Better Together provides a space to share experiences with – and strategies for engaging – three critical global issues that PC(USA) global partners are challenging us to address together as the body of Christ. These three issues are 1) addressing root causes of poverty, especially as it impacts women and children; 2) sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ; and 3) working for reconciliation in cultures of violence, including our own. The purpose of Better Together is to feed a conversation to shape concrete action strategies at the October 2012 “Dallas II: Better Together” consultation and beyond.
Kristi Rice exhorts us to think about how we can support the training of pastoral ministers worldwide.
Theo senses a call into pastoral ministry after experiencing a dramatic healing along with love from Christians during a severe illness. He lives in a rural community and his family is poor, but mentors encourage him to go to the pastoral institute in Muena Ditu, about 100km away. Since it is a 3-year program, he and his wife move together with their two young children.
Theo is one of 15 students at the Pastoral Institute in Muena Ditu of the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC). He struggles along with the rest of the students to feed and support his family in the big city, so far from their fields in the village. There are no books to study from and no library – only notes copied from the professors’ lectures and the few books that professors are able to lend.
The Institute fees are only about $5 per month, but Theo’s home presbytery is poor and not able to send support. He struggles with discouragement when one of his children gets sick and he is not able to get medicine. He wonders how he will send his children to school. He sees other rural pastors who have to take second or third jobs to support their families on the meager salary that the church is able to provide. Is this really God’s call on his life?
As the number of missionaries in Congo has decreased, the Congolese Presbyterian Church (CPC) has taken on the responsibility of providing professors, oversight, and material support for these rural pastoral institutes. However, the environment of severe poverty and frequent insecurity means that buildings are not maintained, new books are not acquired, and often professors are not paid. We celebrate the perseverance and vision of our Congolese colleagues who have kept these schools running through periods of war and very meager support.
Congo is an environment where people are hungry for the truth of God and long to see God at work in their lives. One of the primary challenges for the church is the proliferation of sects with a ‘deified’ prophet figure that rivals Christ as savior (e.g. Kimbanguists, Brahnam, church of the Sacrificateur). Very few people have their own Bible, so it is hard for them to discern whether a church’s teachings differ from the Bible. In rural areas, especially, many Presbyterian churches do not have a pastor (both in the US and in Congo!) because that call requires significant personal sacrifice for the pastor’s entire family. Yet, a pastor, someone who has been trained in theology and the scriptures, can significantly help people to discern God’s truth and live out their faith.
There is great potential for growth in the church in Congo. Training and empowering pastors to minister well to their people in this environment of significant material poverty is a challenge. How can we continue to encourage local support that will make these rural Pastoral Institutes sustainable and accessible, while also providing additional resources to ensure adequate education of these future pastors?