After this I looked, and there before me
was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, tribe, people and language,
standing before the throne
and before the Lamb.
They were wearing white robes
and were holding palm branches in their hands.
Musende’s Last Visit, Chapter 1
by Charity (Eidse) Schellenberg
“I can’t walk!” Pastor Athanase Musende’s voice on the other end of the call was quiet, yet urgent that week before Easter of 2012.
Helpless in the face of his troubling medical condition and the distance separating us, I could only appeal to the Great Physician.
“We’ll pray for you,” I offered, overwhelmed with the significance of the fact he had called me. Two years of trying to get help for him had not yielded the results we had hoped for. He was suffering from severe heart disease.
“Thank you,” he said simply, then the call was dropped.
I tried again and again to call back, but couldn’t make the connection between Kinshasa, where I was, and Pastor Musende in Kamayala.
My friendship with Musende began in our childhood.
I was born and raised by my Canadian missionary parents Ben and Helen Eidse, who were serving in Kahemba, D. R. Congo, among the Chokwe-Lunda people.
Athanase Musende was raised in the home of his uncle, Pastor Wayindama, a pastor colleague of my parents.
Musende and I shared a love of soccer and volleyball, which we played every afternoon. We also sang the beloved Chokwe sacred songs together.
In 2005, when I returned to Congo for the first time after 32 years, together with my husband John, we reconnected in Kamayala, where Musende served as pastor. Among many other positions of leadership in the mission and church, Musende was known as the historian and expert of all things regarding Chokwe culture and language. He was also an expert in Anabaptist theology. He knew all the original pastors—their gifts and works.
He knew all the numbers for all the songs in the Chokwe hymnal, although he didn’t need to use the hymnal because he knew all the words by heart.
I can still see his serene smile as he closed his eyes and tilted his head back slightly to sing. From a place deep in his soul he projected the words in his clear beautiful voice.
Prior to this phone conversation, we spoke often to Pastor Musende about his feet and heart. We were very concerned that he be cured, and we contributed to his care. When he came to Kinshasa in search of help, we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time together, in church, the community, in our home, and in the home of our pastor Damien and Sylvie where Musende stayed.
In 2010 we brought my father, Ben Eidse, and my sisters, Hope and Faith, to Congo to memorialize my mother, Helen, after her death. It had been 28 years since my father had been in Congo.
Musende was among the considerable group that came to the airport to welcome my father and sisters. The reunion was a foretaste of heaven as the stories surfaced. Every day people hung out at our home to comfort us and grieve together, as well as be transported on euphoric wings in fellowship together.
The last time we saw Musende was in Kikwit in a providential encounter. My husband was the contractor building a bank and a service station in Kikwit.
Musende and his wife were just returning from Vanga, where they had spent some time at the Baptist hospital. We saw them walking down the road and gave them a lift to the home where they would pass the night before continuing on to Kahemba/Kamayala the next day.
He was very sick, especially after his grueling travel that day, squeezed into the back of a bush taxi. Yet, he was upbeat about his trust in God.
The unexpected gift of seeing one another was a balm to all our souls. We basked in the deep love we enjoyed for one another.
But now, his urgent phone call had been lost and I couldn’t reach him.
Later I was able to speak on the phone with Wenyi Nzey’, an elder of the congregation. I asked about Pastor Musende. “Can he walk?”
“He’s still walking, but with difficulty,” said Wenyi.
Join us for part 2 of Pastor Athanase Musende’s story on March 8, 2018
Author’s Partial Biography:
Charity (Eidse) Schellenberg, M.A. was born in 1956 to Canadian parents Ben and Helen Eidse, in Kahemba, D. R. Congo, and was raised among the Chokwe-Lunda people, along with sisters, Hope, Faith and Grace. She later married John Schellenberg in Manitoba, Canada. They have lived with their three children in Burkina Faso, in a traditional Senufo village where they served two terms with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, sent by the Canadian conference of the Evangelical Mennonite Church.
© 2018 Hope4Congo