Drawing from his travels to visit MB churches around the world, ICOMB executive director David Wiebe offers insights on faith.
I was quite amused, sitting there in church. It was the end of May, a sunny 30 degrees in upcountry Angola.
The church members had met us five ICOMB visitors as we approached the edge of the town of Cafunfo, 90 km from the Congo border. There were maybe 100 of them, standing in the sun for who knows how long. They broke into song, jubilantly walking all around us as we slowly drove to the church.
They sang a song about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The only thing they didn’t do was spread coats, blankets and palm leaves in our path!
A whole bunch climbed into the box of our half-ton, until someone noticed the tires were almost completely flat. Our driver Jean Claude told the crowd to walk, but we complied with their insistence that we march with them the rest of the way to the church. “It will be a witness to the community!” “People will notice us and know about our church!”
Of course. Three mundeles (“white men” in Lingala) surrounded by a congregation of singing, dancing local Christians did indeed attract a lot of attention.
Even the people working the innumerable diamond exchange stores – evident by diamond shaped mirrors on their storefronts – came out to see what was happening.
Pastor Nehemiah hooked my arm as we walked. He finally led us into the church building, a large structure with a jury-rigged roof of corrugated metal.
Some 1,000 members attend Cafunfo Mennonite Brethren Church. A men’s choir in brilliant blue robes dominated the front seats. The worship band had their amps set to “11” (out of 10) and sang original music. A young girl gave me a gift of a live guinea pig. Women came forward to dust off our shoes and spray perfume into the air around us.
We sat down on the platform for a fraternal service. The church members had already welcomed us during the hour-long walk and gift-giving ceremony. Now, formal salutations were extended by Valdas from Lithuania and José from Portugal. I greeted everyone on behalf of ICOMB – the international family of Mennonite Brethren. I named each continent and everyone cheered for each one. And I shared how God makes us one body, and how everyone of us has a gift within the body to help it function well (1 Corinthians 12).
Certainly, besides the guinea pig, gifts were present. Gifts of music and harmony, passionate spirituality, prayer, and joy in worship as an island in the midst of the stress and struggles related to poverty.
It was wonderful to get caught up and appreciate the character of the church as it lives out its faith in another part of the world.
The whole event inspired my own faith and admiration of God’s handiwork called “the body of Christ.” This is my denominational family!
It made me appreciate my own church more, as we strive toward faithful living in my suburban Winnipeg community of Westwood.
And then – the bonus. I suddenly realized, to my amusement, that the chief decoration on the Cafunfo church stage was a fully decked out Christmas tree! It stood between the two pulpits. My European brothers chuckled with me as I pointed it out. It’s Christmas year-round in Cafunfo.
Isn’t that the way of the kingdom? God’s gift giving never ceases: his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22–23).
—David Wiebe has been a member of a Christian rock band, a pastor, and an MB conference executive. Since 2011, he has served the International Community of Mennonite Brethren as executive director.
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