How the belief in change for one man has extending to his entire town and beyond into neighboring villages.
Driving at breakneck speeds down dusty, unpaved roads, we approach a military checkpoint. Our regional coordinator sits in the back of the aging Land Cruiser, his head thumping the roof every time we hit a pothole.
We’re all covered in the fine, red dust ubiquitous in East Africa, but the alternative is closing the A/C-less car’s windows and succumbing to the stifling heat.
Cantina is ahead, a town at the heart of a vast Congolese wilderness teeming with militant groups. Some are former perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide; others are Islamic radicals that fled Uganda.
The Mai Mai—translated “water, water”—are perhaps the most feared group. They are Congolese nationalists trying to kill off all foreign fighters in the area. Believing they possess magic powers and that bullets will pass straight through them if they are wet, they always emerge from the jungle fearless and soaked in water.
This region is home to one of the largest and most expensive UN peacekeeping missions on the planet.
Blessing a New Church
Three years ago, Pastor Kilima took part in a World Challenge training, and God transformed his view of what his church could do for Cantina. When we arrive, he and his team are consecrating their 9th new church plant.
I’m invited to preach at the dedication. Over 250 people show up for what turns into a 6-hour long service. The building only fits 150, so a lot of people end up standing outside, peeking in over the pony walls. Half-way through communion, they run out of cups and are forced to wash and refill all of them.
That’s a good problem for any church to have, especially a new one.
After the dedication and service, Pastor Kilima takes us down the dusty road to the village of Central Pendekali. There’s someone there he wants us to meet.
Pastor Kambale and his wife, Kyaviro, were discipled by Kilima then commissioned as evangelist church planters a year ago. With gritty determination, they set about building a church and looking to bless their community just like they had seen the Cantina church do.
A Development Surprise
Kyaviro, who is a powerhouse of energy, wants to show me and my coordinator the latest community project she’s spearheading.
“It’s just over the hill,” she says.
We naively follow her. Jungle “trails” are nothing like the pristine walking paths I’m accustomed to in my hometown of Colorado Springs. Our feet slither through mud and leaf-mulch as we plow through clouds of insects. Half climbing, half crawling at times, we finally arrive in a clearing, dripping sweat.
In the gorge below us, a handful of men are building a dam. Two have shovels, and the rest are using sticks and their bare hands.
“It’s a fish farm,” they inform us nonchalantly.
I can’t believe my eyes. Two months ago, I passed along some leaflets on how to build and operate fish farms, and here they are putting the finishing touches on one.
Kyaviro has rallied their adopted community around this cause and has miraculously raised enough money to purchase 1,500 tilapia fingerlings and build 2 ponds. Many of their neighbors have pitched in and will share in the takings. That’s a fantastic improvement for this impoverished community where food is scarce and some children suffer from malnourishment.
The Greater Impact
An elderly widow in one of the villages we visited told me about the community project she benefitted from, concluding, “If Jesus cares this much about me, then I will follow Him.”
Throughout the Bible we see Jesus touching people at their point of need, and in return many responded to this evidence of His love.
He’s still reaching people today, usually through the local church; and sometimes that outstretched hand looks like a fish pond that will give children the protein they need to grow healthy.
Since planting their church a year before our visit, Pastor Kambale and Kyaviro’s congregation has grown to 38 members. Even the local village chief has surrendered his life to Christ and was recently baptized.
It’s a great encouragement to see how God is using these simple resources we’re able to provide pastors and transforming communities. We may have been that spark of hope for Pastor Kilima and a few others, but the Holy Spirit has moved through them to address major issues for their neighborhoods in deeply personal and sustainable ways.