Unification Sermons and Talks
by Reverend Joy Pople
Resurrection in Central Africa
by Joy Pople
I went to the Republic of Central Africa in August 1991 as part of an international exchange program proposed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. I found the movement there in a time of transition, preparing to move from a village to a more centrally-located place in the capital, Bangui. A few young, single members live communally, while the great majority of members are families who gather regularly for worship and study in their homes.
Lenga had come from his native Zaire about a year earlier, and is giving spiritual and practical guidance to the Unification Church members. Lenga speaks about his hopes that the move will signal a new beginning. He plans a seven-day workshop to present the highlights of Rev. Moon's teachings to inaugurate the new center of activities. Even if only two people can attend, it will take place.
The move is not going to be simple. The landlord in the village presents a letter from the power company demanding immediate payment on a large overdue bill. Christine packs her belongings and announces that life here is too hard. I sit in the main room and try to pray. Later Christine comes out with a brighter face and says she doesn't know what came over her earlier, and she resolves to persevere.
Papa Luis was supposed to have arrived at 8:00 with his truck, but the hours go by with no sight of him. Two brothers go down to the market to hire a passing farm truck. Children come running behind the truck. Curious faces poke through the door.
Off goes the truck with the first load. People climb upon the porch, poke into the wooden slats on the windows, and shout out to each other. Dozens of people enter the house and wander from room to room. The sky fills with storm clouds. Finally at 2:00 Papa Luis arrives. I help load it with kitchen items. A mob pours in the front door as we leave by the kitchen door. We squeeze into the pick-up truck. The rain begins before we reach Bangui.
Giselle and Tshimpsa remain behind for the final cleaning. When they arrive in the city later, they report that the owner's wife came by after the truck left, chased off the spectators, and apologized for her husband's behavior.
"Really we were living in the middle of hell," Lenga reflects. For years people believed that the church leaders had lots of money and probably many valuables stashed away. To little avail Lenga would explain that the local church receives no outside funding and has to be self-sufficient. Today the public could view every item removed from the house, none of it luxurious.
The spirit of the new house is tranquil. Even the heavy rain is comforting. We sit on the living room floor by the window and reflect on the events of the day.
At midnight, we have a blessing prayer for the house, followed by a two-hour prayer vigil. I barely remember hitting the pillow.
The next day I sweep, wash the floors, and sweep again. Finally my spirit feels settled. Over dinner I remark about Lenga's large brilliantly-colored reproduction of the painting, "Christ Knocking at Heart's Door," and ask him to tell me about his relationship with Jesus. Lenga looks a bit surprised at my question about Jesus, since the meal conversation had focused on the move and plans for the upcoming seminar. He has had many visions of Jesus, he explains, ever since he was young, and he has always felt very close to Jesus. His understanding of Jesus had been based not so much on theological concepts but on this personal relationship. When he heard Rev. Moon's teaching and understood its significance, he could understand that Jesus came as a true Adam. Lenga links that feeling for the role of Adam, as God's true son, the visible manifestation of God's heart and ideal, with Jesus and True Parents.
All day long, people have been arriving for the seminar which begins this evening. Supper is prepared, rice pudding with baguettes. We eat in silence, the atmosphere one of calm anticipation.
Christine, Gilberte and I wake up around 5:00. The roosters are having some sort of convocation, and further sleep is impossible.
The furniture is rearranged for breakfast, and we wait for Lenga to join us. Lenga uses his long arms and his whole body to build his themes. His French is eloquent and easy to understand. Sometimes he pauses a moment before a key word, to see if anyone in the audience knows it. God has revealed Himself to humankind according to people's spiritual level and ability to respond. Lenga compares the law of Moses' time with the Jesus' teaching of the higher law of love. He talks about the need for a logical explanation of God and His ways, so that the highest elements of religion and science can unite to counter human ignorance. We need internal truth, such as an understanding of the purpose of life, as well as external truths about the functioning of the universe. I take careful notes, seeking to improve my French.
Tshimpsa beckons to me. We visit a Muslim woman who looks at me suspiciously and very soon extends her hand in a good-bye gesture. Tshimpsa and she talk in Sango, and after we leave Tshimpsa explains that he told her about Rev. Moon's concern to explain God's nature and heart in a way that can have meaning to people of all the world's religions, thus helping to break down barriers that lead to mistrust and wars. Today, however, no opening was found in the barriers of race, religion and nationality between her and me.
Back to the center. The lecture is over and the two teams of seminar participants are reviewing their notes.
The second lecture, on the Principle of Creation, is illustrated with a series of 12 intricately-drawn cloth charts, and the seminar participants take notes. Lenga emphasizes that God is a God of heart, and that we as His children need to develop our hearts and be responsible people; our level of spiritual development is reflected in the degree of responsibility we take for the people and things around us.
Some of the participants write slowly, and after the lecture I help hold up charts for participants to finish copying. Workshop lectures, followed by question periods and review of charts, last two and a half to three hours. Group discussion follows the morning and afternoon lectures. During breaks participants check each others' notebooks to make sure they missed nothing. Each team also has cleaning and dishwashing responsibilities.
Tshimpsa gives the evening lecture on the human fall, which originated from a perversion of love in the first human family, separating people from God's love, life and lineage. Tshimpsa spices his lectures with pithy examples from daily life. A short prayer ends the evening session.
Lenga, Christian and I are alone at the breakfast table. I talk about how difficult it has been for me to reconcile the teachings of the Principle with my heritage as an evangelical Christian.
Christian gives the lectures today on the mission of the Messiah and Tshimpsa the lecture on Christology. Afterwards I go to the sisters' room to pray. I begin to realize more deeply the meaning of the Principle's teaching about salvation. At age 14, I experienced Jesus saving me from fear and opening the way for me to experience God through the things of the creation. This was truly a rebirth. At age 18, a renewal experience with the Holy Spirit began a period of learning the basics of the life of faith: prayer, witnessing, fasting, teaching, creating a community of faith. But a sexual assault that I did not know how to protect myself against cut off the special closeness I felt to Jesus during those years.
In the past, each time I came across the phrase "the limit of salvation by the cross" I would cringe. In prayer today I could finally see and accept that limit.
When I heard the Principle at age 23, what struck me most deeply was the explanation of the human fall and how Satan destroyed God's ideal by a misuse of love. The Principle teaches a clear standard for living a chaste life, and it taught me the basics of how to make offerings that God could accept and how to re-create my heart through uniting with an Abel-type figure. I experienced rebirth through the Blessing ceremonies. True Parents have saved me from an isolated way of life, enabled me to start developing the heart of a wife and mother, and pushed me to become a substantial offering on ever larger levels. Over the years I have struggled in each of these areas, trying to rise to meet new challenges, even in Africa. Thus, True Parents have brought me substantial salvation, both spiritual and physical, on the foundation of the spiritual salvation through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I can be grateful to each one who played a part in opening the way for me to connect with God as His daughter.
After the morning lecture I walk to the cathedral to pray. I had come to Africa as part of an international witnessing effort, but when I look inside myself that motivation has often been absent. During my years in Mexico, no matter how difficult circumstances were, we were always trying to reach out to new people and share our faith with them. However, when I returned to the United States to recover from a long illness and join my husband, I found the situation of our movement confusing, and for years I focused on nurturing church members rather than trying to reach out to others. One may travel half way around the world but not escape one's inner reality.
I take a wrong turn on the way back from the cathedral, and by the time I return lunch has already been served. Lenga, Tshimpsa, Christian, and Cisseki are seated at the table waiting for me. The day we left the village, Lenga spent a long time in his room meeting with people, and the rest of us waited for him to eat breakfast. Such attentiveness brings us closer in heart.
There are 14 participants in the workshop, seven from the Zairian village across the river and the other seven from near Bangui. More would have come, but they didn't have the $12.00 to contribute towards food costs. The cost of living is high in Bangui and meals are very simple. Papa Nunu brings a large stalk of bananas, Papa Luis two hens, and Papa Dominic a pig.
Tonight Christian gives the lecture comparing Moses' course and Jesus' course. He gives it by memory, skipping no detail. It's nearly midnight when the day's schedule ends.
Today our son Jason starts school. I wonder what he is experiencing.
A short canoe ride with Lenga across the river to the Zairian village of Zongo to visit members there. After a long wait at the immigration post, our papers are stamped and we walk through the village to meet Gertrude. She shows us around their compound, which includes an enclosure for goats, which they raise for income. Members operate a small restaurant to earn money for rent and food. With the current inflation crisis, Zairian currency is worth less each day, and just to survive is becoming a challenge. Lenga offers advice both practical and spiritual.
Tshimpsa and I visit a family and Tshimpsa talks to the mother about being open to new ways in which God might be speaking today. He tells a story about a Zairian pastor who received a revelation that Jesus would come to her house on a certain day at noon. The woman cleaned the house and yard and prepared food with a joyful heart, anticipating the great blessing of Jesus' presence. The clock marked the passing time, 11:30, 11:45, 11:55. Exactly at noon there was a knock at the gate. She opened it and saw a humble beggar, dressed in rags, leaning on a cane.
I don't have anything for you," she answered sharply. "Please leave."
"But can't you spare even a morsel of bread?" the beggar pleaded.
"No, I'm expecting somebody important and I don't have time." Finally the beggar left.
The woman returned to the house to wait for Jesus. 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 no Jesus. Finally a spiritualist friend of hers came by and said, "I heard that Jesus was coming to your house today. How come you didn't welcome him in?"
"What?" the pastor asked. "I prepared and he never came."
She thought for a long time and finally realized the significance of the knock at her door. Alas, she had not recognized Jesus.
In the evening, Lenga speaks on prayer. Afterwards we each seek a spot in the courtyard for individual prayer. During the night I wake up and continue the prayer.
Each morning I have been leading a Bible study on Joshua's course, and the final chapter of Joshua contains a call for each family to decide the course to follow. This passage stirs the heart of Joseph, an Apostolic pastor attending the seminar. Yesterday he asked that we cease calling him "Pastor Joseph," explaining that what he has learned this week surpasses what he gained from four years of theological study. "Just call me Joseph," he requests.
Another student in the front row, Mama Leontine, came at the urging of her husband, Papa Luis. A devout Catholic, she had a hard time understanding her husband's interest in the Unification movement, and she went back home on Sunday, shortly after her husband brought her to the workshop. He insisted that she return. Mama Leontine is not used to sitting in classes and taking lecture notes, and she is often the last to finish copying the words. Everyone waits for her with good humor. Each day her face becomes brighter, especially during the singing.
Seminar participants create new rhythmic and echo patterns each day to accompany the hymns. Harmonies are invented, phrases repeated, a high voice introduces the first couple of words of each new verse. By the end of the seminar it is impossible to stay in one place while singing.
The seminar participants come from backgrounds ranging from Catholic to Apostolic to Muslim, but by workshop's end we are bound together by songs, if nothing else. We sing the holy songs of our church, folk songs, and beloved Christian hymns, including the French translations of some of my childhood favorites, "The Love of God" and "How Great Thou Art." I copy down in my notebook the words to a hauntingly beautiful hymn in Lingala, the language of Zaire: "Nzambe Aponi Yo."
In almost every talk to members, Lenga constantly emphasizes, "Nous avons le grand privilege de..." or "par la grace de Dieu...." With these constant reminders of God's grace upon us and the privilege we have of living at this time, it's easy to live with a grateful heart.
I walk back to the airline office to reconfirm my flight. Is it possible that in two days I will be leaving?
I eat a quick breakfast. Lenga asked me to give the morning's lecture on the path of returning to God, passing through the stages of servant of servant and servant, to adopted child and true child. I'm tired afterwards, but I arrange fresh flowers for tomorrow. Lenga gives a lecture on "The Messiah and Me." Tshimpsa gives some history about the development of our worldwide movement. Finally comes supper and an evening of songs and testimonies. I sing "Country Roads" with the heart of longing for my hometown among the hills of western Virginia.
We get up at 4:30 am to prepare for early prayer. A couple of the workshop participants join us. Around 9:00 the courtyard starts to fill with people arriving for service. I gave the sermon. Afterwards Lenga said I had rambled a lot and I should have had somebody translate my halting French into Sango, because many in the audience couldn't understand me.
After the service, Lenga asks all the leaders to join us for a trip to a prayer ground on the hill overlooking the city. Because of the difficult situation in the nation over the past few years, members have not visited the prayer site as a group for eight years. However, with the recent promise of elections, the winds of change fill the air, and Lenga decides it's time to revisit it.
Fifteen people squeeze into the seats and back of Papa Luis' ever-handy truck. I'm perched on the gear box in front, between Papa Luis and Lenga. We jostle down the eroded and pot-holed streets ("How do you recognize a drunk driver?" goes a local joke. "Someone who drives in a straight line.") There are butterflies every couple of feet on either side of the road. The air is wondrously cool and fresh.
We climb above the tree and trample down a small clearing around its base. From here Bangui looks green and peaceful. We pray together, forming a chain around the tree. I step down to the tree and put my arms on it. It's a baobab tree, firmly rooted in the soil. My eyes go up and up, until I finally see the first side branches.
Back at the center, the seminar participants are writing down answers to 12 questions covering the main themes presented in the past seven days. The participants receive certificates of completion. I have my camera ready to capture Papa Luis greeting his wife after she receives her certificate. Each of the participants receives a boiled plantain as a farewell gift. Reluctantly they leave.
The butterfly artist, Papa Expedit, appears, with Papa Dominic. They bring me a package of intricate village scenes, animals, flowers, and profiles of women, created with butterfly wings. The night is still.
I sort through my things in preparation for departure. I select small gifts for the brothers and sisters.
At dinner, Christian describes visiting his guest who returned home from the workshop Sunday afternoon and immediately started sweeping the house and the ground surrounding it, as he had been doing daily during the workshop. His father was surprised and the neighbors were impressed. His father asked him about the week, and the son showed him his carefully-written lecture notes. The father remarked, "This looks very good. I want to attend the next workshop." Christian is beaming as he gives the report.
We remark that during the past week we have seen resurrection take place, not just in theory but in reality.
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