Ohio church sews quilts of love for Congo ill

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Nancy Byrd and the congregation at Christ United Methodist Church, Kettering, Ohio, know how it feels to be wrapped up in a "God-size" dream and see it come true.

The church raised $117,000 and helped tip the scales to buy a new plane for an aviation ministry in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But money wasn't enough; they wanted something more personal.

An idea formed in Byrd's heart of a way that each person in the Ohio church could actually touch someone in the Congo. Touch a piece of cloth, touch a person was how Byrd explains it.

At a special service in May, every woman, man and child in church that day held a nine-inch square of cloth in his or her hands and prayed over it. Those cloths were sewn into quilts that will be shipped to the Congo to bring comfort to sick and suffering people.

"These small pieces of cloth will emerge into a symbol of the family of Christ Church personally touching the lives of our brothers and sisters so many miles away &ellipsis; personally sending the extravagant love and healing power of Christ from this place to our brothers and sisters in the Congo," Byrd said as the congregation held the pieces of cloth in their hands and prayed.

Then, by the grace of several special women with sewing talent, those squares were transformed into quilts and once again blessed during a special service in October.

Dream from the beginning

For many United Methodists across the connection and certainly in this congregation, it is about "more than an airplane."

The story of Gaston Ntambo, a United Methodist missionary and pilot, got started when folks at Epworth United Methodist Church, Toledo, Ohio, saw the potential in a young man born in the Congo who dreamed he could learn to fly an airplane.

For the past two decades, through wars in his country, Ntambo has been flying between more than 70 grass airstrips, rescuing seriously ill patients who have no other mode of transportation except bicycles or walking.

In a region as vast as Texas, there is not a single mile of paved road in the Congo, and during the six-month rainy season, even the unpaved paths become impassable.

Gaston Ntambo is a United Methodist missionary with "Wings of the Morning," which transports patients and medical supplies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ntambo, the son of United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda who oversees the North Katanga area, delivers everything from cholera vaccines to malaria nets to Bibles in his small plane. Ntambo and his wife, Jeanne, who is also a United Methodist missionary, spoke at Christ Church last May and told the congregation about the aviation ministry.

Since the beginning, the plane he has been flying is small, so the number of passengers and the weight he can carry are limited, said George Howard, chair of the North Katanga Caravan Committee in the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference.

The plane also runs on expensive aviation fuel that must be purchased in Zambia. Ntambo struggles to keep the plane capable of making flights in often-harsh conditions.

"It is essential that this plane be replaced with a larger and more practical Cessna in order to continue the important Christian ministries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as protecting the health and life of its important pilot, Gaston," Howard said in an email appeal for funds.

The campaign to buy a larger, more energy-efficient plane is coming true. Between the West Ohio Conference, the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, the North Katanga United Methodist Conference in the Congo and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, $2 million has been raised.

Howard said the team is in negotiations for a plane. The next step is to start an endowment to keep the plane flying.

Friends of Wings of the Morning is being formed to provide sustainable support for the aviation ministry and underwrite the operating expenses. The goal is to raise $250,000 a year.

Wrapped in love

"Just a few months ago, we here at Christ Church heard our brothers and sisters in the Congo needed a new airplane &ellipsis; an airplane to not only transport the critically ill to a hospital, but most importantly to bring the Christian message of extravagant love and hope through Jesus," Byrd wrote in a dedication service to bless the quilts.

"During the month of May, we prayed for resources to buy the plane and by June 10th learned what a God-size dream can look like when we realized our goal of raising $50,000 had been surpassed &ellipsis; actually was more than doubled to over $117,000."

On Oct. 28, surrounded by the handmade quilts, Byrd led the congregation in these words:

Leader: Guided by our faith in the love and healing power of our Heavenly Father, we dedicate these quilts to God's service.

Response of the People: God and Creator, we know that your love and power is without boundary of land or sea. Reaffirm our prayers of healing for those touched by these quilts in the Congo. Allow our brothers and sisters so far away to know these quilts are more than a collection of cloth. Allow them to feel embraced by love through our faith in your healing power. Amen.

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

 

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