The gift of partnership

NC congregations provide gifts for Congolese church members

Pastor Alexis Mutabazi of His Grace Christian Life Church International helps to unload Christmas gifts given to members of his church by people from USMB Eastern District Conference churches. Photo: Terry Hunt

Christians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), including those with roots in the Congolese Mennonite Brethren church, have been immigrating to the United States for roughly the past 15 years, forming congregations and reaching out to their neighbors and fellow immigrants.

Twenty of these Congolese congregations in 14 states have been exploring the possibility of joining the U.S. Conference of MB Churches (USMB). Last summer the USMB National Strategy Team hosted a summit that introduced Congolese leaders to USMB leaders and ministries. Terry Hunt, Eastern District Conference minister, has connected with one of these congregations and shares his experience in this essay. 

I view this wonderful opportunity of partnering with other churches to be a gift from God to our USMB family of churches when through a divine set-up, God brings people together from different nations to begin ministering in North America.

Pastor Larry Smith (West End Church, Lenoir, North Carolina) and I met Pastor Alexis Mutabazi in Cincinnati, Ohio, in August at the Congolese Leadership Summit. Immediately, Pastor Alexis and I connected as we shared about our families and ministries. At that summit we learned that God was forging a relationship with USMB and our Congolese brothers and sisters that would spark new life into our districts. Everyone that attended the summit sensed that God was up to something big and he was going to allow us to be a part of it. I shared with the leaders the dates of the North Carolina District Conference convention (now Eastern District Conference) and invite all to attend. Pastor Alexis and Pastor Emmanuel from Tennessee accepted our invitation and attended our convention in September.

Pastor Alexis invited my wife, Kathy, and I to come to Nashville to visit with and to speak at His Grace Christian Life Church International. So on Saturday, November 16, at 6:00 p.m., we found ourselves enjoying an amazing evening of praise and worship with this very lively young group of worshippers. We were very humbled at the respect and honor that they besought upon us.  We were asked to sit in two very nice chairs, right front and centered. We were greeted and treated as if we were royalty.

The praise team sing songs in three different languages, which was very impressive. We were given a few minutes to introduce ourselves and then enjoyed a powerful message from Pastor Alexis, with his daughter interpreting.

After the service was over, we wanted to get to know a little more about each person and how they came to America. Their stories were so compelling and filled with a deep desire to serve Christ in a land free of war and sickness. Our hearts broke in hearing these stories and then rejoiced with them in knowing that they are now in America.  As great as it is be here, each of these families still need people who are willing to walk alongside them to help them navigate in this land of opportunities.

Sunday morning was filled with the leading of the Holy Spirit. You knew he was there when you first walked into the room. Everyone in the church, young and old, was celebrating Jesus in an authentic way of thankfulness and gratitude that we as Americans long for at times in our churches. Then I was asked to share a message from God’s Word to encourage and challenge the congregation. Well, I am no Pastor Alexis when it comes to moving around that pulpit. But the Word of God was truly the same to all who heard it in their own language.

As Kathy and I listened to their stories and testimonies, our hearts were moved by the Holy Spirit to show the love of Jesus and seek out ways to bless our brothers and sisters. During the drive home on that Sunday evening, we decided that we would share our experiences with the other churches in the district.

So the EDC took this on as a project and The Life Center Church (TLC) was the collection point. TLC put together two “angel trees,” one for the children and one for the adults for Pastor Alexis’ church. I called His Grace Church to find out the number of children and their names with gender and ages. We did the same with the adults—to make sure that everyone in the church would receive a gift. The names on the trees were all gone in a matter of days and the gift-wrapped presents began to roll in, one by one. Most people purchased more than one gift. Each gift was tagged with the name of the recipient and no one put on who it was from.

On Thursday, December 19, church members gathered at TLC to load the gifts into a trailer and the back of my pick-up truck. It was truly a team effort in loading all these gifts. During the entire loading process I was thinking, “Who is going to help us unload all these gifts?”

The next day around noon, Kathy and I headed out to Nashville, Tenn., about a six-hour drive.  On the way I was still thinking about unloading all these gifts. Once we arrived at the church, there were about 20 or more people to greet us, mostly children. Those precious children met us with stretched-out arms, asking if we needed any help unloading the trailer and truck.

Let me tell you, those children worked this old man to the point where I had to ask for a break. They would carry the presents in and run back to the trailer with arms stretched out saying, “me, me, me.” Some four- and five-year-old children wanted to carry two or more gifts. We unloaded the truck and trailer in less than 10 minutes, including the break.

Once all the gifts were inside the church, we shared with the church the joy of Jesus and his love for them. After a time of serving the families with cookies and punch, it was time to hand out and open the gifts. Everyone was very thankful and expressed their gratitude to the churches who participated, giving these gifts. Kathy and I were filled with joy to see the expressions on each face. The children kept on hugging us and tell us how thankful they were.

Someone noticed that there were no names on the gifts saying who they were from. When they asked, we told them that they were from Jesus with love. Kathy had filled large bags with household items for each family. Food Lion had donated large boxes of non-perishable foods that each family received as well. This was an amazing opportunity to show God’s love and to help a sister church.

We ended the evening with a short trip to Pastor Alexis house to visit and pray with his father (Phillip) who had terminal cancer. On Christmas morning, Phillip went home to be with the Lord. When TLC heard about Pastor Alexis father’s passing, they wanted to help with the cost of the funeral.  A love offering was lifted, and a check was sent to Pastor Alexis.

Someone once said, “When I open my hands to give, I am discovering that I am also receiving.   If I close my hands to possess, I realize that I have nothing.  When I am following Jesus, I experience the abundant life. It is not exactly clear if I am the giver or the recipient, and it doesn’t really matter.  Life is an ever-flowing stream, giving becomes receiving, grace calls forth gratitude.”

John Wesley said, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”

To see the outpouring of love from one church family to another, reminds me of the early believers in the book of Acts 4:32: “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul;  neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (NKJV).

To God be the glory for the things he has done!


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