Nearly 150 Congolese youth traveled from nine provinces to attend the first Bible camp sponsored by the Mennonite Church of Congo July 14-20.
For some, it was a journey of several days by boat, transport trucks or bicycles. But most arrived at the church headquarters in Tshikapa on foot.
Mennonite Church of Congo partners with other Mennonite churches in Africa and three North American mission agencies: Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network.
Robert Irundu, Mennonite Church of Congo’s national youth president, received inspiration for the camp when he met Dwight Short, a member of the North American delegation to the Congolese Mennonite centennial celebration in July 2012. Short went to Congo to conduct interviews for a book he was writing — a biography of his aunt, Lodema Short, who served with AIMM from 1947 to 1981.
Dwight Short also has a passion for sharing the gospel through sports. Learning about teamwork, sacrifice and a positive winning attitude can help biblical truths come alive, Short said.
“When Christian leaders encourage youth to play within the rules on the field, the kids can also understand why we want them to understand God’s plan for their lives,” Short said. “Somehow they listen more closely when that message is tied into a game they love.”
During Short’s 2012 visit, he and Irundu organized an impromptu sports camp that attracted more than 400 kids. That experience sparked Irundu’s imagination.
“We need to prepare future leaders to take up responsibility in the church, which is called to continue functioning for centuries,” Irundu said. “Sports activities are a good method for evangelism, an attractive way to bring young women and men into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and to grow the Mennonite Church of Congo.”
Short remains a prayer partner for Irundu and the Mennonite young people in Congo. He calls himself their cheerleader from the United States.
Irundu said he organized the camp to provide a forum for young Mennonites to learn to know each other and fellowship together. Youth from other denominations were also invited to strengthen Christian unity.
The theme — “Young Mennonite, Rejoice in Your Youth, But Know That . . . ” — was taken from Ecclesiastes 12.
“Youth is but one stage of life; we need to honor our God by observing his commandments, because death surprises everyone — children, youth and elders,” Irundu said.
Highlights of the camp included a parade through the center of Tshikapa to share the excitement of Jesus’ good news and a soccer match between male-female mixed teams. A soccer ball was presented to the Mennonite youth groups in each province so they could continue sports evangelism in their home locations.
Nine youth made decisions to commit their lives to Jesus and were baptized.
Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, Mennonite Church of Congo president, flew to Tshikapa to speak to campers and to offer them a cow and sacks of corn and manioc to supplement their meals.