Democratic Republic of the Congo: land of hope

Between joy and fear. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been in the grip of war and violence for years. The Chief Apostle knows the fears as well as the hopes and makes a point of addressing these issues twice on his trip there. Join us for part three of Peter Johanning’s travel diary.

What has happened so far? What did Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider say? The people make the Congo so special. After my first impressions on arriving in Lubumbashi I really get a sense of this several times over the next day—especially in a very moving and lively service for children.

Saturday: consolation in difficult times

On Saturday at ten o’clock in the morning the Chief Apostle had convened an assembly of the Apostles and Bishops. At the beginning he said that he was aware of the problems in the country. Thousands have been displaced and have fled to Angola: among them also 175,000 New Apostolic Christians. An inconceivable number and something I can hardly grasp with my German perspective. This number is equivalent to the number of faithful who attend divine services throughout Germany!

In the meeting with the Congolese Apostles and Bishops, the Chief Apostle addresses spiritual topics, including our definition of ministry, takes questions, and answers them calmly and easily. He tells them that Jesus Christ is a symbol of God’s solidarity with mankind. This is a great group of competent men, endowed with a strong faith and self-confidence.

There is a concert in the late afternoon. Thousands have come to listen. The choir, the orchestra, the soloists, and the children give all they have. And that is a lot. Here it becomes clear that a very long period of rehearsals is reaching its climax with this performance for the guest from Europe.

Sunday: violence is never an answer

And then it is Sunday. Time is flying. Again we are on our way to our church in Kawama. We are driving through the busy city with a police escort. Already from a distance it is evident that everything is big and exuberant: men and women in bright yellow vests are keeping the curious and excited crowds back who want to catch a glimpse of the Chief Apostle and the District Apostles as they drive up to the church. They are waving, clapping, and singing—all an expression of indescribable joy.

More than 30,000 people follow the divine service inside and outside the church in tents. The Chief Apostle becomes very serious. He knows about the pressure that the people are under, he says. He knows their pain, their suffering, and how much they yearn for peace. “I am praying for you,” he says and assures them that he is not the only one doing so. And more: “God has not forsaken you. He will not abandon you,” he tells them.

And then he coins a sentence that sounds so simple and obvious, but that strikes a special chord in the heart of the people in this part of the world: “The New Apostolic Church rejects any form of violence! That is the position of our Church. That is my position as Chief Apostle, and it is the position of the gospel.” It has become quiet in the church, very quiet. One gets the sense that there is a deep longing for better times and consolation in a hope that has yet dried up.

Monday: a thoughtful trip home

Our trip home takes fifteen hour. Time to reflect. The DR Congo is a special place. I am thankful to the Chief Apostle that he asked me to come along. And now I understand his enthusiasm and his emotions when he thinks about the people there.

I have learned a great deal: there are people with far greater concerns than mine. Not only do they face an existential crisis, but they are worried that their Christian life may cease to exist as such because of the pressing problems they face. But I also learned that the genuineness of faith and the joy of being elected is not a question of theology and tradition. A wonderful gift, these people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo …