Before I answer today's question, let me just say this:
These are some fascinating questions that you have asked, and I am finding it both challenging and thought-provoking to try to answer them. But I am by no means an expert and my ramblings do not deserve to be the final word on anything. Please continue to leave comments with your own thoughts, opinion, and, yes, even more questions!
Nothing warms a blogger's heart like comments along the way.
Today's question from Sarah...
Hello! My question(s) is about religious life in Goma. What is religious life like? What other religions, other than Christianity, can be found in Congo? With violence and poverty all around, how do people respond to religion in general? What is the status of the Christian Church in Goma and how are church leaders dealing with challenges facing the Church? One last question… What is your favorite thing about Congo?
1. The majority of people here in Goma are Christian. There are also a fair amount of people of the Muslim faith ( I would guess between 10-20 %). I find it interesting that a common question in Goma is not "Do you go to church?" but rather "where do you pray", as though it is assumed that everyone prays somewhere. Perhaps this is true on a deeper level.
I have always been struck by the fact that religious faith often seems stronger in areas of the world that suffer the most. Certainly I think in the midst of violence and poverty, the people of Goma often turn to God for hope.
Churches here are very active in terms of preaching, praying, and singing. All night prayer events seem to be common, preachers seem to be plentiful,and every church seems to have at least 5 or 6 choirs, all of which sing each Sunday. People seem to enjoy going to church and it is certainly a community event.
There are some examples of churches actively responding to the challenges facing the region. Perhaps their greatest strength is the way they create community. Most churches have many active groups that a person can be a member of. If a member of one of those groups becomes ill, or faces a death in the family, the other members of the group are often very quick to visit and pray. In a region such as this it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of sickness, death and hardship, and church groups, for those who are active members, often provide a way to ensure that a person does not feel forgotten in their suffering.
In terms of church-wide programs, there are also some examples of efforts to address some of the issues facing Goma. There is a fairly large number of churches that go to the prison once a week to feed the prisoners. The Catholic church also tends to be active in helping those who are suffering. For example the handicapped center that treated and trained the SHONA craftspeople is affiliated with the Catholic Church.
As I mentioned in my last post, I believe in community organized and funded groups. Certainly churches can be a powerful example of this. But I think that churches here sometimes tend to stay out of anything that could be political, and leave development projects for NGOs.
I also have to tell you that I asked the SHONA craftspeople this question, all of whom are very active in churches. They were pretty quick to say that the majority of churches here do not do nearly enough to address the challenges facing Congo, or to remember those who are suffering. They also said that unfortunately some churches seem to be started largely to benefit the pastors and the leadership, and that religion can sometimes become just another form of business.
2. My favorite thing about Goma? The people. On any given day, I walk out the door of my apartment and pass by my neighbors. They are almost invariably sitting outside (peeling potatoes, cooking food, washing clothes). They always greet me enthusiastically and all the small children put out their hands for me to shake. (this happens roughly five times a day) I come out on the street and the old Muslim women who sells sodas waves and greets me. Then I pass by the women selling peanuts who also greet me. Then I pass by the photocopy guys, who line the side of the road. And they all know my name and greet me. ... And after all of this I have walked perhaps a block. All of this happens not because I am a foreigner, but simply because this is life here. Goma is a large city, but still you see everyone in the streets, and you greet them. This is something that we often lose in America with our super-highways and air conditioned cars and high-rise office buildings. I love Congo for the way it puts people in my path, and reminds me to stop and talk to them.