11 Hours of Church, Part 2: Bongolo Impact

Dr. Dave Thompson, Bongolo Hospital’s founder, visited my home church,
ACAC in Pittsburgh, PA, a number of times during my years there. Once,
he told the story of when he preached at a village church. I thought
this was interesting because here, a surgeon, not a pastor, is
preaching in an African church! I couldn’t help wondering what he said
to them. He related that he spoke to them about Jesus in French, and
that an interpreter translated his message into the local African
language. I thought this was incredible! The picture in my mind’s eye
was that of a pretty typical American church – maybe a small one, I
supposed – complete with organ or praise band, and maybe a choir. In
my imagination, there would be a pulpit, pews or chairs and a
sanctuary full of well-dressed, attentive people.

As the Josh Wilson song says, “That was then; this is now.” Since
then, I have had the privilege to visit a number of African Alliance
churches. Regardless of size, there is a similar feel to each, from
the big church just down the hill at the edge of the hospital, to a
tiny 1-room wooden structure in a remote village, to this past
Sunday’s M’bigou larger concrete block, high, sloping metal roofed
church. Each of them follow a similar basic order of worship: praise
through singing lasting at least an hour, extensive praying, more
worship, an hour-long sermon followed by some more singing, an
offering and announcements, and a closing prayer. They also tend to be
very loud to the point where 100 feet outside the building is just
right for me. Their services are also quite emotional during singing,
preaching and praying. Open in design, they tend to get a small breeze
blowing through. It is also common for birds and geckos to visit, and
to hear roosters crowing outside. Nobody but me appears to notice!

When I first heard Dr. Thompson, I did not really comprehend how much
of an evangelist he was and is. It wasn’t until coming here last year
that it finally made perfectly good sense that he deliver the same
life-altering good news to a congregation that he would discuss
one-on-one with a patient and his or her family. That day at ACAC was
years before I ever thought I would ever preach anywhere, so this
uniqueness was fascinating to me.

It also turns out Dr. Thompson wasn’t alone. There are numerous people
at Bongolo, past and present, missionaries and local men and women,
who have been doing the same for years. For example, it turns out the
person doing the interpreting in Dr. Thompson’s story is my friend,
Antoine! I met him last year - he has been on Bongolo’s maintenance
staff for over 25 years. Antoine is one of my favorite people here,
and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned he
was Dr. Thompson’s “French into Nzebi” translator for years. I further
learned Antoine is also a pastor in his own right, and he faithfully
preaches many Sundays at an Alliance village church about an hour
northeast of Bongolo.

Then, there is Pastor Siko Bambemba who runs the laboratory at the
hospital during the week. Every Sunday, he preaches at the tiny
Alliance church about 45 minutes away – he and his wife, Delphine, get
a ride or pay for a taxi every week in order to do this. My friend,
Dr. Renee Valach, makes a special effort to visit a very remote church
about 3 hours north twice each year. She told me that the first time
she was surprised to be asked to talk by their pastor – after she got
there! She gathered her thoughts, prayed, and delivered a content-rich
message of faith and hope in Jesus.

These are just the people I currently know about. I have a feeling
there are more stories like these to be uncovered. For example, I’m
looking forward to talking more with the hospital pastors (translators
are an issue, for now) who literally preach every day of the week to
patients waiting their turn to be seen. Who else on Bongolo’s staff
has church leadership roles? What is God doing through them? I can’t
wait to find out!