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.

A Milestone for the Pygmy People

Mr. Bokele, 44 years old, was Admitted by the Equateur Assembly after Three Months of Deliberation

Two weeks ago a Pygmy elementary school teacher was seated as the first member of his ethnic group to become a deputy in Equateur Province’s Assembly in Mbandaka.  Jerome Bokele, 44 years old and a teacher in a Disciples sponsored school in Ingende territory, declared his election and the approval of his seating by the Assembly has become “a great source of pride for his people”.  While the Pygmy population is as much as one fourth of the total population in Equateur Province, they continue to be discriminated against and looked down on by the Bantu majority in the Province.

Ikengo Pygmy Couple Demonstrate Rainforest Mosquito Repellent. Some Equateur Pygmies' height denotes intermarriage with Bantu.

On the occasion of World Women’s Day last month, the U.N. Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) communications office featured a story on Pygmy women’s status in one Equateur community.  Jean-Tobie Okala wrote: “As part of Bikoro territory, Iboko is one of those places where discrimination against women and girls is coupled with an ethnic bias. “

The MONUSCO journalist further noted, “In this locality of 80,000 dwellers, women of the Pygmy community are regarded as sub-humans by the Bantu, with whom they share the land. A Bantu man will not buy or eat from a Pygmy woman; or a Bantu will not marry a Pygmy, just as a Bantu woman will usually avoid fetching water at the same source as a Pygmy. Sexual violence committed against Pygmy women is almost never reported. “

Very few Pygmy men or women have in the past achieved literacy much less graduated from primary school.  New parliamentarian Mr. Bokele’s story is remarkable.  He described his childhood as more difficult “than anyone can hardly imagine”.  Graduating from Kabasele-Longa secondary school (another Disciples sponsored school) at age 27, he says, “You had to walk 28 kilometers (over 20 miles) both ways each day, to and from school”.

Last summer I was struck by the dramatic increase in the number of Pygmy residents  and their involvement  in village life and in the Disciples farm project (Centre Agro-Pastorale) at Ikengo.  Nearly the entire staff at the farm and several members of the local Disciples parish are of Pygmy origin .  While on a trip with Church leaders to Ingende territory, we met

Ikengo Director Rio BOSALA with 5 of the 6 Pygmy Children whose primary school fees are paid by the farm project's receipts.

with a Pygmy pastor who supervises Bantu catechists in the area of Bokatola and worshipped in two largely Pygmy Disciples churches.  For more on “The Pygmy People” see my July entry in this Blog’s Archive by entering those words in the grey search box in the upper right section of the blog home page.

Congo Preschoolers Make the Grade

Short video of June 24, 2010 Preschool Graduation at the Nouvelle Cite Disciples parish in Mbandaka, Congo.  Note the talcum powder poured on the graduates’ head at the end of the video.  Anyone out there who can explain why the powder please let us know.

PRESCHOOLS OPEN IN CONGO

Graduates and Community at the Nouvelle Cite June 2010 Preschool Graduation

Ecoles Maternelles”, our equivalent of preschool along the Head Start model, have opened in Mbandaka and other urban areas of Congo. In one of the larger Disciples parishes in Mbandaka, the Nouvelle Cite parish, 180 children enrolled last year.

The Mbandaka UNICEF staff member assigned to Education programs told me the preschools were among the strategies intended to foster completion of primary school in the country. With only two in ten children graduating from the six years of primary school in the Equator Province, the lowest rate of any province in the country, special attention is being paid by UNICEF to the results there.

Rev. Michel LIKOMBA, Nouvelle Cite’s head pastor, serves as Counselor to the provincial volunteer committee charged with oversight of the preschools. The provincial committee’s chair, a Catholic priest, is liaison with the Congolese government for the national movement of Ecoles Maternelles.

While UNICEF leads in funding construction and purchase of furnishings for the preschools, the World Food Program, PAN in the French acronym, supplies daily lunch for the children and staff. Parents’ Committees in each school collect the fees, averaging $1 per month plus an enrollment fee, which results in some children dropping out during the year. Two thirds of those enrolled did complete last year’s instruction at Nouvelle Cite, among them children of Mbandaka Pygmy parents whose fees were covered by the Parents’ Committee organized by the Disciples parish. The Congolese government provides virtually no funding for the program.

New Protestant University of the Equator

Like the pioneers on the American frontier, Rev. Dr. Ferdinand Bambuli and his wife Mamie Nkulo Mptetsi Bambuli found daunting challenges on arriving in Bolenge at the Protestant University of the Equator (UPE) two years ago. Founded with the support of three church bodies in the province in 1995, the UPE now trains 53 future church leaders in its theology faculty. Ten of these students are women.

A 2006 graduate of the Protestant University of the Congo (UPC), Dr. Bambuli and his wife, a former Deputy in the National Assembly in Kinshasa, gladly accept the role of helping build up the new University. “With all the help I received from them in my studies, I must work for the Church”, Dr. Bambuli, Vice President of the UPE, explains. He points to the need of Congo’s fast growing Disciples denomination for trained pastors as another motive for their work at UPE. He notes that the library, although modest in size, is the only theology library in the area.

Among the accomplishments of the past year are the purchase of a generator which encourages creation of a web site and enables the use of the three computers available for the students. Mme. Nkulo, Finance Administrator, proudly speaks of the classes she teaches for the wives of students.

Dr. Bambuli also serves as an advisor to the Provincial Assembly in Mbandaka and Mme. Nkulo does not rule out running for election as Deputy in this year’s November election. Whether or not they continue their political involvement, their example of sacrifice and service bodes well for the Congo and the churches which benefit from the new university in their province.

Doug Smith wrote this article for the UPC News November 2010 newsletter. The News is the publication of the North American Liaison Bureau (NALB) of the UPC with Ben Hobood, volunteer Executive Director. Write Ben at

Bhobgood@juno.com

To contribute to the UPC or to the UPE, send a note with your check to Global Ministries, P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986