One of the first things I learned while living in eastern DRC was how to say goodbye. In our Congolese community, it is common to say farewell using the Swahili phrase, “Tuko pamoja,” translated as “We are together.” “Tuko pamoja” communicates that, even in the midst of temporary or long-term separation, hearts stay bound together and desire for the other’s welfare remains. “Tuko pamoja” signifies ongoing fellowship and relationship.
Paul shares something of this same sentiment with the saints of the Philippian church when he writes to them from prison, “I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil 1:7). Although physically separated, Paul’s connection with these saints remains, and that connection gives life to each’s mission and sustains perseverance through suffering. In Greek, “partakers” is related to one of the New Testament writers’ most favorite words: koinonia. In Scripture, koinonia describes the sharing that we have in God through Jesus Christ, the fellowship with have with other believers through the Spirit, and the tangible sharing of possessions and money for the sake of the gospel. Throughout the New Testament story, koinonia is the way mission happens: sharing in the life of God unfolds into sharing in the life of the body of Christ; this sharing in the body then unfolds into sharing with the world the good news of the kingdom of God in word and deed.
For the past three years, my husband, Kyle, and I had the privilege of experiencing this missional sharing of life together alongside Congo Initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo Initiative is a community of Christ-centered Congolese leaders and global partners united for the transformation of lives and flourishing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing in areas of education, leadership development, and social impact. In a context of ongoing cycles of violence and exploitation, Congo Initiative is both becoming and cultivating a redemptive community of Christ-followers; in short, koinonia is foundational for its mission strategy. Long term change will not happen any other way.
This strategy also extends to the way Congo Initiative engages global and cross-cultural partnerships with those of us in North America, focusing not first on what we partners can do but how we can be with our Congolese brothers and sisters. This approach involves sharing meals, praying, and worshipping together just as much as it involves conversations about material and human resources. It’s about being together. This is instructive for us in the North American context who often value productivity and efficiency, at times, at the expense of deep, patient listening and other practices that lead to authentic fellowship. The gift Kyle and I received in the CI community was nothing less than the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as both we and our Congolese colleagues embraced God’s call to be on the journey together. As my Congolese friend told me, “I think of myself as a missionary here too.” Her words and the work of CI is a witness to us in ECO as we continue to develop and expand our missional partnerships. May we be ready to commit to the long-term work of authentic fellowship for the sake of God’s kingdom. Tuko pamoja.
To learn more about Congo Initiative, and in particular church partnerships, check out https://congoinitiative.org/church-partnership/
Emily and her husband Kyle spent the last three years serving with Congo Initiative through The Antioch Partners. They now live in Minnesota where Emily is Pastor of Mission at Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina, MN.
Written by Emily Hamilton