Mission Partner Berdine van den Toren resources Christian leaders in Africa and Asia through mission education, so that they can resource others for a life of mission. While visiting DR Congo to teach at a university, Berdine had the chance to visit a centre of prayer and healing nearby.
Four years ago, I had walked around the house, curious what was happening inside. While at the Anglican University of Congo (UAC), I had heard of this house of prayer, where people would stay for a time of regular prayer, to find healing and liberation. Recently I had the privilege to again spend time teaching at UAC. When I asked the chaplain if I could participate in the prayers, Rev Kamana told me that I was more than welcome. I was able to enter the house, meet the people, hear their stories, share in prayer and discover a, for me, totally new world.
I met people who suffer from all kinds of illnesses, from psychosomatic struggles to infertility, from post-traumatic stress syndrome to pain in back, neck and legs. Some live outside the UAC campus and come for regular prayer once a day. Others have come to live in the house of prayer for a time, living a rhythm of prayer – at 6am, 9am, 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, 11pm and 3am – and receiving regular teaching on God’s love in Jesus and discipleship, while also caring for each other through the preparation of food, washing laundry and enjoying time to relax.
Rev Kamana shared that all of these people will leave the house changed. Many will have found physical and psychological healing, yet all will have found spiritual healing. They have all encountered the liberating love of God and the blessing of a loving community of brothers and sisters.
This is happening in the context of eastern Congo, with the looming threats of Ebola and coronavirus and the ever-present reality of violence and destruction by militias. In Bunia – a relatively “peaceful” space – daily life is becoming more expensive, because of the lack of food and produce entering the city, while growing numbers of internally displaced people rapidly expand the population. The hospitals are stretched and medicines are in short supply. Medical staff are therefore regularly advising patients, whom they cannot help, to go to the house of prayer, which continues to work together with the medical staff.
This whole experience reminded me of Mark 5, when Jesus heals the haemorrhaging woman. Jesus was on the way to the house of the synagogue leader, an important and respected man, whose daughter was critically ill. I imagine that the woman, who was considered impure, isolated because of her illness, must have thought that Jesus would never ever have time for her. And so, secretly she touched his clothes in order to find healing, her last hope. But Jesus did notice and did have ample time for her. He sought her out in the crowd. And when he recognised her, he called her “Daughter”. A word so tender. A word that restores her into the community, that gives her back an identity of belonging. For Jesus, there is no difference between important people and those considered outsiders. His love and healing are for all. And because of this love, the woman falls at his feet and is able to pour her heart out before him. I imagine that she must have told him all her pain, isolation and hopelessness. By trusting him, she finds a healing that changes all areas of her life.
The house of prayer, as I have encountered it at the UAC, is a place where people who are suffering and marginalised find hope, a new community and healing.
There were questions raised for me, about the place of spiritual oppression and exorcism, about the relationship between individual freedom and the community, about the relationship between psychiatric diagnosis and spiritual diagnosis… And I realise that most of these come from my Western perspective. Participation over three weeks was not enough to truly step into the shoes of the other, to understand the other as they understand themselves. There is much more to learn and discover.
For now, I am deeply grateful for the warm welcome I received, the openness of the people to share their stories, their vulnerability and their faith and hope. Through it all, illness, health and healing have come into a new light for me, the tangible reality of the love of God and the healing presence of Jesus.