A rock in a weary land
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by Jan Kaiser, Mission Volunteer
There is a popular African American spiritual with the refrain, "Jesus is a rock in a weary land; he's a shelter in the time of storm . . . ." It was thus quite fitting that the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference used a rock in the send-off ceremony of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team departing for the Congo.
Mission work in the Congo, a country in the midst of political and economic struggle, continues to be a major priority of the General Board of Global Ministries and the constituency of the United Methodist Church through prayer, funding, and missionary and volunteer support.
At the dedication of the VIM team, the Rev. Tori Hicks of Sandpoint (Idaho) United Methodist Church passed around a "prayer rock" among those in attendance. Each person holding the rock said a silent prayer for the Congolese people the group would be working alongside as volunteers. People spoke of the tremendous warmth they felt as they prayed.
The Rev. Doug Huston, one of the volunteers dedicated, took the rock back to his church. At West Highlands United Methodist in Kennwick, the ceremony was repeated on the Sunday prior to the team's departure. The congregation prayed for the people of Africa and the volunteers.
As the team departed, members discussed who should receive the special rock once they arrived in Lubumbashi. Should it be the Bishop, they wondered. The director of Jamaa Letu Orphanage? Or maybe the General Board of Global Ministries missionaries who had helped prepare for the team's arrival? In the end the volunteers agreed to simply wait and see.
During the first week the volunteers attended a lively Swahili worship service at the largest church in the conference. An estimated 1000 people were in attendance. Would the rock find its home here? But "the timing didn't feel just right," according to the team. They decided to hold on to the rock.
The volunteers worked alongside wonderful people all week and were kept so busy that they only occasionally thought about their special rock. The following Sunday they experienced a completely different worship service in a small village. There, all the homes and the tiny Untied Methodist Church were made from mud bricks and thatch roofing. The volunteers reported:
"As the church packed in over 100 people, all sitting on mud block pews, we felt the presence of the spirit as never before. Faces beamed in that church lit only by the sunshine streaming through the open door and a few holes in the wall. The youth choir sang and danced, moving in ways we never knew bodies could move! We looked out at the people who had come to praise the Lord and says thanks for all the blessings in their lives: fresh thatch on their roofs before the rainy season; their children fed that morning once again; malnutrition, dysentery, malaria staved off for one more day."
These people are the true salt of the earth, the team members realized, people living from day to day and praising God for it. And with this realization, it dawned on the volunteers that it was with these struggling, worshiping, rejoicing people that the rock should come to rest.
From the August 2001 issue of Channels, the monthly publication of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.
General Board of Global Ministries
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