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.

ALWAYS SURPRISING

Friday, July 17, 2010

It has not been an easy week. A visit to Bolenge, the Disciples first mission post, always disturbs and always raises questions about the future. How will the stately buildings of the old secondary school ever be restored or even saved from further deterioration in the relentless climate of the Equator Province? How will the Church maintain Bolenge’s reputation as the seat of learning which produced most of the Church’s leaders and many others who now teach, heal and lead in Congo and outside the country? How provide quality medical services with integrity when the State only offers a $30 to $40 per month stipend for doctors, absolutely nothing for nurses in the Disciples hospitals and virtually no assistance with the purchase of medicine or equipment?

These questions were set against the background of the Bolenge Regional Minister’s account of three days of pillaging of the village and the Bolenge Parish’s 5 schools and hospital by the rebels who brought an end to the Mobutu dictatorship in 1997. Anyone out of doors, mainly Rwandan Hutu refugees, was shot and corpses continued to be found in the fields long after the rebels had moved farther down river.

Yesterday’s conversation with retired ministers of the Church would also be unsettling Rev. Bonanga had advised me. The 80 year old President of the retired ministers summed it up by saying that the pension paid them by the Church fell way short and some of them were in risk of dying from hunger. The top pension, paid the widow of the former President of the Church, amounted to $30 per month. The grizzled small man sporting a clerical collar slightly askew noted he received $2 a month. He began his remarks with thanks for the missionaries who had evangelized and educated him. “I begin each day with a prayer for them; I thank God for the holy spirit that brought them here and ask that God will bless them this day and every day because of their service here.”

The plight of the retired ministers and the needs of the Church in maintaining a network of 486 primary and secondary schools and 6 hospitals, the Sisyphean challenge faced by the Church here, weighed on me this morning. While contemplating the river two young men singing in a pirogue came on the scene. The one in back cried out in a cadence, “open your heart white man and let us live” and the other picked up the refrain as they drifted out of sight, “open your heart white man and let us live”. The good cheer and spirited magnanimity of the boatmen’s call suggested part of the answer to the weighty questions of the week.

As I have written earlier, life is full of surprises here. And never boring. But let me provide someone else’s testimony to the uncanny beauty of the spirit of this place by quoting another Mbandaka visitor, the U.S. journalist Helen Winternitz. Her book East Along the Equator reports on her mid 1980’s boat trip up the Congo River. In a summary statemnent later in the book she writes, “I wasn’t to be satisfied until I found that imaginary peace I had left behind in Mbandaka, that place in my mind where the narrow confines of life disappeared, where rampant flowers bloomed……, where surprises were delightful and where people fell in love with the world every day.” (page 118) Her first description of the city of over a half million people at the time of her stay includes these words, “I didn’t want to leave Mbandaka and its unfettered sky. Despite its history, Mbandaka was not a place of beaten people. It was a place of survivors, of Africans who knew the strength of their continent.” (page 85)

I share the above as another way of paying tribute to the Disciple missionaries whose faith and love of the people here have surely contributed to the unbeaten spirit of Mbandaka’s leading Protestant Church and of the city’s inhabitants. I also share the above in the belief that those who come to know better these people will come to know their own strength better as well as the strength of the African people.

Schooling in Congo

Nearly everyone here is “Mama” or “Papa”. Children at an early age are acknowledged half wryly but affectionately in this way. Rev. Bonanga is not “Monsieur le President” as the head of the Disciples community; he is “Papa President”. And I have never heard Sandra Gourdet, the Global Ministries Africa Executive, referred to as anything but “Mama Sandra”. There is simply no more respectful honorific the culture can bestow than “Mama” and “Papa”.

While everyone is given the title, both parents and non parents, adults work hard and sacrifice heroically in their role as parent. “Papa Pierre”, one of my night time guardians in the compound, hopes to receive an advance today of $45 on his salary. Tomorrow his daughter graduates from her sixth year of primary school and there must be an appropriate celebration of the milestone. A new dress and shoes at a feast shared with family and friends crown the occasion. The expense projected is more than his monthly salary but is not an unusual outlay for a child even when there are eight or nine in the family, as is typical here.

The other night sentry in our Disciples guest compound “Papa Dominique” has with his wife continued to work a field more than 20 kilometers from the family‘s home in Mbandaka to pay his 9 children’s school fees. Papa Dominique’s wife sometimes spends two or three months away from home cultivating and harvesting before marketing the manioc root and leaves, corn, rice and potatoes. Even parents who have jobs in Equateur, the least developed Province with the highest unemployment, must seek additional income for their children’s education.

The school fees, averaging $4 monthly for primary school in Mbandaka, are largely seen as necessary to supplement the teacher’s measly salary which the State is often late in paying. Where parents’ committees in the States are concerned with raising money for the arts programs or athletics, in the Congo they are focused on paying the teachers enough to keep them on the job in the classroom.

The first Disciple missionaries in Congo were moved by the profound emphasis of the culture on the role of parent. Dr. Royal Dye and wife Eva, in the early 1900‘s, acquired a new identity and standing with the birth of their first chilld. In keeping with Congolese custom, they were after Polly’ Dye’s birth primarily referred to as the “Papa” or “Mama” of Polly. Their daugther many years later testified to the help of the Bolenge villagers in raising her in her book In His Glad Service . To ensure the survival of Polly’s parents and their child, when the white family’s food stock dwindled, villagers in Bolenge beat on the lokole drum an S.O.S. which brought ample relief from a Baptist mission station nearly 300 miles away.