Musings From the Road
In February 2019 FPM received an e-mail from Lary Cropper, pastor of Hancock Chapel/Milltown, a small two-point charge in rural Indiana. Lary described with love and sadness the hard decision they were making. Hancock Chapel, which had outhouses and no running water, had a wonderful spirit among the people, but they were entering the last chapter of their life here on earth. Milltown had been booming 75 years ago, but now they too were facing dwindling numbers in a community that was rapidly becoming a ghost town. The church was down to 23 members and less than 10 attending. Lary and Superintendent Gary Schaar were in conversation with the remaining members on deciding to have a final service later that year and sending a significant amount of their remaining financial assets--and paraments-- to DR Congo, where Milltown's legacy could live on through the support of a sister congregation there.
FPM asked the leaders of the Tanganyika Conference to strategically select one of their many congregations that was striving to build a sanctuary that could withstand the storms of the rainy season. Long story short, construction began in June 2019 on a new sanctuary for the UMC in Kabimba, and in December 2020 Rev. Lana Robyne personally delivered Milltown's paraments to Kabimba's congregation.
Here is a portion of Lana's report:
My host, Banze and Pastor Eric Kalumba, Director of Development for the Tanganyika Conference, planned to accompany me to Kabimba. On Tuesday right before Christmas we met to leave at 6 am. When Banze called to let them know we were on our way, they warned us that the road was too difficult even for the Land Cruiser. It looked like it would be a sunny day, so we decided to go on motorcycles. I could ride behind Banze, and we hired a second driver to transport Pastor Eric and transport my heavy Milltown bag. We headed out of town at 7:30 am after getting fuel and a few tune-ups on the motorcycles. It was indeed a terrible, hard, long road over a mountain.
A new road is in the works between Kalemie and Kabimba. Currently, though, it runs out of pavement before leaving Kalemie. For several kilometers past Kalemie, the fairly wide, graded, sandy road goes just past a brand new football (soccer) stadium. It runs between beautiful luscious green fields of well-irrigated rice, cassava, and corn with the help of NGOs. After about 30-40 minutes, the road starts climbing steeply up a mountain. The high mountainous road narrows into alternately sandy or rocky paths, winding high above an island-speckled bay for 7 kilometers. Occasionally mountain streams tumble across, leaving slick deep mud and puddles.
Just when I thought I couldn’t stay astride any longer, we came around a bend where we were met by a crowd of United Methodists ready to welcome to us. We had arrived at the outskirts of Kabimba after almost three hours of grueling travel. I struggled to dismount the motorcycle as gracefully as I could with very stiff, cramped, shaky legs and sore back. But overall, I was grinning and incredibly elated to see these brothers and sisters in Christ! . . .
The current sanctuary and parsonage teeter on a steep, rocky hill overlooking the city. The path up was very treacherous, especially with my shaky legs. When I stumbled, everyone tried to help me, making it even harder. I cannot imagine how people reach church or leave when it is raining and wet. Worship services can last around three hours here, in which time a bright, clear morning can turn quite rainy.
We entered their current building and worshiped together until noon. Multiple choirs of children, youth, men, and women sang beautiful songs. Finally, the D.S. stood to tell the story of me coming to be missionary in their conference. Then I told them about Milltown UMC in Indiana . . . I told about Milltown finally taking down the cross and the paraments to send to the Congo. I pulled out the well-travelled bag from my backpack . . . Congregants gasped and ululated with joy as I pulled out the beautiful shiny altar cross. Then one by one, I pulled out the paraments. I wasn’t sure how much they observe the colors and symbols of the church season, but with so many young children there, I took the opportunity to explain the significance of each. . .
Then DS invited me up to the parsonage perched above the church. She explained that it was being built while she was at General Conference in 2019, and during those weeks she was gone it was destroyed three times by rains. It is a simple three room house in which they live with the youngest and oldest of their children while the others are in boarding school. I asked about housing for the other pastor, superintendent of the United Methodist schools. She said he and his family live with them in their house. He and his wife have six children.
We made our way carefully down the steep path and walked through town to the new church building. It is on a wide, flat, grassy expanse in front of the United Methodist schools. It is about three or four times larger, twice as tall, bright with many glass windows, a cross shape in the concrete floor, a raised altar area, and two offices in back. Much has been accomplished with the money Milltown UMC gave them. It is not open yet though. There are neat piles of rock and sand inside awaiting the next steps. They have yet to buy tiles for the floor. They want to buy new plastic chairs. They plan to finish the front veranda and put up a bell-tower/steeple. They estimate they need an additional $5,000 to finish these.
Beyond completing the building, I asked what visions they have for the church. The lay leader wants to invest in a boat to help them more easily transport people and goods between Kalemie and Kabimba and raise money for the church. The Kipendano UMW president, Fatuma, said the women want to build a guest house next to it. The youth want to cultivate some of the land and sell sodas to raise money for their ministries. They want to buy new modern musical instruments for a praise band. We concluded with a prayer and another song. Their music billowed high in the rafters and echoed on the tin roof. I look forward to the official opening of this church and the cross and altar cloths coming to their final blessing place! It will be a glorious day.
Before we dismissed, there was one last presentation. They dragged forward a very belligerent, bucking young billy goat, yes, into the new sanctuary. I thought this might be symbolic too, but, no, they actually gave it to me and wanted me to take him home. Pastor Eric suggested I pay our motorcycle driver extra to carry it back, and he agreed . . .
We left again at 1:45 and reached home [Kalemie] around 4:45 pm. I had to stop for more stretch breaks on the way back. We were all exhausted, sore, and very relieved to finally get home, including and most especially the goat. Overall, though, I am very happy that we made the journey, and that the cross and cloths are finally in their new home.
To read Lana's full story of the journey from Milltown, Indiana to Kabimba, DR Congo, download her report by clicking on the file image below.