Bomen Women & The Fellowship of the Cloth

Bomen Women & The Fellowship of the Cloth
Cloth connections open face to face fellowship at Bondeko Mennonite Church in Kinshasa (May 2012) -- photo by Nancy Myers

Thursday, August 15, 2013

from the FLORENCE CHURCH BLOG: SOUL TIED TO CONGO



Nina Lanctot and Deborah Kankolongo quilting on the 2013 CCC Auction quilt, Silverwood Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN
  
When I remember a rich summer, what stands out most are SOUL TIES.  I love those moments of sinking into the present, listening deeply, and engaging in heartfelt conversation.  Sometimes there are words.  Often.  But there are also the times when an email, a photograph, or side by side working together also take on that quality of presence that makes me feel part of a huge, multivalent and fully alive world.

While pastoral conversations and spiritual direction and wise meditations in worship might be expected to elicit such soul ties, who knew how many would arise at Camp Friedenswald during family camp?  Or during the July Sunday hymn sing?  Or as I lay in my hammock in the early morning and heard the serenade of the birds?

But maybe most improbably, who would think that in one week wave after wave of soul ties with Congolese brothers, sisters, daughters and friends would flood my soul?  Such was last week.


Rev. Damien Pelende, former leader of the Mennonite Brethren Church in DR Congo (membership about 100,000) brought words of grace and affirmation as he greeted Florence Church on Sunday 4 August.  While we had met at the first Congo Cloth Connection Market in Pittsburgh (2009), a fresh wave of connection now was possible.  When he shared that he finished his term of leadership “leaving the church in peace,” and he affirmed Florence for calling a woman pastor, I could hear layers I never would have known when we dreamed of Congo Cloth Connections (CCC).  Tim Lind, his host, added that the MB Church in Congo led the conservative MB denomination in the US and Canada toward ordaining women by forging that significant road of ministry first.

Mama Felly, Papa Francois, Deborah, Nelson and guest in Kinshasa.
The next day was my reunion with my “Congolese daughter,” Deborah Kankolongo.  Nancy Myers and I quickly had adopted the charming Debo when a guest of her parents, Pastor Francois Tshidimu and his wife, Felly.  In our May 2012 trip to Kinshasa their open armed hosting of our threesome cloth delegation created the soul ties we normally feel with family.  It was easy to be drawn into to Debo’s dreams of education in the US and to practice English with her back then.  Now we had the privilege of hosting her in her first week in the US and en route to study at Hesston College, KS.


This week we met, of all places, in the Kitchen Cupboard Restaurant in downtown Shipshewana.  And at the table, the Fellowship of the Cloth once more convened, with Nancy and Vic Myers bringing Debo from their home as well as Rev. Biracara, vice president of one of the other major Mennonite groups in Congo.  Jeanne Heyerling, one of our “quilt queens” treated us to lunch as the conversation moved back and forth between Congo and the US.  Sure enough, Rev. Biracara had met Nancy and me during our 2012 stay in Kinshasa, even present when I preached and the Ngaba congregation.  Small, small world.  

Rev. Komuesa (president CemCo), Rev, Biracara (vice president), Nancy Myers, June Mears Driedger, Pastor Francois Tshidimu (our host), Pastor Azir (our translator).
The Myers’ next stop with our guests was Menno-Hof, and the BIG PICTURE Anabaptist story – from our perspective in the US.  I remember the same tour with our first CCC guests in the US, MarieJeanne Mujinga and Gaston Nkole.

Gaston Nkole and MarieJeanne Mujingo at Menno Hof (2009)
For DR Congo, attending the Congolese MennoniteCemCo Centenniel, as Nancy did last summer, would be the only comparable way to tell their story.

Congolese Mennonite Centennial (2012)


Wednesday through Sunday the 18th, Deborah was our Congolese daughter in our home, along with newly home, Rachel! Soul ties twined when Debo ate a “cookout” with CCC friends, or lunch with Rachel and the GC grounds crew, visited Calendar Garden with the grands, helped Donald with boat trailer repair, or played “Bop It” with Rachel and me.  






All week Deborah anticipated seeing her brother, Arsene, who came to the US to study in 1998.  She had not seen him since.  Saturday we cleaned and cooked and set the table for his noon arrival, and waited.  An ache can also be a soul tie.  I ached for her in the unknown of waiting and admired her for her confidence that he would arrive.  


Yes!  At 7 pm Arsene, now another new son the same age as my second, came beaming into the front door.  Debo, unsure of just what to do, finally flung herself into his arms!  And oh, my, the chatter we heard as they ate dinner in the next room was worth every second of waiting!  French, Lingala, Tchiluba, laughter, and deep groans of satisfaction danced through the air.  After dinner, Arsene proved to be his father’s son with hours of great theological reflection about church in Congo, Toronto and the US.  We wore Debo out.

Henry and Sara Braun, Deborah Kankolongo, Rachel Lanctot, Vic Myers, Arsene Tshidimu
You would think there could be no better culmination than having my Congolese daughter sing “You are my very breath” in worship on Sunday morning.  Her heart had now caught up with her body and her brother and us, all in one place, made soul ripples that could be caught by Mama Nancy on iPad.  In a final circle of blessing, we could send our own Naomi and Ruth on their pilgrimages, US to Congo and back again.

But there is more!  News came in the midst of all this hosting, giving and receiving, of a precious birth.  Leya and George were given the gift of a precious baby girl.  Suzanne wrote:




Our MCC Baby has arrived, and she is beautiful.  She was born yesterday
morning by c-section and weighs 3.5 kg, about 7 pounds.  Her little face is
that perfect mix of pink and brown.  She has lots of soft, dark hair.

I think her name is going to be Jenova (pronounced with a soft J and equal
emphasis on each syllable), which is a shortened form of "J├ęsus notre
faveur" = Jesus our favor.  Her "little" name will be Favi ("faveur de Dieu"
--  I don't know if we would say "God's favor" or "favored by God." But in
any case they feel strongly that God has given them a great favor and/or has
favored them with this child.
 



Leya, "Favi," George (Kinshasa, August , 2013)

I remembered clearly when Leya and George lost their second baby at childbirth.  When we heard the news, it seemed something must be done.  So Christine Nofsiger, Mama CCC, pieced together a comforter for Leya.  We knotted it in church two days later, and sent it in Dr. John Marten’s suitcase on Monday to Kinshasa.  Yes, surely this is a soul tie.  

"Leya's Comfoter," designed by Christine Nofsinger, pictured here with David Wenger.
“Every stitch a prayer” has been our Congo Cloth Connection motto.  I would say, every visit, a quilt!  Every baby, a comforter!  Every conversation, a wondrous weaving of soul ties.  God indeed can accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine.  (Ephesians 3:20)

“…infiniment plus que tout ce que nous demandons ou pensons…”

“Faveur de Dieu” indeed!

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