I am originally from Ngandu Shanga, a small village located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am a descendent of a large extended family consisting of nuclear families with additional biological and non-biological relatives.
According to the traditions of family life, the man is the head of the family. The men made all decisions. The women were and still are the backbone of Congo, because all the essential chores fall on them. They were hardworking and were expected to take care of their familes. The children were expected to respect the adults. Grandfathers taught sayings, songs, and fables and assumed the responsibility of teaching cultural values to each generation.
In most instances, these values were taught through stories and proverbs that were handed down from one generation to another and became the cornerstone of life lessons for members of that family. I appreciate community life, the way people took care of each other and how money and work did not seem to play so important a role as in Western countries.
Like African Americans in the United States, the extended family formation was a method used in African families to deal with economic hardships and to give support to family members through other resources. Values, emotional closeness, economic cooperation, childcare, social regulation, and discipline are types of resources shared in extended families.
Through these resources, the family is willing to sacrifice for the well being of the group. But at the same time Americans generally believe that people should strive to be self-reliant. Most Americans see themselves as separate individuals, more than members of a nation, family or community. They dislike being dependent on other people or having others dependent on them. Most Congolese view this attitude as “self-centeredness;” but to most Americans it is a healthy freedom from control imposed by family, clan or social class.
When I think about our past decades, lives of African people were very close to the ones of our, (American) past. At that time, our ancestors did not care about the international issues and lived cheerfully. As they tended to rethink the meaning of development or even happiness, I also came to think whether or not our lives are progressing in the right way when we are dealing with the economic growth and not focusing on the happiness of people.
However, the extended family model is breaking down or is dissapearing from modern society especially when today's life is hurried, schedules are demanding, and many of us do not really connect with one another. The divorce rate is soaring, parents are spending fewer minutes a day with their children and friends have to squeeze one another into their breakneck schedules. As a result, there is often a need for a group—a church community that encourages and includes the values, emotional closeness, economic cooperation, childcare, social regulation, and discipline shared in extended families.
Like extended families, churches under the leadership of the Holy Spirit can be important influences on the spiritual, emotional formation of children and adults, especially when they have a practical and unwavering faith. Like extended families, churches are a collection of individuals that support and care deeply for one another. Churches can be sufficiently involved with one another to the point that if there is a crisis, they could and would call other members of the group in the middle of the night, as would a traditional extended family.
Like an extended family, there is close companionship, support, mutual prayer and sharing, something needed more today than ever before. This is the reason we are encouraged, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10:25); for the body of Christ like the traditional extended family are essential cornerstones that reemphasized the significance of meaningful face-to-face interactions and the positive effects when connecting to another in any thriving society.