Women in our partner churches of the Congo, by Jean Marie Peacock
“Mbote, mama!” With these words in Lingala, we greet each other while we lean in to touch our cheeks together – first on one side of the face, then the other, then back for a third time. Here in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I have rubbed cheeks with many sisters in faith as we show our appreciation, respect and affection for each other. Here, as in so many places, the women dominate the membership of the church, filling the majority of the pews. They serve with exuberance and faithfulness, often in the background of the life of the church, as men dominate the official positions of power and decision-making.
In every church that we have visited here, I have been inspired by the spirit of the women who lift their voices in song and fill the church with whistles and shouts of joy as they dance and move and engage their whole being in worship. I have been inspired by the exuberance, joy, strength and faith they bring to the life of the church.
Rick and I have been introduced many times this trip in worship services, where the welcome is overwhelming, but we both recognize that I often receive greater applause and cheers and shouts of approval, because the women of the church are responding to a woman pastor who is serving as the Vice Moderator of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). A woman serving in such a position has not yet occurred here, but the women express hope that a change will not be long in coming.
Our partner churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo do ordain women as deacons, elders, and pastors. I have enjoyed meeting them and learning of their ministry. In the CPC (The Presbyterian Community of the Congo), I have been told that there are about 8 women who have been ordained as pastors in a denomination which has more than 1.25 million members, 8 synods, 53 presbyteries, and more than 700 pastors. In the CPK (The Presbyterian Community of Kinshasa), which is composed of 4 synods with about 6 presbyteries in each synod, there are about 20,500 members. The CPK has about 11 women pastors, and the first woman was ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament 17 years ago.
I have also enjoyed talking with women who are in training in seminary and others who serve as leaders in the work of the Women’s Departments in both the CPC and the CPK.
The work of the Women’s Departments in both the CPC and the CPK are very significant and focused on the empowerment and development of women through programs of education, literacy, leadership training, and income-generating programs that support self-sufficiency. These programs, led by women for women and their families, include income-generating programs that teaching women to dye cloth, sew items that can be sold, cultivate gardens for food production, and raise animals.
In Kinshasa, we visited one of the women’s development programs to create small enterprises. We met with a group of 6 women had received a $100.00 loan to purchase the ingredients to make beignets (donuts). As they make and sell donuts, they give a percentage of their profits back to pay off the loan. A portion of the profit is returned to the group for the next purchase of ingredients, and the remaining profit provides income for each of the women in the group. They each make about $1 a day from the project. One woman was proud to show off a pair of flip flops that she was wearing, saying: "I was able to buy a pair of shoes.” Other women explained that the income they have earned has helped pay school fees for their children and provided other support for their families. As each $100.00 loan is paid back, a new loan can be made to another group of women.
As we approached the end of our trip this week, we enjoyed a special time of worship on Thursday. We joined the women from CPK churches who came from many parts of Kinshasa and the surrounding area to worship together as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the CPK. The worship service was planned and led by women. The first woman ordained as a pastor in the CPK, Zeba, preached the sermon. The worship service also included a history of the role that women have played in the ministry of the CPK. Mama Mboo, as she was introduced, was at the service and was identified as the woman who 49 years ago began to organize the Women's Department of the CPK. The story was shared of how she went door to door, talking with women, telling them that they could be as powerful as the men in building the church. She encouraged women to speak, pray, and evangelize on behalf of the church. Many women leaders of the church and the ecumenical movement in Kinshasa were introduced. There was also a drama, later in the service, that spoke of the power of women in ministry and celebrated the many ways the Women's Department of the CPK has empowered women through development programs. The drama included one scene, where a woman was dressed in a man’s suit and introduced herself as the next President of the General Assembly of the CPK. The congregation of women went wild with shouts of encouragement, applause, and appreciation.
A women's choir, made up of women from all the various churches, filled nearly half the church. They were led by an energetic woman who danced and moved like no other choir director I have ever seen. It was wonderful! She put her entire self into directing the choir and all the women of the church danced and moved and shouted as the choir sang. There were about 5 women on the drums, and others with shakers, keeping the beat as the choir sang. The joy, dance, and strength of song in praise and thanksgiving was palpable and inspiring.
At one point toward the end of the service, after we had celebrated the history of women in leadership in the church and had named so many women pioneers of the CPK, we had a time of silence to thank God for those who had gone before of us in faithful service. We also prayed collectively, with each person speaking her prayer until the entire church was filled with a cacophony of voices. I was reminded of Hebrews 12:1 which says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Joining my voice in prayer with sisters in faith, the sound of our prayers surrounding each other as we remembered the faithful who have gone before us, I felt enveloped in “so great a cloud of witnesses” and experienced the power and strength that comes from a faith that has been shared from generation to generation.
I give thanks to God for the experiences and people I have met here in the DRC who have shared their faith so powerfully with us, and I am grateful that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one body in Christ working together as partners to run with perseverance the race that has been set before us.
Yours in Christ,
Jean Marie Peacock