Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Choirs of Kiwanja

About 80km north of Goma along North Kivu's main highway lies the town Kiwanja. The road north twists and turns through Virunga National Park, where the adventurous can find many of the "Big 5" game animals (in fact on the way south on the same road I came across a family of baboons). The road also passes through several small towns, which can be filled to the brim with people on market days.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Kiwanja to observe a Christian outreach event put on by my friend Bizi and two of his associates. The trio are members of a small organization called United Evangelism Group. The purpose of this group is to preach the unity of the church in light of the gospel - meaning that all Christians, whether Baptist, Catholic, 7th Day Adventist, Presbyterian, Pentacostal or whatever, are united in Christ. Preaching unity is something eastern Congo could use a little more of these days.

After passing by the UN airstrip, we turned east into town. On our way to the church, we passed the first truck full of Congolese soldiers I'd seen since arriving. I was amazed not because I saw soldiers, but that they were all traveling together; every other time I'd seen a soldier he'd be by himself, either walking on the road or hitching a ride on a moto. Somehow the army had actually gotten its act together and transported a group all at once.

As we pulled up to the church, the mob of children decended before I had even stopped the car. "Mzuuuuuungu!" echoed off the lips of the children and radiated outward from the vehicle in a frenzy. I tentively got out after my three friends had exited, to take away some of the attention from myself. But the kids couldn't get enough - clearly there hadn't been a mzungu here in a long time, apart from the UN soldiers. And probably not without good reason, as sixth months previously Kiwanja was a dangerous place.

That night Bizi put on a showing of "The Passion of the Christ", which drew a tremendous audience. It wouldn't be my first choice for a movie screening, but I was amazed by the number of people who showed up for the outdoor performance. And the day after the show, I got to see another performance at church: choir after choir of amazing, ecstatic and joyous music. Men, women and children got up in their finest clothes to perform for their audience. And the music was really good. It helped me forget I was sitting through a 6 hour church service!

That Sunday was the beginning of my love of Congolese music. On the way back, and during my few weeks in Goma, I kept the radio turned on to the tinny guitars of Congolese gospel music. Thankfully I recorded one the songs, which I've posted online and you can listen to here. Hope you like it!

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