By Elliott Wright*
The Kamana 5 Singers from the Democratic Republic of Congo sing during worship at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Fla.
Four brothers and a sister from the Congo took the United Methodist General Conference to its knees and brought it to its feet as they sang “O Happy Day….when Jesus washed my sins away.”
The five Kamana children, ranging from 9 to 21 years of age, won the hearts of the people everywhere they sang, usually a cappella, during a four-day visit to the conference and churches in Central Florida.
The group consists of Patrick, 21; brother Providence, 18; sister Dorcas, 15; and the younger brothers, Welcome (Bienvenu), 11, and Desire, 9. Their father, the Rev. Bievenu Kamana Sr., accompanied them. He is director of connectional ministries for the West Congo Annual (regional) Conference of the denomination and a pastor.
“O Happy Day” opened the conference’s evening worship on April 30. The group sang “Peace be Still,” also known as "Master, the Tempest is Raging," just before the sermon by Bishop David Yemba of South Congo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The bishop had taught the Kamanas the song in their native dialect.
The song’s spirit and rhythm dramatized the scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark on how Jesus calmed a raging sea that frightened his disciples.
The young singers are from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, where they are known as Le Bon Semeur (The Good Sower). They often sing at Bandal United Methodist Church, where their father is pastor. They came to the attention of the worship leaders of General Conference through a typically United Methodist connectional route.
Three of the children sang at a February, 2011, meeting in Kinshasa of the General Conference’s Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. That committee considers church issues in geographical regions outside the United States.
Byrd Bonner from San Antonio, Texas, then an officer of the standing committee, was so impressed that he sent a recording of the Kamana children to Marcia McFee, director of music and worship for the 2012 General Conference. McFee invited the young singers to Tampa.
The family sings with enthusiasm in crystal-clear voices. Their songs are in English, French and local Congolese languages. The older basses and young male voices are counterpointed by the amazing voice of their sister, Dorcas.
The five sang familiar hymns on April 30 at a General Conference event celebrating the church’s Ministry with the Poor emphasis.
They wore bright red T-shirts provided by the Rethink Church campaign of United Methodist Communications. The youngest child, Desire, marked his 9th birthday at the celebration, which treated him to “Happy Birthday.”
Providence, who speaks English, said in an interview that the children learned to sing at home, with some training at the government school they attend. He plays guitar, which the young people put to use in Orlando, where they sang at four services at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on the weekend of April 29-30.
Bonner, executive director of the United Methodist Church Foundation, took the responsibility of raising funds to bring the Kamanas to General Conference, with the foundation taking the chief role as organizer. Other significant contributors include the Central Conference Pension Initiative, the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, the Texas Annual Conference and congregations in Central Florida.
*Wright is an information consultant working with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.