Congo Brazzaville Church Makes a Fresh Start

On September 13, the installation service for Congo Brazzaville Church’s fifth head minister, Rev. Pierre Bazebibaka, was performed in the presence of Tenrikyo Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Masahiko Iburi, Congo Brazzaville Church Counselor Naohisa Takai, and Tenrikyo Overseas Department Head Yoshiaki Mihama. Over 200 followers gathered for this memorable occasion and resolved to make great strides in a unity of mind in preparation for the 120th Anniversary of Oyasama and the 40th anniversary of the church–both of which will be observed in 2006.

Ever since the church’s establishment in 1966, the mission of spreading the teachings in the Congo has been fraught with difficulties owing to successive coups d’etat and civil wars, which disrupted stability within the country. The last five years, in particular, were extremely difficult years for the followers. In January 1998, former Head Minister Alphonse Nsonga went to France to receive medical treatment, thus leaving the church without a leader. In December of that year, civil war once again flared up in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo. This time, the fighting centered on the neighborhood in which the church was located. Besides fierce ground fighting, rockets were fired back and forth across the sky and MiGs bombed rebel positions in the vicinity.

The followers living at the church fled Brazzaville along with the other inhabitants of the neighborhood. Taking refuge in outlying villages and jungles, they had no choice but to eat grass and leaves to keep from starving. While living in these desperate circumstances for months on end, some of them died from malnutrition and some were executed by soldiers on suspicion of collaborating with rebel militiamen.

In May 1999, after the army regained control of the capital, Rev. Bazebibaka’s family and other followers slowly began returning to the church. They found that the church compound had been looted and the buildings damaged. While waiting for other survivors to return, they performed such chores as straightening up the ransacked premises and washing the service garments that lay strewn about the sanctuary.

Thus began their efforts to revive the church, but there were still forces at work that threatened to obstruct them. Hostilities continued in other parts of the country and, even in Brazzaville itself, law and order had yet to be completely restored.

In these troubled times, the younger followers assumed responsibility for handling the church tasks. Besides performing the service and rituals, they conducted doctrinal study sessions as well as hinokishin activities. In response to the initiative and enthusiasm of these young followers–most of whom are second-generation followers who were brought up in the faith–Tenrikyo Administrative Headquarters set up a provisional steering committee in March 2001 in order to assist with the management of the church. Headed by Special Representative Toshiyuki Takahashi, who also serves as chief of the Overseas Department’s Europe and Africa Section, this committee was entrusted with the task of revitalizing the church activities, reorganizing the management of the church, and nurturing the followers until a new head minister could be installed. From the following month, a number of staff members from the Overseas Department began taking turns going to Brazzaville, where they worked hand in hand with the local followers in an effort to revitalize the church.

The difficulties facing the church, however, did not end there. False accusations leveled against the church resulted in the abduction and confinement of some staff members who had been sent by the Overseas Department, a ban on all the church’s activities, and the ransacking of the premises by mobs. On two occasions, the followers at the church received expulsion orders forcing them to evacuate the church premises. In the meantime, former Head Minister Nsonga passed away in France.

Even amid these many hardships, Special Representative Takahashi continued to encourage the Congolese followers by explaining that such incidents were none other than God the Parent’s way of sweeping the church and training their faith. Emphasizing the importance of performing the service taught by Oyasama, he urged them to be thorough both in learning it and performing it. The local followers thus strengthened their resolve to keep their minds connected to the Jiba and rely entirely on God the Parent and Oyasama. After having come spiritedly through these five extremely difficult years, the followers received a great blessing on June 26 this year, when Rev. Bazebibaka received sanction to become the church’s new head minister, thus marking a fresh start for their mission in the Congo.

The service to install Rev. Bazebibaka as the fifth head minister of Congo Brazzaville Church was conducted on September 13. An hour before the service was scheduled to begin, the children’s fife and drum band began performing in front of the sanctuary and the boys and girls in the pompom corps lined the approach to the sanctuary in order to welcome the worshipers and 68 distinguished guests, who included government officials and representatives from the Roman Catholic Church.

The installation service began at 9:00 A.M. with the new head minister’s prayer. Ascending the dais and seating himself before the brand new shrines, which had been replaced the night before with due ceremony, he asked God the Parent to bless their newly reorganized church and to continue providing blessings as ever before. The service was then joyously performed by the Congolese followers, who were all proudly adorned in their coveted service garments.

Prior to this day, the followers had agreed among themselves that, as a concrete step toward their spiritual growth, they would perform the entire installation service without resorting to practice manuals for musical instrument performers or lyric charts for dancers. Indeed, their accomplished performance at the installation service was a testament to the wholehearted effort they had put into their service practices.

Following the service performance, Rev. Iburi read aloud a congratulatory message that had been sent by the Shinbashira. He then delivered an address to the congregation, in which he outlined the origin of the teachings, the basic concepts underlying the teachings, and the present state of Tenrikyo’s overseas mission. He then reflected on the 43-year history of the mission in the Congo, which began with the second Shinbashira’s stopover in Brazzaville in 1960.

Sharing his impression of Rev. Bazebibaka with the listeners, Rev. Iburi said: “I am well aware that the new head minister was still a child when he came to this faith with his father, Thomas, and that in all the years since then, he has constantly striven to seek the teachings and put them into practice. God tells us, ‘Constancy is sincerity,’ and I truly believe that these words aptly fit this man.” He went on to say: “Today marks the start of a new page in the history of the path in the Congo. I trust that all of you will strive to make sure and steady progress along the path with your new head minister as the core. The sincerity dedicated by each and every one of you will undoubtedly lead to the expansion of the path in this country and thereby ensure that you will draw ever closer to realizing the Joyous Life in the Congo.”

To conclude his address, Rev. Iburi referred to the three guiding principles indicated by the second Shinbashira–the spirit of single-heartedness with God, the attitude of hinokishin, and the unity of minds–and he asked the congregation to keep these firmly in mind as they continue their journey along the path.

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