|From the veranda|
Saturday, July 30, 2011, was a grand and glorious day in Beni. Fog from the night’s rain hung in the air, but spirits were high on the UCBC campus. A dais stood ready in front of the Academic Building veranda, orange and green tule draped across the railing behind. Chairs for graduates, faculty, and special guests filled the veranda. Facing the stage from a distance, the University Chapel and Community Center (UCCC) stood proud—a continuing work in progress. In the foreground, a dozen or more white tents created a shaded perimeter where more than 300 guests would be accommodated. The newly built stone wall in front of the Welcome Center proclaimed, “Université Chrétienne Bilingue du Congo” in fresh green and gold paint. Inside the Academic Building faculty and staff were dashing to complete final details for the graduation ceremony, about to take place.
|Graduates marching onto campus|
Somewhere around 9 a.m. sounds of a brass band echoed, and those of us without assignments strode out to see the UCBC graduates march onto campus, heralded by this delightful vestige of earlier missionary activities. UCBC Brigade served as honor guard. The students were in full graduation regalia: black cap and gown, white stoles declaring their faculty (major) in red and green. Some of the UCBC faculty were in the line. The group had earlier marched a route downtown. And now they were here…on this ground that only a few short years ago was little more than elephant grass, a vision, and a promise from God.
|Faculty join the procession|
Other faculty joined the procession along with UCBC leadership, members of the General Assembly (Congolese board), US board members in attendance, and other US guests. And for the next 10 or 15 minutes we marched a slow but grand procession for perhaps 30-40 yards to a brassy refrain with just a hint of New Orleans jazz.
At the Welcome Center, the procession halted for the raising of the Congolese flag and singing of the anthem. Next was the raising of the UCBC flag and the UCBC anthem—a praise to God and a call to transformation.
The procession from the flags to the veranda and dais, although in distance twice as far, took only minutes. We were smiles all around. I venture to say that for many of us, hearts burst with pride as if these students were our own dear children graduating from our alma mater.
Fast forward? No. The ceremony, complete with prayer, student speeches, skits, singing, recognitions, commencement address, conferring of degrees, more prayers, blessings, commendations, and awards, lasted another 4 (or was it 5?) hours. Time didn’t so much fly as it soared and lifted against the currents of Congolese exuberance, solemnity, and celebration.
Two moments during the ceremony stood as strong statements about the event and UCBC. First, David Kasali instituted a “Rectors’s Award for Excellence” at this graduation. David talked about the significance of leadership, excellence, and service—that these go hand-in-hand. He then proceeded to present awards to two staff people, two students, the Academic Dean, and the president of the US Board of CI. With each award, David described in heartfelt detail the ways in which the individual sets a standard of excellence which inspires and continues to serve and lead in this work that is UCBC.
|Blessing the graduates|
Near the end of the ceremony, having received their diplomas, the graduates gathered on the dais. UCBC leadership, representatives from the General Assembly and the US Board, and pastors in attendance gathered, and circled around the graduates. Collectively they laid hands on these young women and men and delivered a prayer of dedication and blessing as the rest of us reached out our hands in solidarity—both sending out and confirming that God continues the work of building up “indigenous, Christian leaders to be transformed and to transform their communities and the nation of DR Congo.”
Before the ceremony concluded, a harambee was held: a collection of cash and pledges for the UCCC. Students, guests, faculty, community members, and local leaders stepped forward in public and committed money and cement to the effort. Just as the graduates were blessed and sent, the community blessed the work of UCBC and said by their contributions, “We are part of this place; part of this work of transformation.”