Step by Step

Note:  In worship this weekend, we are focusing on the ministry of Pastor Kubisa Sosthene, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He was unable to be with us on Saturday night for worship.  The text I’m posting here is from the sermon I preached about Pastor Kubisa.  Tomorrow, I will also post a link to Trinity’s video of the Sunday sermons, which are done differently, as an interview.

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from Jesus, the Son of God who brings peace! Amen.

Coltan is a dull, black metallic ore that is mined in portions of Africa, predominantly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After being dug out of the earth, Coltan is processed, and becomes a precious metal. It’s precious not because of its beauty, or its ability to be made into jewelry, but rather because it is a central element in electronic circuit boards, that are most widely used in cell phones, and in medical devices. Because of the demand for these items, Coltan is precious, and sought after.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (or the DRC,) the government is eager to get its hands on land that might be rich with this precious metal, because of the value of the mineral rights.

The DRC military will storm property where the mineral might be found, and will drive off those who live there. To create a state of terror and intimidation, the military will often kidnap young boys, drug them, sometimes force them to kill a family member to show their loyalty to the military, and then conscript them into the army. Or, they might take them into the bush, and force them to mine the minerals for anywhere from 3-5 years.

Women and girls are often sexually assaulted, to create an atmosphere of submission and fear.

Pastor Kubisa Sosthene was the youth pastor at Philadelophia Pentecostal Church in the city of Bukavu in the DRC. He is married to Nee’re, and together they have six children. He had a good gig going there. It was a large and growing church. His ministry was flourishing, and he was secure financially. But he saw what was going on in his country. He saw the destruction to the lives of God’s people…God’s children, and finally, he could take it no more. He felt the tug of God on his heart. And so he said to his wife, Nee’re, “I think I need to leave the church and start something to help these children, and these women.”

Of course, leaving his position at the church meant stepping away from their security…their safety net…their community. But Kubisa was positive this was what God was calling him to do.

And so his wife supported him. He left his job. People told him that he was crazy to step away from his call at the church…people told him that he was crazy to think he could change the Government. People told him he was crazy. But he went.

And Nee’me supported him. Kubisa told me that she made the first donation to this new ministry . “She gave me a folding table, and a chair, to be my office.

And “Let Africa Live” was born. With no initial financial support, he began talking with people and casting a vision for the DRC that focused on life, and health, and healing. He got a few small donations, but then finally, after he had written to friends in Norway and Sweden, one of them made a $20,000 donation to start this ministry.

“Let Africa Live” focused on education for these children and women who up until now were or might become victims; because education was the ticket “out.” And it provided trauma healing for those who had experienced the abuse of the military. And it began to advocate for change.

Since it began, “Let Africa Live” has been able to help over 3,000 children. Kubisa started his work there because as he said, “when you help one child, you remember that the child has a family…when you help one child in the Congo, you are helping the whole family, and the whole community.

He began by teaching basic skills. He started with sewing. There was a need, and it was a need he could help fill. So he solicited the donation of sewing machines, and set up a training center, and got someone to teach women sewing skills, so they could get a job. From there, the educational opportunities expanded.

He realized that for many of the women, it was a long walk for them and their children to the training center. And often, when they would make this daily walk, they would be assaulted on the road. Kubisa’s solution was to build a new training center. With classrooms on the ground level, and dorm rooms for women and children on the top two floors.

He raised the money for the bottom two floors, but the money stalled to complete the project. Last year Trinity, from its offering dollars, made a $5000 gift that allowed “Let Africa Live” to begin construction, even though there is still money to raise. It’s in progress.

But that’s not the end of Kubisa’s story. Three and a half years ago, Kubisa came to the United States to attend a conference in St. Paul. While he was away, members of the DRC military broke into the “Let Africa Live” offices. The government had had enough and attacked and killed one of his co-workers, thinking that it was him.

Kubisa got the phone call in St. Paul from a c-worker, who explained what happened. “Kubisa, you are not safe. If you come back, you will be killed. You cannot come home.”

And Kubisa was stranded here, separated from his wife and 6 children, unable to return.

Pastor Kubisa was granted asylum as a political refugee. The blessing and the curse was his phone. It allowed him to be in contact. He said that he would call home sometimes 2 or 3 times in a day. And while that allowed him to remain in contact, it also caused him pain every time the phone call came to an end. Kubisa found work at Episcopalian Homes in St. Paul. And he would send money home by Western Union to support his family. And Kubisa’s wife had to go to work. She started working as a baker, making cakes, so the family would have more of an income.

Emigrating to the US immediately wasn’t possible. Our political relations with the DRC were strained. And Kubisa and his family were separated for over three years. Three years.

Kubisa connected with one of our sister congregations, Grace University Lutheran Church, next door to the U of M hospital in Minneapolis. And there, he found a community of people who supported him, and wanted to help.

They paved the way for him to be reunited with his family, and they raised the funds to bring them to the US. And so, three years after he left, they departed their homeland. They couldn’t get a visa to the US while in the DRC, so first they had to travel to Berundi. And there, apply and wait three weeks for a visa. And finally, joyfully, last June, they stepped off of a plane at the Minneapolis airport, and they were reunited with their husband and father.

And they are a beautiful, amazing family.

And now they live in St. Paul. The oldest girls are preparing to begin at St. Kate’s next year, and the younger kids are in school. And they are, again, a family. They are a family that cannot return to their homeland, but they are a family.

Last week, I asked Kubisa “How has your faith been affected by this? How have you seen God at work in the midst of all of this that you’ve experienced?

He said that he has seen God in the protection that he’s received. He said that he’s seen God in the people that he’s met, and in the way that God has layered them together, like a net, to carry him and his family during the most difficult times. He’s said that God’s grace has preserved him.

In our Gospel lesson for today, the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus is reminding those who hear him that the accumulation of wealth…the hoarding of possessions…is dangerous for our spirits

The rich man, who had been collecting and collecting, at the expense of others, finds himself in Hades, the place of the dead, or what we would call hell…and he asks God for the opportunity to warn those he loves…to give them a word that will turn them away from following in his path.

The temptation is to turn this story simply into a morality play. “If you’re rich and selfish, you go to Hades. If you are poor and righteous, you go to heaven.” And we, like those who heard Jesus tell the story 2000 years ago, can’t help but wonder “are we like Lazarus, or the rich man?” But it’s much more complicated than that. The answer is neither. We know that it is not our actions, or our wealth that makes us righteous or unrighteous. To be fair, we also know that an unhealthy dependence on money, or possessions, can easily become idolatry. And we know that it is only Jesus who makes us right with God.

No, we are not either Lazarus or the rich man. We are the five brothers. We are those who need to be reminded of the beauty and promise of God’s grace, for each of us. We need to be reminded that there is only one God, and it’s not what’s in our wallets…or in our cell phones…or the beauty of our homes, or the other things that we own. We need reminded by today’s Gospel lesson that we depend not on things, but on Jesus.

Pastor Kubisa and his family experienced the stripping away of almost everything that they had. But through it, they would be the first to tell you that they experienced the grace of God in ways that transformed their lives. They came to depend not on things, but on the grace of God working through others. And through this grace, their faith, their sense of dependence has become more secure.

Let us hear the words of Jesus today. Yes, words of warning, but also of promise. Our faith rests in God alone, and that through all that we experience, and all the ways that life can sometimes feel painful, God is with us.

And let us give thanks to God for the life, and the faith of Pastor Kubisa and his family, who live the truths of God’s promises every day, and who teach us by their example.

Thanks be to God

Amen.

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