Democratic Republic of the Congo: land of dreams

Ever been in the Congo? “I would never have thought that this country being shaken by such violent political unrest would exert such a fascination on me.” The travel diary of the Church spokesman, Peter Johanning, in three parts.

Frankfurt 9.30 p.m., Wednesday, 13 July 2017. The Airbus lifts off with destination Johannesburg (South Africa). Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider is in the seat next to me. He is in good spirits and is looking forward to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). “What is so special about the DRC?” I ask him. “The people,” he says off the bat. During my stay, I will begin to understand what he means.

As District Apostle, Jean-Luc Schneider looked after parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for many years. The New Apostolic Church has two separate districts in the country: the western part of the Congo with District Apostle Michael Deppner as its leader, and the south-eastern part with District Apostle Tshitshi Tshisekedi. These two regions are huge, and together with Zambia they are among those with the largest number of members in the New Apostolic Church.

Thursday: Bienvenue Lubumbashi

Johannesburg (South Africa), 6 a.m. the next day. This is where we have to change planes to continue on to Lubumbashi. Our layover is short. But there is enough time to shave and freshen up a little. We board a small Canadair-Jet for the flight to Lubumbashi, which leaves with a slight delay. It is a two-and-a-half hour flight.

Lubumbashi is the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with a population of about 1.6 million people. It is the centre of the copper mining industry in the country: modern and austere in some ways, and poor yet full of hope in others. I cannot even begin to figure the city out. The drive from the airport to the hotel is far too short to get a good picture. Dirty roads, small huts of wood and corrugated iron, and people everywhere. The place is teeming with people, and everything is shrouded in a cloud of sand and copper dust.

But I think Lubumbashi is going to pretty herself up. It already has its own university, some international hotels have subsidiaries here, and foreign companies are coming into the country. The future is knocking at the city’s door.

Already the first breath we take at the airport feels good. Our host, District Apostle Tshitshi Tshisekedi himself has come to pick us up. Sure, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider is not only a VIP for him. In fact, he registered the Chief Apostle’s visit with the government. This is required by law. A police escort on two motorcycles accompanies us to the hotel. And it is a good thing, because otherwise it would have taken us hours to get through the dense traffic. The hospitality is phenomenal. The people are all smiles, there is a mood of friendliness, trust, and brotherliness.

Singing by the hotel pool

That evening there is little surprise waiting for us. The District Apostle has organised a kind of pool party. All the Apostles and Bishops of the country—and there are quite a few!—including their wives, have gathered in the courtyard of a hotel in the centre of the city. There is also a choir singing some stirring songs, mostly traditional ones. I am elated!

What had the Chief Apostle said? It is the people that make the Congo what it is. How true! Of course the special guest from France says a few words en français—which most people here understand readily. And of course he also introduces his party, the District Apostles Michael Deppner from Congo-West and John Kriel from South Africa. The choir sings with vibrant energy. Those hotel guests who are not New Apostolic, and may be wondering what is going on, are standing outside the door to their rooms, listening.

Join us tomorrow for part two:Never have so many children been together, never has such a divine service been transmitted on national television, and never has the Chief Apostle been here for something like this. Scenes from a very special children’s service.

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