Bishop Ntambo, Joseph Mulongo, and I sat outside on the basketball court at the Bishop's home in Lubumbashi. Two small deer were grazing in the yard. Mulongo and I were making our after-action report for the now completed 2012 tour of North Katanga to the Bishop. "Be specific. Don't just tell me it was a good trip. What did you see?"
I balanced my MacBook Air on my knees and ran a short slide show that I had quickly prepared the night before. Small screen, glare of the sun, not ideal for impressing a bishop. However, Bishop Ntambo was thrilled with the photo display, and I realized right then that we weren't teaching him any thing he didn't already know. He just saw the evidence he needed to back up what he had been preaching in both the Church and Parliament. (Bishop Ntambo is also a national senator.) He wanted two things from us. First, he wanted a slide show that he could show to the governor, the president, and a Chinese businessman who wants to work in North Katanga. I turned to Mulongo and asked, "Pastor Maloba (conference treasurer) can get us flash drives?" "No problem."
Second, the Bishop asked that I make a presentation to the General Conference delegates who are in Lubumbashi preparing for their trip down to Lusaka to get their visas for the U.S. Friday would be best. I was planning on leaving Friday to start my long journey home, but found myself saying, "Yes, sir." (I'll figure out later how to cut a day out of my travel plans and still make my flight out of Lusaka.)
The rest of the meeting was pulling out a calendar and nailing down the details for four annual conferences this summer: West Ohio, Tanzania, Tanganyika, North Katanga. The good news is that the Bishop of New Jersey is coming to the Tanganyika Conference to help dedicate four newly rebuilt churches. Remember yesterday's blog? This is huge!
Friday's meeting time arrives, 9 am in a large classroom on the third floor of the Methodist Centre. The room is filled with old friends and and some new ones, clergy and lay. The lay members are doctors, lawyers, and educators. Men in dark suits, women in brightly colored cotton dresses. Professionals, all. And I've been given two hours to talk with them about what I've learned about who they are, the communities they serve, and how they might present themselves in Tampa.
The meeting begins awkwardly. The Bishop wants to know why we don't have a large screen projector for our photos. My knee jerk response, which I keep to myself, is "This room doesn't even have a working electrical outlet!" But this is what I love about working for Bishop Ntambo. He expects that everything we do is done at the same pro level as he sees in America. He is blind to our handicaps. This is a blindness that is serving us well. We are expected to deliver excellence in spite of the lack of resources. Note to self: Buy one of those presentations projectors you see in "Sky Mall." Get the light weight one for packing on the bicycle.
My role in the presentation was not as cheerleader, but as truth teller. There was a lot to cover. Mulongo and Guy Mande tag teamed as translators. The Bishop insisted that the language of the meeting be Kiluba, not Swahili, not French. My presentation was frank, but not negative. There was as much in it about the resources already available to us as about the diseases of poverty and hunger that our communities face.
With well placed singles, Mulongo, Guy, and I loaded the bases. The Bishop then got up and knocked it out of the park. (Sorry about the baseball metaphor.) Here are the bullet points:
North Katanga needs to plan for not receiving financial support from America in the future. This is not only because the global economic downturn is effecting mission giving in American churches, and not only because the mood in American United Methodist Churches is moving toward congregations and away from a global understanding of who we are, but because we are sitting in the midst of abundance. There is no excuse for our poverty. He coined the phrase: "Poverty in the Midst of Abundance."
We can go to General Conference as leaders of the United Methodist Church, not as beggars at the table. We are, in every metric except finances, the strongest delegation going to the conference. In practice, we are succeeding where American conferences are failing.
The chaos of restructuring gives us the opportunity to redirect the work of general agencies as they relate to central conferences. Don't be victims of restructuring, but use whatever movement is created to steer the denomination toward programs that actually help in Africa.
We live or die as a connectional church. We go to General Conference to strengthen our place in the connection. Even if you vote differently than another delegate, do not think of them as the enemy and don't fail to make a connection. The votes on divisive issues will not determine our future; the connections we make will.
And on personal behavior, don't go to General Conference begging for your own personal needs. Represent the whole episcopal area.
I came away from the meeting with a "Best Meeting Ever!" high fiving and being high fived. I don't know what will happen in Tampa. What I do know is that the next four years in the North Katanga Episcopal Area (North Katanga, Tanganyika, and Tanzania Conferences) are going to be the best quadrennium ever!