Misc. thoughts about things in the Congo
1. Women in church
There have been several issues regarding women that have come up in regard to church and other activities. For example, we often see men and women sitting on opposite sides of the chapel—much like the Jews do in their synagogues, and we do in our temples. Generally those couples who sit together are younger.
When we had a ‘combined’ meeting with the Priesthood and Relief Society, no women came!
Often, when eating with members, the women will not eat with their husbands—the women and children eat afterward.
2. Multiple languages
With a country that speaks multiple languages, which language do you have them speak in church? In the Congo, they are required to speak French in order to have some kind of continuity throughout the church. But often, many people in the congregation, especially the women, do not speak French! But, on the other hand, if you had each congregation choose which language they spoke, would it be possible to have unity and continuity among a Stake, or just in general throughout the Congo?
When you give blessings, ordinations, baptisms, confirmations, etc., which language do you do it in? French? Or should you do it in the language of the person you have your hands on, so they can understand the blessing?
Did Jesus speak English? In my studies, the answer to the question would be, of course. Jesus spoke many languages (keep in mind that he is/was the most intelligent being to ever be born on this earth). It is easy to pick out a few of the languages he would have spoken: Egyptian, Hebrew, Arabic, Roman, and Greek—all the cultures he rubbed shoulders with throughout his life. But Jesus also traveled extensively with his uncle Joseph of Arimethaea, who had business ventures throughout the ‘golden triangle’ of trade: Egypt, India, and Rome. He also traveled to Spain and even Britain for tin and lead. It is well documented that Jesus visited England, and even had extended family living there! So add Spanish, French, and English to his repertoire.
I have written at length about the confusion and stress of going through the airports here, but I want to touch on a few more things. It is clear that the confusing procedures have come about in order to obtain bribes from those who get tired of the process and know they can ‘breeze through’ if they just pay someone to aid them. For example, when at a baggage security station, and before opening the bags, they will often ask you for money: “Just $3 and I will not open you bag!” Which also leads one to think: how many bags go through without being checked because they paid the money? So much for security!
There is never any clear announcements about which plane is arriving, or leaving, or what is going on. We often head out to the tarmac just to be called back, because it is not our plane. Or, twice, we continued to sit in the waiting room while our plane was loading and were just fortunate to realize our mistake and make it to the plane before it took off!
And, of course, the best part is the fact that no matter how hard you try to figure it all out so that you can do the procedure yourself, it is hopeless because they change the procedure each time you come—a different order, or new step in the program… something is always different each time you go through.
Then there comes the funnest and funniest parts of air travel in the Congo. After the plane has landed safely the entire plane begins to clap! Nothing like a round of applause for a safe landing!
4. Which church will win?
In several locations where we attend church (such as Luano and Bongonga), there are other churches very close, or right next door to our chapels. They are Pentecostal churches, who sing loudly, clap, dance, howl, etc. This makes our much more solemn services difficult to hear and pay attention to! Sometimes during unusually boring meetings I find myself wondering what the other meeting is like…perhaps I should not admit my mind wanders in those directions, especially on a mission!
5. Singing Practice
One of the pleasant and interesting things they do here to aid those who do not speak French is to have an extended singing practice at the beginning of Sunday School. They review and practice each hymn that will be played during Sacrament meeting that follows. That way those who don’t speak or read French can learn the hymns and participate. It is a great idea.
6. Bishops lead out—each week!
In most churches we have visited the Bishop is the last speaker…every week! Even in Fast and Testimony meeting the Bishop is always the last to speak. What a difference from the USA where Bishops seldom if ever speak.
7. Faith in yourself
Why could Peter walk on water? The easy answer is that it was due to his faith in Christ. But all the apostles, and many members, had faith in Christ, yet they did not/could not walk on water at Peter did. I believe the additional ingredient in Peter’s ability was his faith in himself. He knew that he had been obedient and faithful in living the law of Moses. He knew that he could ask Christ to permit him to walk on water with his Master. If he had had any degree of sin inside of him, Peter could not have even asked for the permission to try!
This idea is reinforced by the vision Peter had after Christ’s death. During the vision he was asked to eat of unclean beasts. Peter’s reply was that he had NEVER eaten unclean animals—once again confirming how obedient Peter had been all his life—preparing him for the greater faith that was to come!
8. The testimony of new members
One of the most perfect and poignant things I have observed is the practice of asking brand-new members to bear their testimony. Immediately following their baptism these new members stand before those in attendance and talk about their conversion and testimony of the church. It is profound!
9. Sacrament bread is a meal
Another anomaly that one sees in the Congo is in the breaking of bread for the Sacrament. In the USA the priests who break the bread make each piece quite small—usually because there are so many people in the congregation, and they want to be sure there is enough bread to go around. In the Congo, with smaller congregations, the bread pieces are very large! Instead of the size of a dime or nickel, their bread is the size of a dollar coin, or your thumb!
10. Church growth in the Congo
One of the important issues in the church is retention of new members. People join the church for many reasons; often it is not because they are totally converted to the principles of the gospel, but rather for other personal or family reasons. As a result, once the reality of living the gospel (callings, tithing, etc.) hit in full, they often leave. In the Congo the retention rate is about 80%! Go figure! In other African nations it is less than 50% and in one nation they are experiencing a negative retention rate…