We arrived in Kinshasa Oct. 17, where there was a decided change in temperature and humidity from Johannesburg. One really begins to understand how big this continent is when you fly it. In the amount of time it takes to fly coast to coast in the U.S., you have traveled less than half the distance across Africa, north to south.
I remembered how shocked I was several years ago when I viewed a flat map of the earth that was drawn in true proportion to size and saw just how large Africa was shown to be. It dwarfed North America.
Not only is this continent large, it is also home to an overwhelming diversity of cultures, tribes, religions and languages. Adding to the complexity is the history of colonization which reshaped the political and social contours of the continent.
The Congo experienced a particularly ruthless and rapacious colonization under King Leopold of Belgium. The Congo was his private domain, and he extracted great personal wealth from the Congo through her rich resources.
The whole native population were basically his slaves. Therefore, he built no infrastructure such as hospitals or schools to serve the people. When the Congo declared independence in 1960, only a handful of nationals had any higher education.
European exploitation was then succeeded by exploitation by one of their own, President-for-Life Mobutu. Only in the past year have the people experienced a free and democratic election. Yet, even that is threatened by the militias and private armies in eastern Congo. War has devastated the lives and economy of the Congo.
In the midst of this, the gospel beckons to “all who labor and are heavy laden” to find rest and security in Christ, and the church is growing here as in all of Africa. It is growing so fast that many churches are without Bibles and pastors, and the new, remote ones struggle to be authentic Christian communities as they resist syncretistic forces. Interestingly, the fastest growing churches here are those which embrace a whole gospel and minister to both the spiritual and social needs of the people.
The gospel also speaks to me as I am here. It reminds me that God loves the Congo and desires her salvation and shalom as much as God desires the same for America.
God also desires justice for the Congo. It was the early missionaries who exposed to the world the brutality of Leopold’s regime of terror and began to force changes.
It is important that as we work for the evangelization of the Congo that we also speak to the world about her burden of poverty and war, of her struggle for democracy and peace. When we turn a blind eye to her in the West we abandon cherished brothers and sisters, we turn our backs on family. We, too, need to practice the whole gospel.
Roy Medley is general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. This column appeared Friday in a new blog unveiled last week following a two week visit to Africa by a group of ABC/USA leaders.