Christmas greetings from Lubumbashi, DRC! We are in the middle of rainy season here, which feels somewhat like winter in Seattle, even though it is twenty degrees F warmer here than the current temperature in the Pacific Northwest.
We can all agree that 2020 has been a most unusual year by any metric, but God continues to hold the world in His mighty hands and carry out His will. Here in Africa we are thankful that—since this is a young continent with very few elderly people—the coronavirus has not made much of an impact on the normal life expectancy. Yes, we did have school closures and online church services for several months, but life has pretty much returned to normal here in Congo. People are still cautious, greeting each other with elbow or fist bumps instead of the usual handshake or air-kiss-times-three. Hand washing stations are still outside stores, schools, and churches; and some businesses continue to take temperatures and squirt hand sanitizer for each customer. Masks are supposed to be worn in taxis and churches, but those standards are beginning to relax here.
Since our Bible school program was closed for the third trimester of the 2019-2020 academic year, we were able to concentrate on construction projects and complete the second phase at IBTAD Lubumbashi. Regrettably, the Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.) program on campus was only three days old when we had to shut the doors. That closure will delay graduation for the first FATAD (Faculté de Théologie des Assemblées de Dieu) class by an entire year. B.Th. classes, as an extension of the francophone side of West Africa Advanced School of Theology in Lomé, Togo, will not recommence in Lubumbashi until January 11, 2021. Our first IBTAD graduation has also been delayed until July of next year, when over fifty students will complete their training.
Our current student body here at IBTAD Lubumbashi is 130 strong. (This group shot includes approximately 1/3 of the student body.) About half meet on campus in the morning sessions, and the other half study at the middle school campus operated by La Parole Eternelle, the largest AG church in the city. Public transportation is more difficult to find in the evenings, so having a more centralized location for those who attend Bible school after their workday is a necessity.
The English congregation of La Parole Eternelle celebrated its third anniversary last week with a guest speaker from Cape Town, South Africa; an evening of worship led by our choir, a family fun day, and a celebration evening, which included testimonies of God's faithfulness throughout 2020. The theme of the week is "Arise and Eat," referring to Elijah's sustaining meal prepared for him by an angel in the wilderness following his victory over the prophets of the idol Baal and his flight from Queen Jezebel. (You can read the whole story in 1 Kings chapters 17-19.) God has sustained our congregation—and even brought growth—throughout the "wilderness" of 2020, and that is what we are celebrating this year. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=221387292756576&id=111984840363489
During the confinement Bill preached a series of messages (mostly online) called "Living in Babylon," based on the book of Daniel. As restrictions began to be lifted and the congregation met in person once again, the focus of this year's teaching shifted to "Rebuilding After Babylon." The first part of the current series was based on Ezra, and Bill is now preaching through the book of Nehemiah. Sonia also preached on the book of Esther, as a part of this series. (All of those messages are available on Facebook and YouTube under "La Parole Eternelle.") Bill has also begun a Tuesday evening podcast—broadcast on local TV and radio, as well as online—which functions as our congregation's weekly Bible study.
The other positive thing that came from confinement was the beginning of home cell groups across the city for the English congregation. Home cells are a discipleship program, a seven-year study that takes the learner through the Bible using the AG curriculum called "Living the Truth." Six groups have begun in several neighborhoods, and we are asking for eight more host homes to cover all quartiers of the city. Most of the groups currently meet on Friday evenings and their program includes fellowship, discipleship, and "swallowship" (potluck meals). These groups have also made a point of visiting families that are celebrating the birth of a new family member or those who need emotional support due to sickness or loss of a loved one. We consider these groups to be the silver lining in the cloud of the pandemic for our city. Our goal is to make sure that everyone who attends the English congregation feels welcome and important, and that, as we worship together, they grow and learn to serve the body of Christ and the community of Lubumbashi.
We would like to close this letter by expressing our great appreciation for your faithful support throughout this year. Even as churches in America have been dealing with limited attendance and decreased funds, our supporters have remained faithful and our work account continues to be fully financed each month. It is only due to your commitment that we have been able to remain on the field of our calling and accomplish the work of the Lord this year. Thank you from the depths of our hearts!
We wish all of you a joyful Christmas season and a wonderful 2021! May the joy of the Lord be your strength throughout the coming year.