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[whitespace] Congolese pastor ecounters the extremes of wealth and poverty on his journey of faith

Sunnyvale--Pastor Ditu Batupu Abel seems surprised by the question. Why are he and his family looking so serious?

Able takes back the photograph, a picture of his wife, his children, and himself looking at the camera. There isn't a hint of a smile among them.

"Maybe it's the Congolese way," he says laughing at the stern faces.

In person, the "Congolese way" gets much friendlier. Abel, a visiting Presbyterian pastor from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), is amiable and very chatty (in five languages if he wanted).

"I'm a teacher," he explains. "I talk too much."

This month Abel is visiting the Presbyterian Church of Sunnyvale, his second visit to Sunnyvale. His Kinshasa church and the Sunnyvale one have been partners since Abel's first visit in 1994.

Economically, it's a union of opposites. Sunnyvale, in the heart of booming Silicon Valley, paired with Kinshasa, the capital of a besieged and crumbling country. The Sunnyvale folks funded a new church for Abel's congregation and send ongoing financial support.

Dale Bracey, an associate pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Sunnyvale, visited Kinshasa in 1998. He says the lack of infrastructure for a city of 4.5 million people shocked him.

Congo, Abel explains, was never an easy place to live. Over the past few years, it's become worse with insurgents attacking from different directions, making food delivery difficult. He says recently they attacked the capital, cutting off electricity for a week.

"Most of the people are suffering," he says. "There is no money for workers and no money for people with no jobs."

He says people survive the tough times by sticking together, by solidarity.

"Life in Kinshasa is very difficult to understand," he says. "There is no money. We depend on each other. If you have something, you give. People are supporting each other."

Bracey says hearing from a fellow Christian pursuing his faith against severe obstacles serves as an inspiration.

"You just appreciate how Christians really live their faith in tough times," he says. "We have teachings about it, but it's inspiring to have someone with you who really puts his life on the line for it."

After spending two years studying for a Masters Degree in Korea and five weeks in Sunnyvale on his prior visit, Abel is used to foreign lands

He says the big difference between his home and the houses of the Sunnyvale churchgoers he is staying with is the number of people in the houses.

Abel says in Congo one family member's home is open to the entire extended family. He says recently someone asked him how many people lived in his house.

"I could not tell him how many aunts, uncles, cousins and brothers-in-law I have," he say. "They come without telling in advance. I see them carrying a suitcase. I don't know how long they're staying and they don't know if I have any space."

Ditu was supposed to be accompanied by two younger members of his church. He says the US Embassy turned down their requests for Visas for unspecified reasons. The younger pair were going to introduce the Sunnyvale congregation to traditional Presbyterian hymns put to a lively rhythm that gets people dancing.

Without them, Ditu says he is keeping his time in front of the church on terrain familiar to the American churchgoers.

"I can do it," he says of the dancing. "But I can't introduce it. I grew up in a more traditional style."
Sam Scott

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Web extra to the May 25-31, 2000 issue of Metro.

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