An estimated 18 million rural tribesman live along the 14 000 km of the Congo River and its tributaries. Johan is a Frontline missionary with a naval background. For over 3 years he has been preparing to launch a mission to the Congo River Basin, ministering to the isolated villages and homesteads along the Congo River and it’s tributaries.
Early in May, Johan headed out for three and a half months investigative outreach to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. So much had happened since he first presented his Congo River mission vision when he was taking part in our Great Commission Course last year.
His report back was what you would expect from a dedicated Christian missionary who had previously been a career officer in the navy. He came with maps and charts, photo albums, well organised flip-files of reports, and a well-illustrated PowerPoint slide presentation on the objectives, findings, prayer points and strategy for the future.
INTO THE HEART of DARKNESS
The Congo must be one of the most difficult mission fields in Africa. The logistical complications, vast distances, endemic lawlessness and corruption, frustrate any travelers. When the great explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, travelled down the Congo River in the 19 th century, he encountered aggressive tribesmen and violent cannibals, and had over 60 battles – fire fights – to fight off attackers. The Congo River inspired the original Heart of Darkness novel.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, covers a vast area (2,344,858 square kilometers) including most of the Congo River system and much of the vast Central African rainforest. Approximately 55 million people, in an estimated 450 ethno-linguistic groups, live in the Congo. It’s vast mineral resources and agricultural potential was squandered by post-independence chaos, widespread corruption and mismanagement - which enriched the political elite but which impoverished the nation. Most of the road system is impassible, little of the previously efficient railway functions, a succession of dictators have plundered the nation’s resources and virtually destroyed the formal economy and most of the functions of state. Civil wars, assassinations and incredible brutality and cruelty have devastated this long suffering nation. Literally millions were slaughtered in the violence.
Not only did Johan have to face many discouragements from Christians and fellow missionaries in South Africa warning him about the dangers, difficulties and "impossibilities" of ministry in the Congo, but once he arrived in the Congo he was assailed by a barrage of attempts to distract, delay, and deviate him.
“Why worry about the rural tribesmen by the river, they’re not going anywhere. We need your help in the city. Can you help me with our church-building project?” Johan was aghast at the prevalent greed, selfishness and short-sightedness.“What’s in it for me?” was the common response, even from people who were meant to be pastors. “What can you do for me?”
Days in the capital city, Kinshasa, turned into weeks as one official after the other expected bribes, and frustrated his plans when he refused to pay any bribes. Quite aside from the jungle of bureaucracy and endemic culture of corruption which seeks to paralyze all legitimate commerce and ministry, the Congo is paralysed with corruption. The whole country is obsessed with material things, money, greed and self-centeredness.
It appeared that the vast harvest field of isolated villages needing the Gospel of Redemption were not of any concern in most of the churches in Kinshasa. Johan noted very little discernment in the churches which in many cases evidenced Animistic syncretism and disco type drums and dancing. Rhythms dominated for hours of swaying and dancing to the drums. Worldly music seemed to subvert the church’s mission. An unhealthy focus on money, an obsession with envy and covetousness, general lack of integrity and superficial church relations, are all being used by the devil to distract, divert and defeat the church in the cities.
Some times Johan felt like Jeremiah pleading with the Lord; “Why do you send me to these people. They don’t want to listen.” He said that sometimes he could understand why Jonah wanted to flee in the opposite direction to where the Lord was sending him.
The worldly and wicked environment in the city was oppressive. He was also disturbed by the horrific and widespread cruelty to animals and destruction of the environment. The cities were also far more unhygienic than the rural villages.
“Everyone seemed to be in survival mode. It was disappointing to see how dishonest and selfish most of the people were. My expedition to the Antarctic was easy compared to the Congo. In the Antarctic you only had to deal with the harsh environment, here in the Congo we had not only the oppressive heat, insects, mosquitoes, rats, but the stifling bureaucracy and discouraging ever-present corruption. It was also astounding how many attempted to side-track me from the river ministry to helping build their projects in the city!”
“There was so much emotional blackmail, guilt manipulation, scheming, designed to exploit gullible, naïve white foreigners.”Johan spoke of the dangers from false brethren, those who pretended to be pastors, the freeloaders and con artists.
However, Johan praised God for how the Lord protected his health, protected his property, guided him as to who to trust and where to go, and mightily blessed his research, outreach and preparatory work to establishing a Bible depot/mission station/coordinating office in Kisangani, and to buy, or build, a 300 ton payload, dedicated mission riverboat (the MV Good News Trader) to minister to the isolated and remote villages and homesteads along the banks of the Congo and its tributaries - the Tshope, Lomami, Aruwhimi, Itimbiri, Mongala, Lulomga, Ruki, Ubangi and Kasai Rivers.
Please pray for wisdom, insight, integrity and righteousness, for the spiritual and physical needs of the very severely neglected and deteriorated isolated villages along the Congo River and its tributaries. Pray for wisdom and insight for the ship design and conversion and building procedure and process, and for the ability to overcome the wide variety of onslaughts and obstacles in the Congo.
"Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Deeclare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is also to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the people are idols, but the Lord made the heavens." 1 Chronicles 16:23-26