  As for the children, they are truly beautiful and are happiest when we give them just a little attention.  I am looking forward to our next congregation.  Each congregation is a reminder to me that it doesn’t matter what type of building we worship in—God is ALWAYS present. 

He loved me first!

Monday to Wednesday ministry opportunities

-Monday (Pointe Noire): We strolled the beach after breakfast before joining Chantal¸ executive secretary of women’s ministry, as she would be joining us for the remaining destinations.  At the marketplace, we contracted our vehicle and loaded the caravan in preparation for the four hour drive to Dolisie on the other side of the mountains.  The ride was an adventure, to say the least (how many grown adults and oversized luggage do you think you might be able to fit into a Land Cruiser?  And the guy hanging on the spare tire out back wasn’t counted!).  The road was a mixture of pavement, pavement-in-the-making, checkpoints, and detours through dirt roads in the bush.  A copious amount of laughter could be heard from the back row of seats (no comment on who the occupants were)

-Late Monday/Tuesday (Dolisie—“doh-lee-zee”): As with everywhere else in Congo, we were warmly received on arrival and offered plenty of homestyle cooking.  We were able to meet Vicar Fred, a CLET graduate, who is using his engaging and insightful talents to rebuild the small congregation in Dolisie.  We attended the added service on Tuesday morning for a few hours.  With the boisterous praises sung, it’s hard to believe you are worshipping in a ruined, roofless concrete shell in a location that regularly changes due to landlord whims (how easy it is to take our own facility for granted!).  Still, I think Vicar Fred’s closing blessing to us best describes the touching experience: (referencing Acts 3) “Like Peter and John with the crippled man, we don’t have anything material to give to you.  But we send you with the blessing of the Holy Spirit.” 
We were also able to visit Vicar Fred’s pregnant wife, Carmen, in the “hospital” (only technically a hospital!), where she was being treated for malaria.  We prayed for her and the others there—please keep the two of them in your prayers!
Later that afternoon, we also stopped by another regional parish in Dibemeko (“dee-bay-may-ko”) to briefly worship (yes, an hour or so is considered brief these days!) and cause some fifty children to roar with laughter as we used animal puppets to introduce Psalm 139.  Can I also note what a marvel it is to hear the Lord worshipped in three languages, sometimes simultaneously?  English, French, and Kituba (a regional dialect of the Lingala language)… we’ve been trying to pick up a few words of the latter.

-Very Late Tuesday/ Wednesday (N’kayi—“nk-eye-yee”):  Again, how much a modern infrastructure makes our lives simple to the point of few considerations (ubiquitous internet, included)!  With a later start from Dibemeko than we should have (a busy schedule compounded by poor roads), we embarked in a new caravan vehicle on what should have been a “good” road of two hours driving.  We quickly found out that the vehicle had no shock absorbers and the “highway” was hard, lumpy dirt through Congolese brush and dusty, red soil the whole way.  So, two hours turned into four of the most bone-rattling hours I think any of us had experienced, all crammed in with ankles overlapping ankles!  Add in the exhaust pipe that leaked soot into the back set of rumble seats (where your dear mission team members Scott, Lori, and Stephanie all learned, firsthand, about two of the five points of “fellowship”: suffering together and sharing burdens!) and you had one very crazy ride.  Scott was so blackened by soot that Chantal declared him “an honorary African.”
After the trying experience of the drive the night before, we began to wonder if we should truncate the plans to visit yet another outbound town, knowing we still had to reverse the drive back in order to make a Friday flight out of Dolisie and back to Brazzaville (to skip even worse roads….. can that be possible?).  But, the Lord blessed us with a refreshing night’s sleep and endurance to move forward.  We attended a rural service at Martin Luther parish in N’Kayi in the morning.  Our visit was to be subdued as the catechist’s son has died and the town was in mourning.  Still, Vicar Jean-Bosco let us know how appreciated our visit was: “God has blessed this church with a visit from the West.”  As we later found out, this was one of the first areas Lutherans visited in the Congo but they had not had a visit since 1991!  The church had many prayer requests, with deaconess Antionette at the top (she was the aunt of the catechist who’s son died and the animist relatives and neighboring village accused her of responsibility through sorcery and expelled her, but Martin Luther parish has been keeping her safe.  Please pray for this woman, her family and those villagers)

-Wednesday afternoon (Mouyandzi—“moo-yahnd-zee”): The sooty backseat (or some may call ‘deathtrap) was replaced by a significantly better vehicle (even if some of the doors didn’t open!) and a great driver named Freiz (“Frez”).  We made a much easier and faster trip to Mouyandzi to spend the night before visiting the rural town of Kingomo on Thursday.  What few tiny “hotels” were there were filled with a visiting international optometrist group (?!?! Out here?).  Coming back to our original hotel, we accepted the three rooms they had and decided to double up.  One of the workers at the hotel soon made it apparent why the Lord had led us onwards and to here, despite our earlier troubles on the way to N’kayi: Mouyandzi has been without a Lutheran parish since the last evangelism had to leave town in order to find a paying job elsewhere.  Since then, the church trickled away and a new church has not been established as it would require founding members.  But, she had been praying that a Lutheran church might come back.  So she and her brothers, after meeting President Mavoungou,  shared that they would be willing to be founding members of a new church in Mouyandzi. President Mavoungou knows of a pastor who would be willing to transfer to serve in a neighboring district as he found it hard to be an evangelist in the small town that he grew up in.  Praise God for the stop at this hotel that has led to a new church being planted here!  And to think we might not have made it this last little bit by our own choosing!!!  God provides, indeed!

All Is Well in the Congo

We received a phone call from the team and they are healthy and are doing well.  They are in the interior part of the country and have no internet access.  The traveling has been a challenge--what should have been an hour drive yesterday took them four!!

They will give us another update as soon as they can.  Thank you for continue to remember them in your prayers!