Bringing Home the Congo
Earlier this year, Sally Jones of the Clatskanie United Methodist Church looked into the refugee program at the Collister United Methodist Church on behalf of umoi.org. She was amazed at what she learned about the Congolese community that is being supported in Boise, Idaho. Here is her story:
“We are afraid we will break the church!” they said.
“Break it?” I asked.
“Yes, that is why we are here. We need help. We dance and sing and move when we worship and we are afraid we will break the old church! We are growing and the church is very old and too small for us, and we are afraid it is not strong enough. When we sing and dance we are afraid we will break the church!”
Can you hear it? Can you picture it? I immediately wanted to go and experience this joyfully boisterous worship!
I met John S. Kamana and Gaturuturu Shakondo at the 2016 Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference session in Salem, Oregon.
John is the Pastor of the Collister United Methodist Swahili Fellowship in Boise, Idaho. He holds a Bachelor of Divinity from an African based school of Wesley heritage and served a congregation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to being a pastor here, he is a full-time farm worker, picking fruit. In Congo he was an agricultural extension agent.
Gaturuturu lost his young wife and child and suffered a severe leg injury in the 2008 Gatumba Massacre in Congo. In 2012, when Gaturuturu immigrated to the United States, he had a new family. It took him two years to gain approval to bring his new wife to join him; however the approval extended only to his wife and not their 2 year old son. It took six more months to gain approval for his wife to bring their son and come together.
Two women in the fellowship watched their husbands and children being killed during the massacre. One still carries a bullet in her spine, considered too dangerous to remove.
These women, and other members of the fellowship, are survivors of the 2008 Gatumba Massacre and ongoing atrocities occurring in their homeland. Each has experienced and witnessed horrendous violence against their loved ones and themselves.
Now in Collister, they sing and they stomp and dance and praise their Savior with joy and enthusiasm! They work in the fields and go to the library to learn English. They go to choir practice twice each week and prayer meeting Monday nights and worship each Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. They grow food in their big garden next to the church. Some of the women bring their small children to the church to keep them safely beside them as they make jewelry, baskets and pretty handwork to be sold at a market that offers items from the many refugees in Boise.
There are so very many of their loved ones still in Congo. They work with authorities, often for years, to bring family members and friends to join them in their new home.
How did they get to the Collister United Methodist Church? According to Dr. Fred Hoadley, Clinical Supervisor of the Methodist Counseling Center in Boise and former pastor of Collister UMC, the refugee agency in Boise called for help. Members of the Collister congregation personally sponsored refugees so they could qualify for political asylum and emigrate to safety in the US. Collister United Methodist is one of four churches in the Boise area who sponsor refugees from the central Africa region including Congo, Burundi, Kenya and Rwanda.
For the Congolese music is a key way to connect and share. A major ministry of the fellowship is to support three different choirs; a grade school choir, the “All For One” choir which sings in Swahili and English, and a 10 woman choir of survivors of the 2008 massacre called the “Miracle of God Singers.”
As they create new lives in Idaho, these families still deal with many challenges. They need counseling to live with the horrors they have experienced, and support to deal with the bureaucratic tangle of immigration services, finding jobs, and learning to live in a new country.
For Pastor John there are many dreams for his church family. He dreams of becoming a United Methodist congregation and continuing to lead the refugee families. They are grateful for the Conference support of $5,000 a year. Pastor John’s dreams include new worship space, new sources of funding.
For more information go to CollisterUnitedMethodist.org and click on ‘Refugee Ministry’. You can learn more about the political strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo in this New York Times story.