Listen for Love: Get Your Spirit in Shape

Listen for love this Advent. Get Your Spirit in Shape Advent 2019. Image by United Methodist Communications.
Listen for love this Advent. Get Your Spirit in Shape Advent 2019. Image by United Methodist Communications.

Another of our Listen for Love: A podcast series for Advent episodes - four conversations with United Methodist missionaries for Advent 2019. Shared in partnership with Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church's Give Love campaign.

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As you prepare for Christmas, what are you listening for?

Unfortunately, we were unable to record with Clara Mridula Biswas in time, and are now working toward a January conversation we will share in 2020! This is an encore of conversation originally released in August 2018.

Our marriages and family relationships are important parts of our life of faith. In this conversation, we hear from experts serving the church in Africa who teach about marriage through their lessons and example.

The Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka and Francine Ilunga Mbanga Mufuk are a married couple from the Democratic Republic of Congo who serve as United Methodist missionaries to Côte d'Ivoire. Jean Claude is an evangelist. Francine ministers to young women and girls. Together, they teach a class that helps strengthen marriages for the people of Abidjan and the surrounding communities.

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The Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka and
Francine Ilunga Mbanga Mufuk

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This episode posted on December 20, 2019.

Transcript

Prologue

Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.

Today we continue our partnership with Global Ministries as we get to listen for love with a United Methodist missionary. I had spoken in previous episodes that our guest today would be Clara Biswas, missionary who shares the love of Jesus with the poor of Cambodia. Despite our best efforts, Clara and I were not able to find a time to record. We are currently working on a date in mid-January, so I will be bringing you a conversation with her very soon.

Today, I’m instead sharing an encore of a conversation I had with the Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka and Francine Ilunga Mbanga Mufuk, a married couple from the Democratic Republic of Congo who serve as United Methodist missionaries to Côte d'Ivoire. We talk about their work to support women, girls, and families in Côte d'Ivoire. 

In the studio

Joe: Jean Claude and Francine, it is so good to have you here today. I’m excited to get a chance to talk to you.

So I know you’re both from the Democratic Republic of Congo. You’re both serving as missionaries in Côte d'Ivoire and you are a married couple. And so my first question is, were you missionaries when you met?

Jean Claude: No. We met…we were students at university. And it was… I was about to graduate the university, and Francine was in the first year at university. So we met and decided to be a couple.

Joe: Where were you in school?

Jean Claude: We were at college in DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] called ISP, Institut Supérieur Pédagogique in Lubumbashi town, the second largest city of the DRC.

Joe: And you started dating as students and got married soon after?

Jean Claude: No. We were actually members of the same church. And Francine was living with… She came from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi. And when she came there her big sister told me that I have my young sister who will come in the same department like where you are studying. So, can you help her when she has a problem in school?

So, that was a good blessing for me, because that was my starting point. She will come with assignment, and I would explain how to do this assignment and how to do this. And she was getting more marks and she was really excited and said, “Oh, this guy is very intelligent.”

And it was also my…I would say, I gave her an invitation to go to the youth group because she came from another town, Kinshasa. So she was involved in youth group where she was. And she came and she was introduced in our group, in our church, local church, in Lubumbashi. And she was really involved. And by being involved in the church activities that was pushing me now to see if she can be a wife to me.

Joe: Francine, were you always involved in church? Did you grow up in the church?

Francine: Yeah, I grew up in the church. I started very young. I grew up in Sunday school as we know every child, and then scout movement—especially scout movement. That is our life…my life…because both my parents, they were scouts. So I was really involved in scout movement and the youth group.

Joe: Did you go to school to be a missionary? Was that kind of your goal?

Francine: No. I didn’t plan to be a missionary.

Joe: What was the thought originally when you went to school?

Francine: Sorry, I’ll try not to speak in French. My vision was to a mechanic engineer because my father is a mechanic engineer. Now in the town where I was born they could not give chance to girls to do mechanic. But I learned mechanics at home through my father. But I did my primary school, my second…my high school I did sewing. I got a diploma in sewing. And at university I changed. I do sociology.

Joe: I know as a married couple in ministry together one of the ministries that you have is a school of marriage for couples living in the church that you serve. Can you tell me about the school and what are some of the things that you teach?

Jean Claude: Actually I will say first for the vision first of the school. The vision was to respond to the needs in the community. And serving in a community where we have more…many couples are divorced. And many people are divorced. So that’s…. It was affecting the way that the body of Christ should be. And if I will say that the people maybe will say ‘the body of Christ even with divorce, yes.’

I’m not judging those who have divorced. But we are giving like…opening a way that we can learn some of the things because many people are entering into the marriage, but they are not prepared. Many people are entering in marriage because they feel like they can love each other, and they see that, yes, I love you. But marriage is beyond that declaration. They’re beyond that because in marriage you have to trust. You have to be faithful to one another. And you have to be together.

And when I was in my local church, before we started that marriage ministry, we found that many women were affected by that, and men were affected by that. And some maybe in second marriage, or third marriage. So they divorced and divorced and divorced. So then by seeing that we say, “No. We can do something to respond to that need.”

And it’s one of the ministry that challenge our church and even bring growth of the church. When people are educated, when people are prepared, when people love one another, that love from their home will come to the church. So if any part of their home will come at our church, and if all our couples, all couples in the church, if they’re living in harmony, in unity, their impact will come to the church. And it will transform the church.

We have a problem today in the church because sometime we are not having…taking more attention to what is happening in the houses of our members. Many members are facing challenges. Some are frustrated. Some are traumatized because of the marriage, and the choice they made. And today they are looking how they can change those choices. So by doing the ministry to couples, you transform not just individuals, you transform also the church community.

Joe: When you’re talking to couples, what are the things that they need to know to help their marriage? Or what should people think about before they even enter into marriage?

Jean Claude: I’m talking in the point of view as a Christian. Some of the basics.

In the marriage we have respect and we have also to give room…. If you have a partner who is Buddhist, who is Muslim, who is another…you have to give him, also, room so that you can show the love of Christ, of loving everyone, of loving everyone.

But for those who are in the church and those who want to get married, I will advise them to have first Christ in their lives before

Joe: I like that idea of giving room for the other person in the relationship. What tips do you give to people to help them make that space?

Francine: I think by teaching them, things that we are doing every day. Like, let me take an example. Like washing dishes. In Africa…. You guys here you can do dish, men or women. But in Africa is the wife the one she will do the dishes always, even to arrange the bed, to arrange the house is the wife. Now, we can come up with those subjects to say, in marriage we have to accommodate one another. Like some times will come you have to accommodate your husband. You have to accommodate your wife. If, for example, I’m doing some work, my husband can look after my baby. But there is some cultures they cannot agree that. They will say, “No, the wife should take care of everything.” And it will create problem. Sometime some people, they are not aware of many thing.

Jean Claude: Yes. So another issue that we always teach is communication in the marriage, how to deal with conflict, how people who are… They grow up in different places, and God puts them together, and how they can accept each other. How they can respect each other. How they can communicate in a way that is really effective and that will bring love, and they show to outside of their home that really they are Christian. They are Christian.

So we have different topics that we always discuss. But it all is to help the couples to see the will of God in that marriage. And the will of God is for them to be in harmony, in unity.

We want couples in the church, those who can come at the church, and they’re okay. And not the people who coming at the church and say, “I did a big mistake in my life, by marrying this guy or that lady” or this and that.

So we want the people also, those who have been married for long time, but they are doing different mistakes like what Francine is saying here, she was just explaining examples, how they can correct some of the things so that we can have harmony in our community.

Many people, you know, in different way, people are getting married. They are not trained by anyone. And sometimes they will come to the church, the pastor will give them some of the training that we have in the church. It’s like a book we always follow. But it’s not enough because people want to begin—they are fast, they are fast. They want to organize quickly their marriage and to be together. And maybe the really life comes now after marriage.

Francine: And they cannot accommodate each other. When Jean Claude does something, I will say, “No.”

They cannot even ask for forgiveness. They cannot have…. I’m running out of words to put there because some of them you advise them, “You say ‘no.’ You have to be patient.” Be patient observe God’s rule, and pray.

They want God to answer their problems today. No. You have to be patient. Look also back what you are doing good, what you are doing wrong so that you can move together. If this one want to be on top, the other one also want to be on top. So, who’s going to come down? No one. We have to teach them those stuff.

Joe: You talked a little bit about having patience. How… What helps you have patience when things aren’t happening as quickly as you would like?

Francine: For me, I would say first, prayer. I always listen to God before saying something. And I always…. I am… I don’t like to keep problem, to bother myself, no. I normally talk and then forget. I like that. But prayer helps me a lot. Listen to God. Sometime even us. We are in trouble sometimes. It’s not always we have roses. No. But we know each other. And we know the rock of our marriage is Jesus. I always run to listen what God would tell me to do. Even if it’s not in the God in his mood, I will wait. I will pray. And then God will give me the answer. And the answer cannot come the same day, even one month and God will show…. Maybe I am the one who I am wrong. He’s right. And then later on I will discover that I am wrong. And then I have to ask for forgiveness. If he’s wrong also, you ask also for forgiveness. And then we are moving. Yeah.

Jean Claude: In the couple if there is no people that value to be patient, they cannot go far in their marriage. So any couple that is… I would advise couples to have that patience because the patience is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If you are really Christian and something happen in your life, in your marriage, being patient in the way of taking decision, in the way of responding to a partner, in the way also of understanding, be patient. God will show you the way like Francine is saying. God will show you the way.

Francine: It’s a matter also of prayer. It’s a matter for prayer also. We have also to pray. All the couples, they have to pray God to give them that fruit of patience. Because without that, no, you cannot make it.

Jean Claude: I think the church must take this ministry seriously, to help couples, to help not those who will start their marriage, that say, Okay, these are the people we have to train. Even those who have 25 years, 35 years in their life, they have to participate in that ministry.

Joe: Shifting gears just a little bit… Is it unique for you to be married missionaries, both of you missionaries and being married to each other? Is that something that happens often? Or is that….

Jean Claude: No. We have couples. The husband is a missionary, and the wife do other work. And we have also women that are missionaries and their husband are not missionaries. So it’s a matter of call. Think a missionary is…. You have to be called by God. And you have to be sincere with God in what you are doing. Don’t be a missionary because you want a job. You’ll end up being frustrated. And it’s not easy to be a missionary. You have to have that heart of being called, and you respond positively to that call. And we…we have more examples of people who have tried some … Maybe the husband’s try, some of maybe the wife try, and they end up being frustrated and they say, We give up of this work. We don’t like.

Joe: Is being married to one another… And you have individual ministries, right? Do they overlap and does your marriage help each ministry?

Jean Claude: Almost I will say we are accompanying each other in the ministry.

Joe: Tell me more about that.

Jean Claude: Myself, I’m a church planter. So doing evangelism in the rural area (take my example) …in the rural area and different places. So my wife, she has a passion and a ministry of helping girls. And in the rural area where we are serving, some of the people don’t have a chance to go to school or being affected by the culture—early marriage. So those are girls.

So by working myself in the rural area, so Francine she’s coming in. Like, now treating some of the women that are in that community. So helping… So we are working together in different way. And that’s helping each other. So any place where I will go, open a new church in a community, Francine, she has the eyes also of seeing what is happening in that community. I will say that we are lucky and blessed because at the place where we are serving, really, all of us we are really fitting in the same area of assignment.

Francine: I think God calls us to be together. Actually we were born in the same hospital.

[Laughter]

Joe: You didn’t know each other then.

Francine: No. We didn’t know each other.

Jean Claude: … Four years after I was born in the same hospital in the same town.

Francine: We didn’t know each other.

Jean Claude: Francine came in the same hospital, and you was born there. So you know. So we have some similarities there. We come from one area, and God prepared…. Even we were different…. We grow up different places. But God sent us to be together. And she’s really a blessing to me. Yes. She’s a blessing to me and the work that I’m doing. And the advice that I always receive from her. And really God created her for me.

Joe: Francine, tell me a little bit about your ministry,

Francine: Okay. What I’m doing with the young girls, first of all, is reconciliation with their God and their family. First I help them to know the word of God, after other thing. Because they have first to receive Christ in their life as a savior. When they have now those two of Jesus Christ, now we can go to minister now for…teaching them some skills so that they can support themselves. Reconciliation with their God by receiving Christ as their savior, reconciliation with their family. Because if they get pregnant, they are rejected by the family. It’s not like here when a teenager get pregnant the family, the government, they will take care of him. In Africa, most of the country, when a girl get pregnant you are rejected.

So imagine a little girl, 12 years old, 14 years old, 16 years old, 15 years old, rejected by the society. So it’s really hard. It’s the ministry that I’m doing to give them the second chance to reach their goals. It doesn’t mean when that girl get pregnant she’s not intelligent to continue a study. She can…. We are giving them the second chance to go back again to school.

Those who are not able to go to school, we are teaching them skills so that they can support themselves. And most of the girls in Ivory Coast in school there is a big number in high school that are pregnant. They are getting pregnant in school. And in the rural area also. There is also young girls who are pregnant. They are married at the early age. And then will they were when maybe 16, they will run away from that marriage. Now, when they will be in the street, they will be doing prostitution. They will be looking for job, being like housemaid. They are just looking way to get the shelter, where to eat. And then they will pay them back. They don’t know even to do housemaid’s work. So I’m trying to teach them those skills. And after that, we will be teaching them…our members…

Jean Claude: Church members.

Francine: …church members, I will be talking to them so that they can take them as a housemaid. At least they’re secure and they can have a shelter. They can have food. And at the end of the day they can pay them a small salary so that they can survive and support themselves.

Joe: That’s wonderful and really great to hear, and what a difficult ministry, I imagine.

One of the things we like to do on the podcast is offer people ways that they can continue in their spiritual growth. And so when you are feeling discouraged, when the work is hard, where do you…what do you do to regain your encouragement? What do you do to regain your strength?

Jean Claude: One is we always take time for ourselves. When we reach the point that we are discouraged and maybe tired and maybe we are frustrated, we always take time for ourselves. When …. We always take time for ourselves. So I will take maybe 3 days of retreats for myself. And maybe I will take for the family, the whole family, we will go somewhere and just spend…. In Ivory Coast where we are, we have a beautiful beach. So we can go there and spend a little bit of, maybe 2 days, there and just relax, and God will give us again…restore our life and give again the strength to our spirits. Yes. It’s really a challenge, but you have to know that God is there. And it’s not your work. You are there because God sent you there. So when you want to have fuel in your engine, you have to go to God who can refuel again and you can have energy. So we always take time for ourselves. And when we feel discouraged, when we feel tired, we always take time for ourselves so that God can renew our lives. God can give us again strength and go back again to ministry.

Joe: Something you said there that just resonates with me: ‘it’s not your work; it’s God’s work.’ A lot of times we…

Jean Claude: Yes, we try to fix ourselves everything.

Joe: How about you, Francine? You get to go to the beach, too. You guys go together.

Francine: Most of the time we go together. But in my case, when I’m hearing…I’m sharing stories with those young girls, I end up crying. I cry because sometimes… Imagine someone who come up with a story how she was violated, how she was abused, it’s really hard. Sometime I can’t show to my young girls that I’m crying. Sometime I will just do that and then go somewhere and wipe my face and then come back.

But when I will go back home I can take even 30 minutes crying. But then after that I will listen to music. I take my time to listen to gospel, English, Swahili, French. It helps me to be restored. Yeah, I’m trying to do that because it’s not easy. It’s not easy.

Sometime we are in big home, and then we don’t know what is going outside. We have to go, especially in the rural area you cry. You cry. You know those stuff we are using for ladies, for period lady. Some girls they don’t know even how to use them. They don’t know how to use them. So when I’m going in the rural area to minister I always carry some stuff. I cannot go there to teach them without some examples. I have to go with examples. After our teaching I will give them and show them how to use them.

Joe: Yeah.

Francine: It’s really hard. But it’s not my mission. It’s God’s mission.

Joe: I just like that a lot. I like that reminder that it’s God’s mission. One last question. How can people support you? How can people help you or be a part of the work that you’re doing?

Jean Claude: Yes. Actually we are inviting friends and for those who have that passion also of making difference in the world, they can be part of our ministry. And the way that they can do that is through The Advance. We have different Advance for me and for Francine.

Joe: We’ll put those on the website. So people that are listening will go to our website.

Jean Claude: We have also for the project. The project is evangelism and church planting in Côte d'Ivoire. So that they…the place where you can also send your support. And not just money, but we need also people who can volunteer. And they say, “Okay, I have expertise in marriage ministry, Jean Claude, could you…may I come for 2 weeks or 1 one to share with couples?” That will be great. And if, like Francine, she’s planning to, also to open, to construct a center for girls. So we need support on that. And where girls can learn skills and to support themselves.

So we need a friend really to be on our side so that we can make difference in the world. We are not alone. We are with them and we are with Jesus. And we thank God for that.

Joe: Is there a website or a newsletter where people can keep up with the things that are happening? How do we find that?

Jean Claude: Yes, we are…. Actually we always send newsletter every month to churches and friends. And we have a blog, but at this time it’s not really activated. It’s Hope to Africa. And we’ll go…maybe we’ll invite people, those who want us, we have…we are on the Global Ministries website. So they can contact us and we can respond to any questions or they want to learn more about our ministry and mission in Côte d'Ivoire we invite them to come.

We thank God because being there we know that we have friends all over the world. Those who take their passion in church planting and doing evangelism, they are welcome. Those who want to respond to the need of girls in Côte d'Ivoire they are welcome. So if you want also to give like clean water in the community where we are serving, they are welcome. So we thank God for all churches and individual who will be touched by that. They can come and we can really respond and work together. We are there not for us, but for God’s glory.

Joe: And people that are listening, you can go to UMC.org/podcasts and find the page for this episode and we’ll put links there. So it’ll make it as easy as we possibly can.

I have so enjoyed meeting you. And I have so enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much.

Jean Claude: Thank you so much and God bless you.

Francine: Thank you.

Epilogue

Joe: That was the Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka and Francine Ilunga Mbanga Mufuk, United Methodist missionaries from the Democratic Republic of Congo serving the people of Côte d'Ivoire.

To support their ministries, go to UMC.org/podcasts and look for this episode called “Faith, Love and Marriage.” We’ve put links on the page to their Advance accounts where you can support them financially, and learn more about them and their ministries.

Also, while you are there, take a look at some of our other Get Your Spirit in Shape episodes and other podcasts by United Methodists that you might enjoy.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back soon with another episode to help keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.

Epilogue

Joe: That was the Rev. Jean Claude Masuka Maleka and Francine Ilunga Mbanga Mufuk, a married couple from the Democratic Republic of Congo who serve as United Methodist missionaries to Côte d'Ivoire. To learn more about them and their ministry, go to umc.org/podcasts and look for this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. We’ve put links on the page where you can support David’s ministry and learn more about Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church and their Give Love campaign.

With that, we put a wrap on year four of Get Your Spirit in Shape. We’ll be back in January to begin year 5 of conversations to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies.

I’m Joe Iovino, wishing you a Merry Christmas and a safe and Blessed New Year. Peace.