Eastern Congo troubles my sleep. I check the latest news each morning. I pray about it continually.
I’ve taken a vow. I will wear a kitenge (East Africa) shirt each Sunday and pray for Congo until the consensus of my Congolese friends tells me they believe enduring peace has come to Congo. On the day I break my vow I will wear my tuxedo to church on Sunday. I will not ask you to join me with the tux. However, I ask for my community to join me on Congolese Kitenge Shirt Sundays.
Let me tell a few African stories.
My wife, Jana was baptized in 1979 in a shallow muddy river in western Kenya near the equator. We really don’t know exactly who was at the event. However, throughout our adult years in East Africa we’ve met Kenyan church leader after church leader who has told us, “We baptized Jana.” Jana’s parents, Gaston and Jan Tarbet are what many consider to be “historical missionaries” in the lore of Churches of Christ and Christian Church missions in East Africa. Beyond what God mysteriously did in that shallow muddy Kenyan river in Jana’s life, God did something magical in the lives of the young men gathered around Jana’s family that day. They saw themselves as bound in a covenant community.
My daughter, Sophia was baptized at the Kampala Church of Christ in 2004. In the photo you will notice me in my Uganda preaching uniform – short sleeve colored dress shirt, tie, short hair, and tight beard. I learned that if I wanted to be taken serious I needed to dress well and be well groomed. In the background you will notice two of my friends; Vital Byabushi in a kitenge shirt (a Congolese refugee), and Fred Senkumba.
During the years of 2000 to 2004 while I pastored the Kampala Church of Christ there were many Congolese refugees. Most were educated professionals who fled Eastern Congo due to insecurity and instability. I found them to be dear friends and colleagues. I greatly enjoyed their music and laughter. They slowly nurtured my beginning understanding of Congo. We even once hosted a meeting where we gathered Congolese church leaders and missionaries who were scattered all over Africa.
As my family left Uganda to move to Rwanda the Congolese refugees at the Kampala Church of Christ blessed me with the gift of a purple kitenge shirt.
As we moved to Rwanda and we launched Christ’s Church in Rwanda I decided it was time for a makeover. I was too old to be bound by a tie. I was too African. I embraced my mentors’ and friends’ dress. I began preaching in kitenge shirts. They became my Rwandan preaching uniform.
You will notice that in photos in which three of my other children (Caleb, Ethan, and Ruth) are baptized in Rwanda I am wearing a kitenge shirt. This is the blessing the Congolese gave my family. We are bound in a community covenant of compassion. We are African in heart. Yet we are constrained by temporary documents and skin colors. We wait for our final destination in heaven. The kitenge shirt my Congolese refugee friends blessed me with in our Uganda departure became my Rwanda identity.
I cannot find any photos of myself in Rwanda in April. Maybe it is because I have rarely been able to take a photo with a smile in April when Rwanda remembers the atrocious Genocide of 1994. However, if one is found you will notice that I always wore a purple kitenge shirt to church on Sundays in April. Purple in Rwanda is the color of mourning. I believe in blessing me with purple kitenge shirt as our family moved to Rwanda my Congolese friends nurtured old African values of community and compassion.
Now I choose in a vow before the Lord that I will wear a kitenge shirt each Sunday as mark of my compassion for my Congolese community.
I ask that you join me in Congolese Kitenge Sundays.
I do not know the future of Eastern Congo. I know there are many opinions about what is needed to bring peace. I do believe the best answers for peace will be found in our faith tradition. Please join my prayer for Congo:
“King of Kings. Lord of Lords. God of All Creation. Alpha. Omega.
You are the author of justice, grace, truth, and peace. We ask for your kingdom to reign in Its fullness in Congo. May you bring forth enduring peace. May justice roll like a river.
See the cries of your suffering people in Congo. Have mercy in Congo upon the most vulnerable.
Institute enduring peace. Forgive our sins. Teach us to forgive one another.
In the name of your powerful son, Jesus.