Monday, August 2, 2010

Why do we need a church?

Monday I took some hours off from work to go to Bukavu's Cathedral Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace) – the largest church in Bukavu and also the Archbishop’s seat. I was invited by a friend - Amuli - who was ordained as priest the day before and Monday he gave his first full-fledged ceremony. It was quite a happening; there were lots of people, part of the ceremony was that Amuli baptized 3 babies, there was lots of music and thus also a lot of singing and dancing. I also tried the latter. I really tried; but failed considerably. Take clapping one’s hands. This should be easy; one listens to the music and claps along. Not so for a Dutch guy: I mechanically moved my hands sideways and then calculated how much time it takes before they need to be back again in order to clap at the same time as the people that were standing next to me. Anyhow, it was a beautiful ceremony, I had a great time and am very impressed by Amuli.

Bukavu's Cathedral Notre Dame de la Paix.

Amuli at the back.

Part of the ceremony.

Nice ceiling.

Church in general is extremely important for the Congolese. People spend much time in church and on church related activities - also on days that are not Sunday. In addition, if you ask people “What public good project would you like?” many will say “A church”. Why? Why would people want to build a church when they go to bed hungry and thirsty? Why not work together and spend time and effort on activities that increase, for example, agricultural production. I have a really hard time understanding this and seeing this issue from the perspective of a Congolese villager.

Two weeks ago, for example, we were in the village Cazi in Sud Kivu’s territoire Walungu where people had constructed the first part of a building that upon further investigation was going to be a church; this despite the fact that many other - more productive - public goods were absent in the village. In addition, after asking where the nearest other church was I received the answer "A three minute walk away". Needless to say, I then asked "Why build a church if the nearest one is so close by?" and "Why build a church at all?". To the first I received from several people the answer "The other church has a 'program' and we can only go there on Sunday". To the second I received the answer "It is a church".

This issue fascinates me and I am lucky to be here for another five months. In my opinion church is a very unproductive investment of time and effort. Am I that wrong? Am I too current-day Northern Europe raised? Possible. Do people find comfort and protection in the church and church related activities? Is church like a mental food and drinks that can substitute for the physical daily hardship? More to come.

The to-be church in Cazi.


  1. I would disagree with your statement that 'church is a very unproductive investment of time and effort. In a region where division is the norm, the church is an opportunity to cut through that division. It is something that brings together a community. It is a break from the realities of life. And I believe is a way to overcome differences and thus in the longer run has a central role to play. Throughout the history of African conflicts, churches have always played a major role (mind you, some of them have also played a negative role but many of them played a very positive role). So although one cannot put a $ number on it, its social intangible impact cannot be denied.

  2. When I read the blog, I thought of Jesus' words to his disciples (when trying to describe to them the love of God the Father) 'what child, if he asks his father for bread will be given stones' Wonder what He would think of the Congolese who ask for stones....