BOKONZO, CONGO (October 8, 2010) –The presence of Evangelical Covenant Church leaders declared love more powerfully than words when the team worshiped with members of the Covenant Church of Congo (CEUM) Thursday.
President Gary Walter almost cancelled his first-ever trip to Congo because his mother is gravelly ill. The crowd grew silent when they heard that Walter’s mother had encouraged him to continue with his plans.
“My heart will be happy if you go,” she told him.
“To have Gary come now speaks deeply of his mother’s love for Congo and of Gary’s commitment to the CEUM,” said Pete Ekstrand, a longtime missionary to Congo.
The gathering also extended a special welcome to Martie Peterson, who accompanied her husband, Curt, executive minister of the Department of World Mission. “It means a lot for Martie to be here because this was the place where he (Curt) nearly lost his life three years ago,” Ekstrand explained.
That year, Curt and medical missionary Dr. Roger Thorpe were in the capital city of Kinshasa preparing to return to the United States. On the way to the airport, they were caught in the middle of fighting that erupted between police officers and armed militia. The pair were robbed, shot at, and taken captive before escaping.
Four thousand jubilant Congolese lined a road leading to a Bokonzo church in order to greet the visitors. The team got out of their vehicles and walked, shaking hands and waving to the crowds of people who were singing and waving flowers.
The reception was as inspiring to the guests.
“I feel like I have come home,” Harold Spooner, executive vice president of outreach ministries, told the crowd. “I am missing my high school class homecoming this weekend, but really, I’ve come to a better homecoming. Thank you for making this the greatest homecoming for me.”
Spooner noted that this was his first visit to Africa. “Already, in one day, it is a powerful experience for me.”
Walter preached during a worship service. Speaking from the Gospel of Matthew, he noted that Jesus used the word “great” three times.
“The first time he uses it is in reference to obedience, the second time to a humble spirit, and the third time to a servant heart,” Walter said. “We could say then that to be great is to be a person who is an obedient, humble servant. We see these qualities in you. Anyone – anyone in the CEUM – can be great according to Jesus’ definition.”
Earlier in the day, the team worshiped with a three-year-old congregation in Mbandaka. The pastor, Dr. Bruno Bindamba, leads Congo’s Ministry of Environment and is serving as the region’s interim governor.
Editor’s note: the top photo shows President Walter (center) being welcomed by CEUM President Mossai Sanguma. At left is missionary Keith Gustafson. The lower photo shows Martie Peterson being introduced.