What do a 17th century hymn writer and a Women’s Congolese savings group have in common? Probably not much. But they converged last Saturday morning and the sites and sounds are still on my mind 4 days later.
Most mornings we wake up to the sound of birds. Either it’s the tiny fluffy bird who taps on the bedroom sliding door thinking he is chasing away a rival – at 6:00 a.m. Or it’s the much more welcome song bird who starts a refrain that sounds very much like the opening notes of the hymn “Praise to the Lord the almighty….” It’s amazing how a song can get stuck in your head and change your whole outlook for the day. Especially when you are visiting one of the poorest areas of Kinshasa to see the work of Pastor Sylvain and Madame Celine who have been working with the “Restoration Savings Group” of Makala community.
Aaron and I traveled to our meeting place at the Victoire Round about where we met Pastor Sylvain, a local Mennonite pastor as well as our colleague from ECC, Pastor Jeff and his wife Suzanne. We drove through the backside of Victoire, through several neighborhoods of streets crowded with vendors and shoppers doing their Saturday morning errands and arrived at Makala and a small walled-in yard where the group meets once a week.
The Restoration group began with women but now includes a few men and orphans who all have small businesses in the area. At this meeting, as they do every week, each member stands up and states a principle of the groups organization. Most of these principles reiterate the “rules” of the group regarding confidentiality, respect, faithfulness in repaying any debt to the group, wise use of resources and good leadership.
The overall objective of the program, started by the pastor and Celine, is to alleviate poverty through local resources and processes. Their vision is to be able to be entrepreneurs in their neighborhoods, and allowing others to see how their faithfulness, hard work and good management are improving their lives.
Jeff has been involved with the group since 2012 and has lately begun to encourage them to expand their enterprise to include a group project. While the group has helped over 70 people to expand their businesses and have a savings account, they could benefit greatly by learning to manage a group project that produces income to help pay the interest on savings as well as make higher loan amounts. There were several creative suggestions about how to go about a group project. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
And throughout the meeting and the drive home, that hymn just kept popping into my head. So of course I had to google the lyrics when we got back to the apartment. Here it is and perhaps you will understand why it hovers over me throughout our days in Kinshasa.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.
Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.
Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
Music: Lobe den Herren, Ander Theil des Erneuerten Gesangbuch, second edition (Bremen, Germany: 1665); harmony by William S. Bennett, 1864