A Leadership Story of Incredible Faith and Prayer
Texas Annual Conference leaders who prayed fervently for Vano Kiboko, wrongly held in a Congo prison, are now celebrating his intense journey of ministry leading up to his release.
Imagine spending 492 days in prison -- in another country -- with very little explanation. Vano Kiboko has a prison story much like a modern-day Paul—and his story has had far reaching impact to encourage many as to the power of prayer and importance of sharing their faith. “Kiboko, was released from military prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo on May 5, 2016, thanks be to God!” says Rev. Susan Grittman, Associate Pastor, Spring Woods UMC, Houston. Adds Susan, ”Many throughout the conference and even around the world are celebrating the movement of God’s Spirit and the power of God to answer prayer and free Kiboko.”
Vano shared the amazing details of his personal miracle at Spring Woods UMC in early June, at the request of his daughter Sylvia Kiboko, who wanted to celebrate this victory with her home church. At long last, Vano arrived in the U.S. on June 6. Just five days later, a very unique worship service kicked off with a procession by the Kiboko family, headed by Vano, all singing in Swahili about God’s power and victory. “Vano gave his testimony in French which was translated by his daughter, Gloria Kiboko, and then Vano prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit to move the congregation to have the boldness to share their faith,” explains Susan. Dr. Shana Mashego, friend of the family, and her five-string group, The Sacred Ensemble provided special music and Rev. Heather Sims spoke of the power of prayer. ”Vano’s victory reception featured African foods and cake fit for a king!”
Vano shared that he was a former congressman in his native country, the D.R. Congo. He now realizes he was arrested and imprisoned in Makala Prison (Civil) and Ndolo Prison (Military) for a total of 492 days under the guidance of God. “Prior to his arrest,” shares Susan, “he had been an advocate for protecting the rights of the citizens according to the constitution. At the airport preparing to leave the country, Vano was detained and his passport kept overnight. After his passport was returned, he was arrested at the immigration gate with no explanation.” In his testimony Vano shares that no one would tell him why he had been arrested, so he asked God. For two weeks he heard nothing and began to feel abandoned by even God. Vano, a lay evangelist, was encouraged by remembering he had been given the authority to baptize by South Congo Area Bishop Kainda Katembo in July 2014 just months prior to his arrest on December 29, 2014. When he finally sensed God speaking to him in prison, Vano was surprised by the answer: “You are not here because you were arrested but because I brought you here. I want you to build a church.”
Vano’s family began to bring food to the prison so he would not starve. Then they began to bring enough for all the prisoners because they were killing each other for bread. However, Vano recognized that the spiritual hunger was much deeper than the hunger for bread.
Vano shares, “Upon my arrest, I always wondered why God had allowed it!!! Sometime later, God revealed to me that it was for a mission that He put me in the chains of prison. While accepting it, I understood that God was calling me to care for lost souls that I had to bring to Him. Therefore, I began to evangelize by leading people to repentance and to love Jesus more than anything else. From there, it turned out to be more of a pleasant prison than bitter, where I could care for souls. During his imprisonment, more than 1,500 prisoners accepted the Lord and over 500 were baptized. Each passing day, my delight was to win souls for God. God made me a fisher of men for Him.”
Now, Vano continually testifies that he was released by the power of prayer of the church. Sylvia Kiboko shares that “God used several bishops who were led by the Spirit to go to the prison, kick the door in, and demand his release.” Adds Sylvia, “Government officials did not want a martyr on their hands and let him go!”
“Upon reflection,” Sylvia says, “This experience has helped me grow closer to God. I’ve been travelling back and forth in order to tend to my father’s health, as well as bring him food. I was amazed at how God worked through him, especially when his meals, which were made at home and brought to prison, started to turn into agape love with other prisoners. It was a blessing and honor to witness God in action like that, to see my father preach God’s word from a small crowd to a large one and also baptize so many.” Adds Sylvia; “It brought tears to my eyes to be a part of it. I was inspired and fulfilled by this experience.”
As a result, she is feeling her own call by God to build the church among the French speaking community in Houston. She and her husband have just begun leading services of prayer and preaching on Sunday afternoons at First UMC Houston-Westchase campus.
Gloria Kiboko says this about how she has grown and watched God work during her father’s imprisonment: “Watching my father being arrested without any reason is a child’s worst nightmare. I was personally angry and questioned God for allowing that to happen. When I came back, I was involved in children’s ministry at Spring Woods UMC, where God instilled peace in me as I was teaching the children, like that found in John 14:27. I could not comprehend right away since my anger still clouded my spiritual eyes and ears, until I heard the way God used my father for His glory behind bars. The numbers of souls that came back to Christ confirmed that He is the one who threw my father in the lion’s den. My life has taken a turn where I know that I can walk by faith and not by sight, that He can indeed turn a mess into a message and a test into a testimony.”
Jane Maiers, lay leader at Spring Woods UMC, shares that she sets time aside each morning to be quiet for reading and devotion before heading to the gym. But one morning in June seemed different. Reading Jesus Calling, she sensed a feeling of anxiety followed by a prompting from the Holy Spirit to call Gloria. Shares Jane, “Gloria and I are church buddies but we typically don't see each other except for on Sunday – and this prompting was happening at 7:15 in the morning!” She was obedient and called Gloria’s cell phone, leaving a message that she and her father were on my heart and mind, that I was anxious about something, and to please call her back. “Later that evening Gloria told me when I called she couldn't answer because she was on the phone at that very moment, hearing that her father had been released from prison! I still don't know why our good Lord shared that with me but each and every time something like that happens, I am thankful He is teaching me to listen more and obey.”
Adds Susan, “Speaking for myself, and probably for many others who heard his words at the worship celebration, I felt I was given the courage and conviction to preach the word of God and share my stories of my experiences of God – not just when convenient, not just when it feels safe, and not in the places of my own choosing in ministries along my preferences. We know that with prayer all things are possible. We know that God equips us for the work He calls us to do and opens doors for us to reach people for Christ if we will obey and walk through those doors under the power of the Holy Spirit. “
Leading by Example
Now that he has visited all his family, Vano is back in the Congo because, he says, “That is where the fight is. That is where I am needed.” At his victory worship celebration, Vano read Ephesians 6:19, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” Adds Susan, “Let us continue to pray for Vano Kiboko as he continues his ministry under God’s guidance. And may we all be encouraged by his example to follow Christ boldly, and may we have the privilege of seeing God bring salvation to others.”