Return of a Native Son

 
 
M. Boetsa with sheaf of papers in hand stands among a few of his visitors

A long line of visitors waited for hours to speak with Mbandaka native son M. BOETSA  during his stay last summer.  Living next to him in the duplex housing at the “Maison des Missionaires” I had the opportunity to get acquainted with this esteemed native son and learn the reason for his return. 

During the colonial era, the Belgians had built in Mbandaka what they envisioned would be the first and only Institute for Tropical Medicine in Central Africa.  Independence scuttled those plans but a Belgian foundation now wants M. BOETSA to carry out the original vision of a medical research center in Mbandaka.  Having caught wind of those plans, the Congolese Ministry of Education has asked him to also consider assuming the post of C.E.O. of the University in Mbandaka.

For more than twenty years, he has raised a family and taught biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris.  Raised in the Disciples church, BOETSA told me about his baptism at the Mbandaka III cathedral church and how his parents continue to participate in the Ikongo Wassa Disciples parish of Mbandaka.  When I told him of my friendship with Pierre Sangana, now resident of Indianapolis, BOETSA exuberantly described Pierre’s son Georges as one of the most respected surgeons in Paris. He also noted that Pierre’s daughter Aimee, now living in the San Francisco Bay area, had ignored his childhood crush.

M. BOETSA returned to Paris at the end of last summer to ponder the logistics of maintaining a home in Mbandaka and one in Paris.  He planned to return with his wife on his next Mbandaka visit and planned to again stay in the “Maison des Missionaires”.    His wife  had rejected the Ministry of Education’s offer of a large house in town in favor of staying next to the river and enjoying the porch’s cool breezes.

 

 

Moringa at Ikengo

Ikengo Farm Director Rio Bosala and visitors next to the Farm's Moringa grove

“And the leaves were for the healing of the nations…..”   (Rv 22:2)  Ten years ago Church World Service’s West Africa Director Lowell Fuglie began promoting the growth and use of the moringa leaf to combat malnuturition.  Today the tree is widely know across Africa as a drought resistant, fast growing tree used for treating a variety of ailments, including malnutrition.  A recent article on the properties of moringa observes, “It is commonly said that Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas, and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs.”

The bark, seeds and pods of the moringa are also used with the seeds providing a low cost water purification technique. According to the same article, “ The journal Current Protocols in Microbiology published a step by step extraction and treatment procedure to produce “90.00% to 99.99%” bacterial reduction. The seeds are also considered an excellent source for making biodiesel.”

Two or three years ago someone brought some moringa seeds with them on a visit to the Disciples farm at Ikengo.   The

Ikengo's malnourished infants may soon be given daily doses of moringa powder

resulting moringa grove caught the eye of Equateur Province’s Governor who exclaimed that he uses the moringa leaf for his diabetes.  And the Provincial health ministry is now interested in obtaining leaf powder for treating malnourished infants. 

A Mbandaka native son now Professor of Biology at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris was fascinated by moringa’s water purifying capacity.  Wanting to see the trees, M. BOETSA accompanied me on my return to the Ikengo farm this past summer. More about the reason for his return to Mbandaka in the next posting.  For now, those interested in more on the amazing moringa tree can go to the Wikipedia article at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moringa_oleifera

State of the Congo Disciples

    

Current Disciples President, Rev. Eliki BONANGA chose Palm Sunday to present an overview of the state of the “Communaute”, one of sixty plus denominations making up the unified Church of Christ in Congo.  On his lenten tour of Tshuapa River “Posts” of the Disciples, Rev. BONANGA spoke to over 800 parishoners of Yalusaka, a congregation in the Post of Mondombe 600 miles from Disciples “Communaute” headquartrers in Mbandaka.

Rev. BONANGA stated there are now 23 Posts founded by Disciples in the provinces of Equateur, Bandundu, and Orientale, and the city of Kinshasa as well as missionary extensions in the cities of Kisangani, Lubumbashi , Gemena, Boma, Bikoro, and Lukolela.  In a brief review of the Disciples 112 year history in Congo, he called on the parishoners to give thanks in prayer for the missionaries who died on duty in the Congo or in retirement in the USA. He then noted the transition from a missionary led to an autonomous church in the early 1960’s and the paramount importance now of local support of the church’s mission. 

Yalusaka parish of Disciples Mondombe Post following Palm Sunday worship

 

Relying primarily on the support of church members, Congolese Disciples have built schools, clinics and churches in significant numbers even during the turbulent years of the recent past.  Under the continuing adminstration of the Church’s central office of Education are 486 primary and secondary schools with 65,000 students and 2700 plus teachers.  In addition to 6 hospitals staffed by 12 Congolese doctors are pharmacies and clinics in all the Disciples Posts.  While the Congolese government is committed to health and education services through payment of salaries, local labor, church offerings and user fees  maintain the buildings and make up for delayed and inadequate salary payments by the state.

Tremendous growth of the Congolese Disciples is reflected in the fact that the Church consisted of 10 Posts at

Disciples Education Director Mr. BOFEKO and Bolenge Regional Minister Rev. NGOY meet with Ikalenganya parishoners building the village's first primary school. Children have been walking over twenty miles round trip to school.

independence in 1960.  Another sign of progress among Congo Disciples is the Church’s relative unity after a period of dissension resulting in the split of the remote Tshuapa River Posts.  A native of the Tshuapa Post of Mondombe, Rev. BONANGA appealed to the Yalusaka congregation to support the parish through their offerings, their tithes and community projects (e.g. a parish manioc field) to generate revenue.  Following Rev. BONANGA, four pastors prayed for the local and world church, including Disciples partners in the U.S. and Germany, for missionaries both dead and living and for social concerns both international and national.  The five hour Palm Sunday service ended at 2 pm, long after the Sunday lunch crowd has dispersed in the U.S.

NOTE:  Report of the Palm Sunday service is from Nathan Weteto’s blog originating from Disciples headquarters in Mbandaka.  Address is natana@tumblr.com  He concludes the report by noting there were among the 825 persons at the worship service 57 Bibles and 14 song books.  The several offerings taken up totaled around $70.

New Drumming on the Tshuapa River

 

Ceremony of Ordination of Rev. BOOLA

The Congo Disciples blog (read it in French at http://weteto.tumblr.com ) notes that women in the pastorate have brought gender role changes in aspects of the traditional culture as well as in the life of the church. Rev. Regine BOOLA of Bokungu, drumming in the picture above, and Rev. Suzanne INGOY of Boende were ordained last month in their home parishes with the Disciples President Rev. Eliki BONANGA presiding.

 Blog editor Nathan Weteto wrote this week: “according to tradition, only men can sound the “Lokolé, an instrument formerly used for communicating between villages (such as the telephone today)”.  Weteto tells us that churches in Congo have in recent years adopted use of the lokole.  And so an increasing number of women like Revde. BOOLA, “play the Lokolé as pastors in their parishes to call the faithful to worship”.

It is also cause for celebration during this special week that the photos accompanying this blog were received the day after they were shot in a remote area of the Congo.  I was astonished last Monday on seeing that Weteto was able to post them to his blog

Palm Sunday Yalusaka Parishoners Greet the Visiting Pastors After Worship

following the Palm Sunday worship at Yalusaka, by his estimate some 1000 kms. from Mbandaka.  The remote village is in the Mondombe Disciples’ post region, one of several posts on the Tshuapa River. All the Disciple posts along the Tshuapa have been pillaged and terrorized by successive waves of rebel armies using the River to make their way from eastern Congo to Kinshasa.

 The rebel looting has accentuated the importance and the difficulty of the Disciple posts’ providing the only medical and the only education services, both primary and secondary schools, for the people living along the Tshuapa. Surely Rev. BOOLA and Rev. INGOY’s ordination in two posts of the area promise an even stronger response to the church’s call to the local population to build more schools, clinics and hospitals.

Footnote to this posting:  Dr. Gene Johson, translator of the Weteto blog postings and responsible for Disciple medical services in the Tshuapa region for several years in the 1960’s and 70’s, informed me that Bokungu, nearest Disciple “poste” to Mondombe, has a cell phone tower and therefore may well offer internet service also.

Mbandaka’s Water Crisis

With average rainfall of 85 inches annually, one would think water would not be a problem in Mbandaka, capital of Equateur Province in the Congo.  But rainwater catchment systems are rare in the city of 700,000 plus persons and Regideso, the public water utility has been unable to upgrade its infrastructure since the original installations of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Only 5 per cent of Mbandaka households are served by Regideso.  In the country as a whole, only one third of the urban population now enjoys running water; that figure has declined from 68 per cent of urban Congolese with tap water in 1990.  Outside Mbandaka, the only other city in Equateur Province with running water is Gemena and from 1990 to 2009 the system there did not function.

Bralima brewery, the lone industry in Mbandaka

 

This past summer in Mbandaka, my bathroom water barrel was kept full thanks to a large cistern on scaffolding just outside the window.  Regideso supplied the water for the cistern but only every other day for a few hours.  Were it not for the payments from the Bralima brewery (owned by Heineken) in Mbandaka, Regideso managers say they would be out of business.  Drinking water in plastic bottles was purchased for my household, a leading item in the budget.

Warfare in Equateur and in the eastern Congo has contributed to the decline in water delivery systems.  With only ten per cent of the estimated 5.4 million deaths in eastern Congo from 1998 to 2006 due to the violence, one wonders how many of the deaths stemmed from typhus, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea transmitted by contaminated water.

“Water, Water Everywhere ………”

While much of Africa suffers from a decades long drought, the Democratic Republic of Congo has no shortage of water. Half the African continent’s water can be found in the Congo. But much of the country’s water is not fit to drink.
 
 
 

 

women collecting water
Disciples President Rev. Bonanga visits the UNICEF funded water station at Bolenge. Several Disciple strong communities have benefited from the Church's collaboration with UNICEF on rural water projects

Fifty one million Congolese or three fourths of the country’s population do not have access to safe drinking water according to a report released this week by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP).

The head of UNEP’s Congo office Mr. Hassan Partow noted, “the stark reality is that the DRC has one of the fastest urbanization growth rates in the world and this is not being matched with adequate water and sanitation service delivery”. The study calls for an investment of $169 million over a five year period to upgrade the water delivery infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

Rural Congo is just as threatened by unsafe water as UNICEF’s Congo Director pointed out on World Water Day March 22. Ms. Pierrette Vu Thi stated, “A child living in a Congolese village is four times more likely to drink contaminated water than someone in town.” Current statistics hold that 2 million children under the age of 5 regularly suffer from diarrhea, usually caused by contaminated water in Congo. This makes unsafe water a leading cause of death among Congo’s infants, whose mortality rate is over 20 per cent in

Ikalenganya village well. Probably safe as Disciples trained village health worker reported low incidence of diarrhea and infant mortality

many areas of the country.

Strongly recommended by the U.N. study are undertaking low cost solutions such as communal taps and rainwater catchment systems.

To read the UNEP report Water Issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Challenges and Opportunities go to the following web address: http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/UNEP_DRC_water.pdf

The 90 page report includes an in depth assessment of Regideso, the water supplier for urban Mbandaka and other cities of Equateur Province.

U.S. Congress Updated on Congo

Actor Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain, wife of US.. Sen. John McCain, arrive before testifying on Congo before the House Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

Last week the U.S. Congress turned some of its attention to the situation in Congo.  Not surprisingly, Hollywood actor Ben Affleck’s testimony became the focus of the media attention.  The House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee hearing heard testimony from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and human rights groups, including the Eastern Congo Initiative that Affleck founded in 2010. 

The new Chair of the Africa Subcommittee, Chris Smith, R-NJ, noted that Congo is one of the five poorest countries in the world, with 80 per cent of its people living on income of less than $2 per day.  With the regular outbreak of armed conflict and mass rape, many lives have been lost in eastern Congo by the failure to respond to the challenges to health posed by malnutrition, malaria, pneumonia and diarrahea.  Most affected are children under 5, the majority of the estimated 5.4 million (International Rescue Committee figure) who have died in the war torn areas of eastern Congo since 1998.

Affleck’s testimony emphasized the importance of the national elections scheduled for this year. “The path to stability in today’s Congo requires fostering stable elections and preventing another disaster that would easily require hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. Come November we must be able to look ourselves in the eye and say that we did what our principles demanded [and] we helped democracy emerge in a place where tragedy is the alternative.” 

Having traveled three times in the last year to the eastern Congo, among the actor’s policy recommendations were the appointment of a U.S. envoy to Congo and increased funding of the Congo electoral process.  Interesting to note that Mr. Affleck did not call for that funding to be channeled through the U.N. whose peacekeeping and civil society support efforts are woefully underfunded.

Last month the head of the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) warned that lack of funding of  their election related activities would be dire.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Congo and Indianapolis native Roger Meece declared, “it is not yet clear we will have needed funds in the 2011/2012 budget cycle to ensure the necessary logistical support we are uniquely positioned to provide.”  He did not mention that at this time the UN presence in Congo is scheduled to end on June 30.

Micro Credit Training for the HIV Positive

 

 

Nathan Weteto, Micro Credit Trainer and Organizer

 

From the blog of Nathan Weteto http://natana.tumblr.com as translated by Dr. Gene Johnson from the French 

 

46 Persons Living With HIV Ask for Micro Credit

Yesterday, December 9, 2010, the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo completed the launch of the micro – credit for people living with HIV (PVV). Planned for 40 people, the project welcomed the first 44 and
then 2 more were added making a total of 46 beneficiaries.

 

In fact, the CDCC, with the support of the United Evangelical Mission (MEU) has turned to a new category of persons as part of its program of micro – credit. After women in general and the wives of pastors, it’s the
turn of PVV

The MEU has provided funding for making two kits for the administration of micro – credit as well as U.S. $ 800 as seed money for PVV..

After 3 days of training on the administration of a group of micro -credit, 2 groups of 23 persons each were formed and the beneficiaries have saved, before receiving aid, a sum of 285,000 FC, slightly more than
U.S. $ 300. The cycle thus started will end in June, 2011. We hope that everything will go well, and to the great satisfaction of the beneficiaries.

 

Read more about the Disciples’ organizing of micro-credit groups in the article “Banking in Mbandaka” on this blog. Enter that title in the search window found in the upper right of the home page.

 


 

 

Congo Disciples Commemorate World AIDS Day

Translated by Dr. Gene Johnson, this posting is from the blog of Nathan Weteto of the Disciples headquarters office in Mbandaka, R.D.C. The blog address is http://natana.tumblr.com.

World AIDS Day December 1, 2010 was a first for the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo. Indeed, for the first time, the CDCC has participated in festivities marking the World AIDS day, despite the existence of an AIDS office in the General Secretariat and various actions that the Community has undertaken in the sense of awareness for the prevention and encouraging voluntary testing. The CDCC has not only participated in these events, on Friday, December 3, 2010 it launched the activity of micro – credit for people living with HIV (PVV) in the presence of many dignitaries of the Provincial government and the Church. 44 PVV are involved in this project which will give them financial opportunities that will enable them to reintegrate into society without hang-ups. The hardest task will be the psychological training of these people for their rehabilitation because they were often stigmatized and often lived on the margins of society.

Nathan Weteto or “Weteto” as he is known by friends and colleagues fills several positions at the “Secretariat”, headquarters of the Disciples “Community” of the Church of Christ of Congo. He is Director of Communications, Head of Personnel, and serves on the Development Committee which oversees such projects as the “Centre Agro Pastorale” at Ikengo.

Leaving Longa

The twenty five horsepower motor fired right up and the ten or twelve passengers settled into their plastic chairs or into their nests at the bottom of the pirogue. Before sitting we sang, “Biso tokobima na mpusa matembe/ Tokotambolaka nde nkolo Yesu”.

We are on the Ruki River which connects the mighty Congo to the Tshuapa, the tributary which has served as the route of successive waves of rebels seeking to overthrow the feeble governments of the country. The Ruki flows into the Congo at Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur Province, the least developed of the Congo’s 10 provinces. Equateur’s capital is also the headquarters town of the “Communaute Disciples du Christ au Congo”, number ten among 65 “Communautes” now making up the Church of Christ of Congo.

“We leave now on the next step of our journey/ The journey we walk together with our Lord Jesus” we sing before taking our seats in the pirogue. On our way, we all think of the Regional Minister for the Ingende/Longa Region who died in the Ruki just below Longa. On a night with little to no moon five months before, his over loaded pirogue had capsized and fifteen drowned. After we sang someone prayed for the deceased’s widow and family still living in Ingende where we would spend the next two nights.