As I look over the map of DR Congo hanging on the wall just next to my desk, I realize that I don’t know how to fully express my recent trip to Pweto. My map shows all cities in Congo with more than 50,000 inhabitants and so Pweto doesn’t even merit a little dot to represent the time that we spent there. I suppose that it’s not quite fair, there has been no censes in this country for more than 50 years and I suspect that Pweto has far surpassed the 50,000 inhabitant mark. It makes no difference all the same; you can easily locate this town on the map as it is just at the start of the Luvua River feeding in from Lake Mwero. In any case, I’m left with the same problem. How do I express all of the amazing things that we encountered after just four short days in this place? The summary is that God is at work and changing hearts and lives in the DRC.
From our home in Lubumbashi, Pweto lies 480 km (298 miles) to the northeast. Only one fifth of the journey is paved. The other four fifths lead you through hundreds of small thatch-roof-hut villages, beside the beautiful Kundelungu Plateau National Park, alongside the swamps where local rice is grown, over steep hills, above and into countless rivers, and finally skirting the length of Lake Mwero. We made this 10-hour journey with only one 30 minute stop along the way to visit and encourage another new church in a small village. We arrived at the Luvua River at 6:02pm and to our surprise found that, for perhaps the first time in the history of the DR Congo, the time was strictly followed. This meant that we had to leave our vehicle at the side of the river and cross by canoe. Two men paddled, while another continuously scooped out the water we were taking on over the side of the miniature vessel. From there, a 10-minute motorcycle ride brought us to the pastor’s house where around 40 church members were waiting to welcome us. They were so happy to receive visitors from far away. After a few hours of fellowship, we ended the long day to rest and prepare for the days ahead.
|Pweto's City Center|
Amongst those of us who made the trip, perhaps the person of honor should have been Méchak (who is named for one of the three brothers thrown into the furnace as recorded in the book of Daniel). Méchak is a young man with a good job working for a company that sells and maintains large vehicle and equipment for construction. For this reason, he travels around to different areas for several weeks or even a month at a time. In January, his work sent him to Pweto. Méchak met another man who worked for a nearby non-profit organization and began to speak to him about Christ. Before his month was up in Pweto, Méchak had led his new friend to faith in Jesus Christ. During the two months that followed, this new convert had continued to also share the good news and bring people together for prayer and bible study. Before long, one of them was identified as the pastor and they began calling Méchak to come back and bring others to see them. This is where we came in; the District Superintendent, Méchak, two other pastors, and myself were led to come and continue the work that the Lord had already started.
|Candidates for baptism confess their faith in Jesus Christ.|
After a day and a half of teaching, 21 people gave their lives to Christ for the first time. We went immediately to the lake that afternoon where 28 men, women, and children were baptized. That evening, we showed the Jesus Film in a near by soccer field and still others gave their lives to Christ and were put into contact with the new church. As we prepared to leave the next morning, it was evident that we were not responsible for the hearts and lives being changed in Pweto. Rather, the Holy Spirit would wait no longer to reach those who the Lord was calling back to Himself. The Catholic Church does exist there, as well as a handful of other small churches, but the people of Pweto are still today largely unreached with the Gospel and its message of holiness.
|Mwero Lake from the beach in Pweto|
The way back allowed us to see what the failing light and anticipation of the trip had caused us to miss on the way there. I am convinced that the Congo is amongst the most beautiful countries in the world, seen through both its amazing scenery and the warmth and hospitality of its people. One time on the return trip, the rain sent us sliding down the mud hill with no way to stop. Luckily, our slide came to an end only a mere 10 feet before hitting a rare passing vehicle, which had stopped to wait out our uncontrolled descent. While still four hours out from Lubumbashi, the truck’s forward differential was damaged sending out loud metal grinding and banging sounds throughout the vastness of nature around us; scaring us to death along with the entirety of the village we were passing through. A quick modification to bypass the four wheel drive and we were off again with limited noise. We stopped in another town, Kilwa, where one of the pastor’s nieces lives. The family received us well and fed us as we talked to them about the Church and starting the work in that place. All of these things turned our 10-hour trip into 14 hours, but not a person complained. I confessed to the DS as I pulled up to his house that I nearly canceled the trip because I was extremely sick the day before. He then confessed that he nearly did the same thing and we both remarked that we would have never known that the other was ill the entire time. This fact, together with the hassle we received from the police, which caused us to turn back on our first attempt to visit Pweto, confirmed in us that God wants to do amazing things throughout the region. We thanked God for his grace and prayed for continued strength so that we may go if he sends us; respond if he calls us, no matter the difficulty that we may encounter along the way.We are excited to see what’s next on this journey and how God will continue to change hearts and minds while calling people back to Himself. For now, we are reminded of this verse: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
|A local school made of mud bricks and a grass roof.|