Small church, big impact

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I wish you could have been there with me, but since you weren’t I will describe for you what happened. I was part of a group that left our guesthouse on a bright Sunday morning last September to attend the morning worship service at Batela MB Church in Kinshasa. Thankfully, our leader, Murray Nickel, was able to hail two taxis to get us there. This church is located at the edge of a huge slum area in the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This slum is home to approximately 100,000 people. The church itself is small, with only 150 members, but it has a big impact in the community.

After a “normal” church service of Bible reading, prayer, congregational singing, several choir numbers and a sermon, we met with the church leadership for a time of fellowship. Munching on a spur-of-the-moment lunch of bread, peanuts and soft drinks, we listened as they told us of their vision for ministry. 

Their outreach is divided into several parts: evangelism, community development, a ministry to street children and medical care. Evangelism is successful because they know the languages spoken in the area, understand the culture of the community and have many people involved in their outreach activities.

One of their current community development enterprises is a sewing school. Some time ago they received a donation of eight sewing machines, so now they offer sewing classes for women and men. Adults who successfully complete the program have a skill they can use to earn a living and support their families. 

After our meeting, we walked at least three kilometers to visit their newest project: a home for street children. Because of extreme poverty, children are often abandoned to the streets when the family can no longer feed them. The church finds these children and reunites them with their families if possible. If not, they try to find a foster home with the child’s relatives or members of the church. Children who cannot be placed in either of these ways are cared for and sheltered in this Home for Street Children. They receive food, clothing and a bed to sleep in. They also attend school and receive biblical teaching and lots of love from the houseparents. 

Batela MB Church was able to purchase an abandoned two-story building with financial help from a Canadian Mennonite Brethren church. This structure needs major repairs so last summer a group of young people with MBMS International’s TREK program laid tile, painted, cleaned and made significant improvements to the building. As we walked through the home, members of our group who had been there before the improvements continually expressed their pleasure at how much work had been done in some areas. I, on the other hand, was dismayed to see how much more work still needs to be done to make the entire home livable. 

Another impressive church project is Bon Berger (Good Shepherd) Medical Clinic, the major health care provider for the slum. There are no roads to the clinic, so we hiked about two kilometers into the slum, sometimes over garbage dumps. We even skittishly traversed a six-inch plank over an open sewer ditch. Two Congolese doctors, several nurses and technicians faithfully serve the sick and injured every day. This clinic operates on the proverbial “shoestring.” I am amazed at how much they accomplish with so little! 

Several years ago some Canadian doctors visited this clinic that at that time operated out of a few shacks. They went home and raised the money to build a two-story cement block clinic. The new building houses exam rooms, extended-stay patient beds, a rudimentary surgery, a lab and a working toilet. Some lab equipment is in place and the Canadian doctors are working on getting an X-ray machine for the clinic.

I was amazed at the vision, initiative and excitement with which this small body of believers is the light and salt of the earth to these poverty-stricken people. They need our prayers to remain strong and to continue in their work. They also need our financial help—for new sewing machines, more clinic equipment, an X-ray machine and building materials for further renovation of the children’s home—not as a “handout” but as a “hand-up.” Through MBMS International we can partner with this congregation as they strive to be the hands of Jesus to their community.

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