We Lose a Friend in TJ Liggett

Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson Liggett, 1919 - March 27, 2012
Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson Liggett, 1919 - March 27, 2012

To learn about Rev. Dr. T.J. Liggett’s distinguished service of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and his contributions to world peace and Christianity’s ecumenical movement , go to

http://www.disciples.org/DisciplesNewsService/tabid/58/itemId/1190/Updated-Disciple-leader-Rev-Dr-TJ-Liggett-die.aspx

After being introduced to him by my father on a subway in New York City in the mid – 1960’s, I didn’t see TJ again until the Liggetts’ move to California in the late 1980’s.  He enthusiastically greeted me after a church gathering as the son of a colleague (Dad was Executive for Asia) with whom he had shared much.   Liggett was fond of telling me about his first meeting with Dad on a snowy day in New Haven.  They were participating in a Yale sponsored gathering on Communism and Christianity and Dad revealed that TJ would soon be asked to join the world mission staff of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as executive for Latin America.

When my father died in January of last year, I called TJ before leaving for the memorial service in Virginia.  For the first time, Liggett characterized for me what his relationship with Dad had meant to him.  “I never had a brother”, TJ noted, “but there have been a few people in my life who I knew I could go to for advice when I needed it.  I knew when I went to Joe I would always get a thoughtful response.”

TJ was an uncommonly kind man – and a profoundly loving one as well.  Undoubtedly the deepest, most lasting impression he has left on me comes from modeling of what it means to be a devoted spouse.  After choosing Pilgrim Place in Claremont for its excellent reputation for professional care, he made his personal care of Virginia his priority for years.  His devotion to her set an example my wife and I joked about never being able to emulate.

On my visits to their home in Claremont, Virginia sat at the window facing the busy Harrison Avenue and would first ask about my daughters.  While I learned about her grandchildren, TJ would be busy preparing tea and a plate of cookies.   No matter who the guest, I am certain there was never any question as to who was at the center of home life in the Liggett household.

On one of the few evenings when TJ took time away from Virginia, he spoke on a rainy night in Long Beach at the annual Disciples’ Regional Martin Luther King event.  In a memorable tribute, Liggett recalled learning of Dr. King’s assassination when he was at the Mindolo Ecumenical Institute in Zambia.  Without delay, the Institute staff had called the community together for prayer and testimony. In addition to this evidence of Dr. King’s impact worldwide, TJ wanted to us to know that for these African Christians King stood out as a man who declared that none of us are free until we are all free.

Along with many pictures of his family, Liggett displayed in his home the cane from Congo as a prized gift from his life of service of the world Church. The first President of the Church of Christ of Congo, the Disciple Bishop Bokeleale had presented TJ the ivory inlaid, ironwood cane on one of his trips to the U.S.  Another gift, this one from his years of Latin America service, was a rock paperweight on his desk.  The rock bore a quote from the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, one of Dr. Liggett’s intellectual mentors, “May we know if not the peace of God then let us know the glory of God”.  Through TJ Liggett I believe many of us, in the U.S., in Latin America and worldwide, came to know better the glory of God.

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936):  “Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual”.
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936): “Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual”.

How Ikengo Hospitality Saved Henry Morton Stanley

1970 Ikengo villagers with a skinny 23 year old Doug Smith in front of the chicken coop at Disciples' Agricultural Center
1970 Ikengo villagers with a skinny 23 year old Doug Smith in front of the chicken coop at Disciples' Agricultural Center

“The village of Ikengo welcomed me as a son of the village on my return” was the beginning of this blog’s “Return to Ikengo” on July 13, 2010.  In that article I described how I had been joyously welcomed  back by the people of Ikengo 39 years after my last visit.  Only this past week did I learn that the great grandparents of Ikengo villagers had saved from starvation Henry Morton Stanley (of Stanley and Livingstone fame) on the first descent of the Congo River by a non African.

Having fought repeated battles with the aggressive, obstreperous Bangala who controlled the river trade, Stanley threw

Stanley with Kalulu
Stanley with Kalulu, the African boy he “adopted” as his gun bearer and servant. In 1877 Stanley christened the site of the boy’s death on the Congo River Kalulu Falls. It remains one of the few Stanley place-names that has not been changed

himself and his men on the mercy of the people of Ikengo, located twenty five kilometers below Mbandaka.   “Since the 10th of February we have been unable to purchase food or even approach a settlement  for any amicable purpose” Stanley wrote in his February 18, 1877 journal entry quoted in Through the Dark Continent .

In the next day’s entry, the bold adventurer overcomes his fear of the local populace by dwelling on a greater fear, “This morning we regarded each other as fated victims of protracted famine, or the rage of savages, like those of Mangala.  But as we feared famine most, we resolved to confront the natives again.”  Reflecting throughout his account the racism characteristic of 19th century Europe and America, Stanley finds his fears unfounded in meeting the inhabitants of Ikengo and nearby villages.

“We arrived at Ikengo, and as were almost despairing, we proceeded to a small island opposite this settlement and prepared to encamp.  Soon a canoe with seven men came dashing across, and we prepared our moneys for exhibition.  They unhesitatingly advanced and ran their canoe alongside us.”  After Stanley and crew presented gifts and were rendered “rapturously joyful” by this meeting, the explorers and villagers  “proceeded to seal this incipient friendship with our blood with all due ceremony”.

Stanley titles this section of the book, “Among Friends” and sums up his account of the day with the words, “During the whole of this day life was most enjoyable, intercourse unreservedly friendly and though most of the people were armed with guns there was no manifestation of the least desire to be uncivil, rude, or hostile.”  The explorer characterizes the encounter with the Ikengo villagers as an “act of grace”.

How their hospitality was ultimately received and repaid is a woeful fact of Congo’s history.  As the European/American explorer who contributed the most to knowledge of African geography, Stanley also bears responsibility for opening up Congo to the brutal exploitation of King Leopold’s Congo Free State.  So far as we know, Henry Morton Stanley never returned to Ikengo.

2010 Ikengo villagers in the Disciples parish manioc field. Pastor Luc is third from right.
2010 Ikengo villagers in the Disciples parish manioc field. Pastor Luc is third from right.

That the people of Ikengo have continued to welcome visitors from afar in our times with joyous hospitality is an “act of grace”.  That the Congolese as a whole have held to their traditions of welcome after centuries of foreigners’ abuse of their trust is also a matter of grace.  What a gift to us all.

Of Monieka, Malaria and Dr. Eric Bosai

The bite of the malaria infected female anopheles (in the Greek literally "useless") mosquito often threatens the life of children under 5 and pregnant women
The bite of the malaria infected female anopheles (in the Greek its literal meaning is "useless") mosquito often threatens the life of children under 5 and pregnant women

“WE have learned from various sources and confirmed with our doctor in charge of public health in Monieka that malaria has recently taken 406 lives, two thirds of them children under five years of age.”  So we read in a February letter from the Disciples “Communaute” in Congo which appealed for prayers from the partner churches in the U.S. and Germany.

After deciding this grim news had to be shared, I contacted Dr. Gene Johnson who served as the lone doctor in the Monieka hospital from 1957 to 1964.  As to what might have caused a sudden flare up in deaths from this disease, so common in tropical areas with high rainfall, Dr. Johnson responded, “I suppose there has been the development of a new strain
of resistant malaria, though I would guess that most people don’t have access to medication, and die untreated. Resistance to the medications that once worked well has become common. It is particularly hard to treat small children.”

One fifth of the children born in Congo die before age 5.  According to the most recent figures, malaria accounts for 21 per cent of those deaths.  While adults in Congo regularly experience “the fever” brought on by malaria and consider the illness no more serious than we do a common cold, for children with no resistance it is often fatal.  “When a child is born he has no resistance to malaria, and as soon as he is bitten by an infected mosquito will become symptomatic. If lucky enough to survive the first episode there will be a certain amount of resistance.”  So wrote Dr. Johnson in response to my inquiry.

We don’t know what might be behind the current rise of malaria deaths in Monieka.  What we know is that the tragic consequences of the disease can be countered by vigorous, well funded preventive measures.  What we do know is that neighboring Rwanda, whose government spends twice what Congo spends on public health, is among the eleven African countries where child mortality and malaria deaths are in significant decline.  We know that the under five mortality rate in Rwanda is less than half the figure for Congo and that more inpatient deaths from malaria were recorded in Congo in 2009 than anywhere else in the world.

Dr. Eric Bosai of Monieka with family including mother
Dr. Eric Bosai of Monieka with family including mother

And we know Dr. Eric Bosai continues his work as the only doctor at the Monieka Hospital.  Dr. Bosai follows in the footsteps of the 1918 founder of the Hospital, pioneer Disciples missionary doctor Dr. Louis F. Jaggard.  Since Dr. and Mrs. Jaggard retired in 1944,  Monieka has remained an isolated Disciples mission post providing the only health and education service for a large area.

With their four school age children, Dr. Bosai’s wife lives in Mbandaka, a day’s journey from her husband.  The monthly government subsidy amounts to less than $50 per month so most of Dr. Bosai’s salary is paid by a grant from the Global Ministries Department of the U.C.C. and Disciples churches in the U.S..  Eric Bosai’s father, Rev. Thomas Bosai, headed the Disciples’ youth ministries before planting churches in the remote area of Opala, the first Disciples mission outpost in Orientale Province. I lunched in Mbandaka with Thomas’ widow and their son and family in July, 2010.  Son Eric’s determination to provide medical services for Monieka and lead that deprived population’s struggle against malaria and other diseases is worthy of our prayers and support.

Disciples Agricultural Center at Ikengo was started under leadership of Rev. Thomas Bosai on the right
Disciples Agricultural Center at Ikengo was started under the leadership of Rev. Thomas Bosai on the right

Widening Rejection of Congo Election Results

Finding Your Name on the Registered Voter List
Finding Your Name on the Registered Voter List

In what could b e a turning point for opposition to the rule of Joseph Kabila’s administratin in Congo, the Catholic Church’s Conference of Bishops in Congo on January 12 harshly criticized the conduct of the national elections.  CENCO’s statement , titled “Courage and Truth”, called on the Electoral Commission appointed by the incumbent President to either “fix the irregularities that have dented the people’s trust in the institution or else resign”.

CENCO’s position follows its December 4 expressions of doubt concerning the proclamation of Joseph Kabila as victor in the November 28 election.  Based on the reports of 30,000 observers deployed by the Catholic Church to polling places throughout Congo, Cardinal Monsengwo declared that the results do not “conform to truth or justice”.  The Catholic church is merely one of many institutions of Congolese civil society now openly calling into question the results of both the presidential election and the subsequent vote count to make up the national legislature.   Congolese NGO The Voice of the Voiceless (La Voix des Sans Voix) has called for new elections following a process agreed on by the administration and the opposition represented by M. Etienne Tshisekedi.

The adminstration’s response to date has been to maintain a climate of fear sown during the months leading up to the election.  The CSAC government agency created two months before the election to oversee the nation’s media  banned the opposition networks in the Kinshasa on the day of the vote and this past week took a leading radio/television station in Katanga province, a Kabila stronghold, off the air.  The Congolese NGO Journalists in Danger has called for the abolition of the CSAC “after numerous cases of interference by politicians and security services in the affairs of the media”.

Most foreign governments have adopted a “wait and see” policy towards what is evolving as a full fledged political crisis

Riot police disrupt Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa
Riot police disrupt Tshisekedi rally in Kinshasa

in Congo.  One exception is Belgium whose newly elected prime minister wrote Kabila a letter of congratulations.  Given the real possibility that the Congolese people will reject Kabila’s rule, the prime minister’s letter seems premature and inept.  Stability of the country, long the foremost aim of western nations’ Congo policies, will not be achieved by such a flagrant abuse of democratic process as the people have witnessed with this recent election.

Disciples Communication Director M. Nathan Weteto’s  commentary on the Catholic bishops’ latest statement confirms the depth and breadth of the people’s rejection of the election results.  M. Weteto wrote on January 14, “They (the Bishops, ed.) have concluded that the Congolese people have been deceived but they couild have said without fear of being contradicted that the people are furious with this deprivation of their civil rights”.

As the U.S. based Friends of the Congo blog wrote this month, “The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is at a critical juncture in its tenuous march towards peace and stability. The Kabila regime suffers from a severe crisis of legitimacy and the future of the democratic project is in the balance. Stability will be fleeting without legitimacy. What is at stake in the Congo is not merely an election but respect for the will of a people and the future of democracy in the heart of Africa.”

Exercising the right to vote in Kindu
Exercising the right to vote in Kindu

Should the people’s will continue to be scorned, there will be violence writes M. Weteto,  “We all know that the Congolese people do not want war and violence but a solution to this crisis without foreign intervention will not be possible.”  And what has been the response of Congo’s leading donor nation, the U.S. to the election??  While characterizing the elections as “seriously flawed”, Secretary of State Clinton did not intimate withholding of $900 million in U.S. aid nor did she express reservations about the legitimacy of Kabila’s continued rule of Congo.  This toothless response to the crisis hardly is consistent with President Obama’s call in his Accra, Ghana speech for “strong institutions” and not “strong men” in Africa.

Now is the time, M. Weteto implores, for “those who love Congo” to speak out for democratic rule in Congo.

Each of us reading this blog can surely find something we are comfortable doing in this list below of suggestions from the www.friendsofthecongo.org web site.  Help support the right of Congolese to a vote that really counts and makes a difference.

Take Action:
1. Contact world leaders to demanding that they refrain from recognize Joseph Kabila as President of the DRC.
2. Demand that the technical team from the United States and England assess both the legislative and presidential results.
3. Demand a cessation of aid until the truth of both the Presidential and Legislative elections are determined.
4. Join Congolese in their demonstrations around the globe.
5. Demand that President Obama enforces PL 109-456 that calls for the US to support democracy in the Congo.
6. Demand that your government support the recommendations of the UN Mapping Exercise Report that calls for accountability, justice and an end to the impunity in the Congo and Great Lakes Region of Africa.
7. Participate in teach-ins to learn about what is at stake in the Congo and the nature of Congo’s democratic movement.
8. Support organizing and mobilizing efforts on the ground
9. Lend your talents, skills and expertise in translation (French to English) Public Relations, Marketing and Fundraising)
10. Make a contribution to the organizing efforts inside and outside of the Congo.

The Two Congos

Politics in Congo Remain as Chaotic as this Polling Place
Politics in Congo Remain as Chaotic as this Polling Place After the Election

It’s a somber beginning to the new year in Congo.  The hope for political change brought on by the nationwide election has been met by the repression and chicanery of the current administration.  Cries of protest against the conduct of the election and the vote count have been muffled if not silenced by brute force.  The leading opposition candidate for the presidency in the 2006 election (Jean Pierre Bemba) remains on trial in the International Criminal Court and the current opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi languishes under virtual arrest in his home in Kinshasa.

Congolese in Washington, D.C. and Other World Capitals Organized Demonstrations Against the Conduct and Results of the Election
Congolese in Washington, D.C. and Other World Capitals Organized Demonstrations Against the Conduct and Results of the Election

What will come out of the vote count, assisted by British and U.S. delegations, to seat the national legislature would seem to promise little for the economic prospects or the civil rights of the Congolese people over the next five years.  Two widely circulated recent studies rank the Congo dead last on important scales of well being.  The U.N. Human Development Index ranks the Congo 183rd among 183 of the world’s nations.  And a grim article in The New York Times of January 2 reports on the International Food Policy Research Institute finding that hunger is widespread in Kinshasa and the country as a whole.

The Institute found that the Congo is the only country where the food situation worsened from “alarming” to “extremely alarming” in the last year.  Half the people in the country are under nourished.  In reading The Times article focusing on hunger in Kinshasa, I kept thinking about Mbandaka Disciples pastor Frederic Lombe (featured in the last blog) telling me his one meal of the day comes in the evening.

Agricultural development is neglected by the Congo’s government concluded the Institute. Its report noted that only one percent of the national budget is devoted to agriculture and the country now imports beans and other food that could be grown in Congo. The government’s priority has long been development of the nation’s minerals’ extraction operations.

The current food shortages throughout Congo, read the entire Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/world/africa/in-congolese-capital-power-cut-applies-to-food.html?_r=2&emc=eta1,

present a stark background to the Disciples and other church bodies’ agricultural development projects.  Projects like the Disciples Ikengo project, started in 1970, the palm oil plantation near Bokungu and the communal fields sponsored

30 Women in Rural Boyeka Brought $117.50 to their First Microcredit Group Meeting with Hopes of Distributing $2100 in Six Months
30 Women in Rural Boyeka Brought $117.50 to their First Microcredit Group Meeting with Hopes of Distributing $2100 in Six Months

by many Disciples parishes are critical sources of food for the population in the surrounding area.  For the parishes, sale of food grown is a leading source of funds for the education and health services of the parish.

In the context of government neglect, the Church’s role in micro-economic development is also highlighted by the contributions of Church microcredit organizing to household budgets.  A recent posting by Disciples Communication Director Nathan Weteto reported that many Church organized microcredit groups distributed earnings in November and December which enabled members’ households to celebrate the new year.  A sum of $18,437 was shared at year’s end by the thirty plus members of the Mbandaka Disciples pastors’ wives group.  This brought joy “in spite of the tumultuous situation in the country” in M. Weteto’s words.

M. Weteto’s report last month of a new microcredit group in rural Boyeka projecting earnings of $2100 in six months and recent postings on building projects in two Mbandaka parishes remind us that there are in fact two Congos.  There is a Congo struggling with despair and a Congo charged by hope and faith. There is a Congo riven by greed and conflict and a Congo united by a vision of sharing the abundance of a lavishly blessed land.  There is a Congo weighted with doubt and a Congo celebrating the seeding of a new day.

We also are reminded of the importance of our prayers and solidarity with Congo by the Christmas and New Year’s greetings written by Disciples President Rev. Eliki Bonanga.  Rev. Bonanga writes on M. Weteto’s blog:

“We remember with appreciation those of our friends who follow our news reported on the blog www.natana.tumblr.com and are moved by their prayers for our Church and for the nation as a whole.  We cannot forget those who have responded every time we have needed help. Our prayer then is that God who reigns over all might continue to bless them through their compassion.”

Text messaging may be banned today in Congo but there are some important messages that cannot and will not be silenced even in Congo.

Frederic’s Plea

The following message was sent me last week by a Congolese friend Frederic LoFrederic Lombe, Congo Disciples Minister mbe who shared an office with me in the Mbandaka headquarters of the Disciples
Frederic Lombe, Congo Disciples Minister

The following message was sent me a few days ago by  Congolese friend Frederic Lombe who shared his office with me in the Mbandaka headquarters of the Disciples “Communaute”.  With it, he has asked me and several U.K and U.S. based friends for advice on the Congolese pursuit of democratic rule. The complete message and my response follow. If you would like to respond to Fred’s heart felt inquiry, you may use the comments section of the blog or write me at dsmithy1@verizon.net.

Dear friends,

I am sure you all are more informed and experienced in the DEMOCRACY than us here. What can you advice me about what happens here in my country? I am often in contact with different people and many of them concluded that they will not vote in the future because it is not necessary when their willing is not respected. And I think you are following through your TV, there is already much trouble, we are going to die as flies. Your powers showed us this excellent system to vote the one people like much, but finally the contrast. The dictature continues, so what can we do now? Your different replies will encourage my family and myself.

Kindest regards.

Frederic.

Dear Fred –
Someone once said, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. We in the United States, a young nation but with two hundred thirty five years of pursuing liberty through democratic rule, keep learning the truth of this statement. Our democracy is always in jeopardy but today’s threat posed by a small minority with wealth and power seems to be especially great.
You may have heard about the increasing gap between the very rich and the rest of the U.S. citizens. Over the past thirty years, but accelerated during the younger Bush administration, taxes on the rich have been cut resulting in part for a massive transfer of wealth from the middle income in the U.S. to the wealthy. Some of the largest U.S. corporations, G.E. for example, pay little to no tax on their profits and pay their executive management annual salaries and bonuses larger than most Americans make in a lifetime.

It is increasingly apparent that the great wealth of a small elite in our country is being used to manipulate elections in our American democracy. Skepticism continues regarding the results in our 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The Republican party in the U.S. slavishly adheres to an ideology favoring the wealthy and has appointed most of the current members of the U.S. Supreme Court. That Court in the recent Citizens United decision gave unprecedented support for corporations to use their funds to back the candidates they favor. We now know that the conservative/corporate ideology favoring the wealthy has been promoted by the investment of millions of dollars by billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Art Pope in North Carolina with the aim of electing like-minded candidates.

It is the gap in wealth and the super wealthy’s increasing influence on the electoral process in the U.S. that the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting; like the “revolutionaries” who opposed British rule of the U.S. colony and set the stage for the writing the Declaration of Independence and the rule “by the people”, protest is a hallowed tradition in our country and, I believe, in every nation where the people truly rule.

A recent example in Africa of a non violent people’s movement taking power from an elite and standing up for democratic rule comes from Liberia. It is not surprising that the Liberian women who demanded the Charles Taylor regime make peace with the rebels also backed the election of a woman as the first President of an African country. Organizing meetings of women from all backgrounds with the simple aim of “We want peace. No more war” it was women

Press Photo of Leymah Gbowee
Press Photo of Leymah Gbowee

in Liberia who also brought about free and fair elections with Ms. Johnson Sirleaf being reelected to a second term.

It should be noted that while the Liberian women represented diverse Muslim and Christian faith backgrounds, it was prayer and deep faith in our God of justice that held them together and on course. Nobel Peace Prize co-awardee Leymah Gbowee describes the movement’s beginnings in this way. “We started a peace outreach project, going to the churches on Sunday, to the market stalls on Saturday, the mosques on Friday.” And when there was confusion and dissension among the women, one of them would intervene with the unifying reminder, “We need to pray”.

You say, “we are going to die as flies” but so far as I know very few of those women in Liberia died. Ms. Gbowee was asked to serve as a cabinet member by the new President. She declined because she was afraid it would weaken her capacity to continue bringing about positive change in her homeland. Liberia is fortunate to have women and men like her leading the way to rule by the people and for the people. What will their system of government eventually become? Will it be a democracy like the U.S. Or a parliamentary system like in England? I don’t know, but I do know Ms. Gbowee, like Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, will always be acclaimed as a great leader in her country.

Thank you for your note. I look forward to continuing our dialog in the new year.

Your friend,
Doug

Microcredit Congo Style II

Microcredit organizing has already boosted the income of many Disciples households and some congregations and

Nathan Weteto, Congo Disciples Communication Director, is the microcredit organizing wizard
Nathan Weteto, Congo Disciples Communication Director, is the microcredit organizing wizard

provides further evidence that the “social economy” can help drive economic development in Congo.  “Mobilising microfinance is critical to the success of social enterprises including through savings and credit cooperative organizations” observed the recent U.N. Environment Program “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment Synthesis for Policy Makers”.  The UN report touts microfinance as a means to generate employment and allow Congolese to “deal pragmatically with their own development priorities”.

But as is typical of Congo culture, microcredit Congo style is often different from the pattern followed in other countries and often varies from group to group.  While some groups begin with seed funding, the Microcredit Union of women in Mbandaka’s Besenge parish began with no funding other than what was brought by members of the group.  Twenty five women divided into two groups and met twice a month, each member bringing at least 1000 Congolese Francs (about $1.20) to the meeting.  One group of women is invited to take a loan on the 10th of the month, according to group leader Mama Micheline Mwami, and the other on the 25th of the month.  The next month the women return the amount taken out plus 10 per cent interest.  Some women bring more than the minimum contribution from month to month to enable larger loans and larger profits for the group.  Within a year, the Besenge group distributed among the 25 women, proportionate to their “investments”, savings and profits of just under $1900.

In the urban setting, many of the women participating in a Disciples organized Microcredit Union begin small businesses with their loans.  By contrast, in the rural setting of Bonsombo (Lofoy is its “mission post”), ten families decided to pool their funds and buy seed and tools to cultivate ten hectares of land, agriculture being the primary source of cash in their experience.  In the cash economy of Equateur Province’s capital of Mbandaka, the potential for larger investments and earnings is much greater. 

Aided by $1400 in seed funding, the Mbandaka pastors’ wives group enabled group leader  Mama Lombe to receive a total of $100 the first three months from her Union’s fund pool.  She set up a table on a downtown Mbandaka street and began selling children’s underwear, soap, tomatoes and biscuits and returned $105, 5 % interest being the group profit on the loan.  After the “Emmanuela” group’s first six months, $2417 was distributed among the members.  More recently, after two years of the growth of the group and of the participants’ small business ventures, $12,000 in savings and earnings was shared by group members.

With no banks now providing credit to the 750,000 persons of the city of Mbandaka or anywhere else in Equateur province, the Microcredit Unions have rekindled the “social economy”, the UNEP report’s term, and         

Mama Lombe on right with Mama Bonanga, the leaders of pastors' wives' Microcrdit Union
Mama Lombe on right with Mama Bonanga, the leaders of pastors' wives' Microcrdit Union

entrepreneurship in urban areas where groups have been organized.  Enthusiasm among Disciples for the Microcredit organizing has led to Pauline Ngoy presenting for students at the Bolenge Protestant University of the Equateur a lecture on “Microcredit and Evangelism”. 

You can contribute to the  Microcredit Union organizing by the Disciples in Congo by sending a check designated for “Microcredit in Congo”  to Global Ministries, P.O.B. 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206-1986.  You can also make a gift online by going to:

http://globalministries.org/africa/projects/microcredit-congo.html

A contribution of $150 will enable purchase of a group’s “kit” – a wooden box with calculator, notebooks for each group’s three “accountants”, pens and pencils.  The more contributions received by Global Ministries, the more groups will be started with some “seed” funding as well as the “kit”.

Follow new developments in the Microcredit organizing on Nathan Weteto’s blog; English translation can be accessed at:

http://globalministries.org/news/africa/blog-congo.html

Microcredit Congo Style

Training of a Microcredit Union group of 25 CADELU Church women in Basankusu
Training of a Microcredit Union group of 25 CADELU Church women in Basankusu

More than 1000 women are now receiving credit and saving their earnings by participating in one of the  Microcredit Unions organized by the Disciples Community of the Church of Christ of Congo. More than thirty groups have been formed throughout the Equateur Province with members spreading the news of the benefits they enjoy.  One of the first Microcredit Union groups, organized by the Disciples pastors’ wives in Mbandaka, recently distributed six months of profits and savings amounting to over $12,000.

One of the pastors’ wives group members, Mme. Ingesu Likomba, recounted her progress in generating new income for her household

Mme. Ingesu LIKOMBA in yellow Disciples women's movement garb
Mme. Ingesu LIKOMBA in yellow Disciples women's movement garb

thanks to the credit extended.  With her first loan, Mme. Likomba bought an old kerosene refrigerator and began selling cool bottled water.  More recently, with another loan, she bought a small generator which will enable her to sell chilled flavored drinks along with the water.  She and her husband, pastor of the Disciples’ New City parish in Mbandaka, are now better able to help with the fees and expenses of four children in college.

The master trainer and initiator of the Microcredit Union groups is none other than M. Nathan Weteto, Director of Communications of the Disciples and fellow blogger.  In addition to conducting trainings in rural and urban Disciples settings, M. Weteto has trained Baptist microcredit group leaders in war stricken North Kivu province and  CADELU church members in Equateur.  With many Disciples group members now testifying that they can better feed their families and pay children’s school fees, Revde. Christiane Ikete, who heads the Disciples Department of Women and Familes, plans an expansion of the program.

In a recent meeting in which Disciples President Bonanga and Vice President Mputu participated, the creation of the Women’s Association for Savings and Credit, a new division of the Women’s Department,  was announced.  The Association’s first step will be the preparation by M. Weteto of at least ten trainers for deployment to organize five to ten new  Microcredit Unions on their own.

The potential of this income generating strategy to increase household and parish revenues is best seen in one of the poorest Disciples parishes in the city of Mbandaka.  Mme.  Micheline Mwani , the pastor’s wife in the Besenge parish, tookthe lead in bringing together 2 groups of 25 women total. In a conversation in July, 2010, Mme. Mwani reported that the only material aid her groups received initially was a “kit” comprising calculators, accounting notebooks and pens.  These two groups after a six month period distributed a sum of $1,889 among the members,

On left pastor's wife Mama Micheline Mwani leads Microcredit Union at Besenge parish in Mbandaka
On left pastor's wife Mama Micheline Mwani leads Microcredit Union at Besenge parish in Mbandaka

representing the six month interest payments and savings of the women participating.  Other Besenge Disciples women, and, members of the nearby Catholic church  are clarmoring to join.

With the aim of sharing the microcredit concept and benefits with the most vulnerable members of the Congolese population, M. Weteto also trained two HIV positive groups of men and women last December.  Forty six persons were organized and trained in two groups, with each group given “kits” and $250 each for an intital fund to be added to by the members.  For more on the micro credit process Congolese style, read my next blog coming soon.

A Congolese Warrior Against AIDS

Augustin Bolankoko, Assistant Director of Disciples AIDS programming, died on October 25, 2011
Augustin Bolankoko, Assistant Director of Disciples AIDS programming, died on October 25, 2011

Africa has lost one of its warriors in the ongoing battle against the AIDS epidemic. Because he waged a courageous, public struggle to help stem the spread of the HIV virus among the Congolese people, Augustin Belanoljo Bolankoko  could not be described as a victim of the disease.  When I met him in July 2010, I met a man illuminated by the conviction that he had found his true calling.

In Congolese terms, Augustin Bolankoko had become a wealthy man thanks to employment in the accounting office of a multinational corporation in Kinshasa.  When he was diagnosed with the HIV virus in the year 2000, he gave up his large salary and became the Treasurer of the Disciples’ “Communaute” of the Church of Christ of Congo.  He returned to Mbandaka in his home province of Equateur but his frequent treatments in Kinshasa and the illnesses that beset him forced his resignation as Treasurer. So in 2006, he began the work he will always be remembered for among members of the Disciples Community of the Church of Christ of Congo and among many others in Congo. 

The Disciples office of AIDS programming opened in 2004 following the training of its Director Rev. Alain Imbolo Lokalamba, previously Director of the Community’s Youth Department.  Supported by a grant from the UN   

Director of Disciples AIDS office Rev. Alain Lokalamba assists in receiving the confession of faith of two youth in a rural parish
Director of Disciples AIDS office Rev. Alain Lokalamba assists in receiving the confession of faith of two youth in a rural parish

Development Program, Rev. Lokalamba shepherded the writing and publication of an AIDS education booklet (“Linga Kasi Keba” or “Love But Take Caution”) in comic strip format that gained wide circulation.  The staff of two in the Disciples AIDS office made “I’m Not Passing On AIDS” the motto of their campaign and focused on testing, abstinence or condom use as the cornerstone strategies for preventing transmission of the virus.

Today, there are 8 virus testing centers in Equateur Province, with 5 located in  Disciples clinics or hospitals.  With community education as another key element of their prevention strategy, Rev. Lokalamba with Augustin Bolankoko’s assistance has trained a Director of AIDS Education and Prevention for each of the 22 Disciples’ regions.  Every Disciples Regional Minister has been trained in “accompanying” their ministers and lay people stricken by the virus.  Doctors, lab technicians and nurses in the 6 Disciple hospitals and many of the clinics have been trained in the diagnosis and treatment of the virus and its development into full blown AIDS.

Through the trainings and other public outreach efforts of the Disciples, Augustin Bolankoko shared his own story widely.  Clearly a man with a mission, his proud dignity and the strength of his conviction made it difficult if not impossible to maintain an indifferent or scornful attitude with respect to others with the disease.  Nathan Weteto of Disciples headquarters in Mbandaka wrote in announcing his October death, “He did not spare himself in his efforts to convince the populace to be tested for the virus and to train those suffering from AIDS in the formation of micro credit savings groups to generate income for their treatments.”

Disciples Recently Co-Sponsored a Mbandaka AIDS Community Education Fair
Disciples Recently Co-Sponsored a Mbandaka AIDS Community Education Fair

 Augustin was eager to tell me his story during my Mbandaka stay in the summer of 2010. He was aware that he was part of a world wide movement to turn back the spread of AIDS and I believe he wanted people in the States to know Congolese and in particular Disciples in Congo were doing their part to wipe out this scourge.  I know he would have wanted me to thank Disciples here for funding of the trainings and the German VEM Church for funding the opening of the Disciples AIDS office.  I believe he knew that in spite of the setbacks – the presence of UN troops in Ikela led to half the middle aged adults contracting the virus – the world’s battle against AIDS would be won some day.

While the prevalence of AIDS in Congo has been as high as 7 per cent of the population, Rev. Lokalamba noted there has been a decline to 5 per cent more recently. Given the associated scourges of warfare and abuse of women in Congo in the past fifteen years, the decline must be in part attributed to the work of people like Augustin Bolankoko. So we join Congolese Disciple Nathan Weteto in praying, “May our Lord acknowledge his efforts and may his soul rest in peace”.

A Mbandaka Policeman Undergoes AIDS Testing at the Fair
A Mbandaka Policeman Undergoes AIDS Testing at the Fair

What’s At Stake in Congo

First plantings at Ikengo, 1970.  UN report emphasizes Congo's agicultural potential.
First plantings at Ikengo, 1970. UN report emphasizes Congo's agicultural potential.

The UN office charged with monitoring the health of the earth’s environment has just issued a warning of what is at stake in how Congo’s resources are used in the future.  Some of the report’s findings starkly highlight the need for more sustainable use of the country’s vast wealth in natural resources:

1)    With 80 million hectares of arable land,the DRC has the potential to be Africa’s granary but only around 3 percent of this land is presently under cultivation, mainly by subsistence farmers. Consequently, the DRC has the highest level of food insecurity in the world, with an undernourishment rate of nearly 70 per cent.

 2)    The Congo basin has the highest fish diversity of any African river and supports the largest inland fisheries on the continent, with an estimated potential production of 520,000 tonnes per year. While at the national level this resource is under-exploited with imports accounting for around 30 percent of fish consumption, uncontrolled exploitation has led to serious overfishing pressures at the local level.

   3)   Over half of Africa’s water resources and 13 percent of global hydropower potential flows through the DRC. Yet, only an estimated 26 percent of the DRC’s population has access to safe drinking water, one of the lowest supply rates on the continent. Similarly, access to electrification is estimated at 9 percent in a country with vast energy resources.

Future Forestry Practices in Congo will Affect the World's Health
Future Forestry Practices in Congo will Affect the World's Health

4)    As the tropical world’s second largest forest carbon sink, the DRC’s forests are a critical global ecosystem service provider. The rate of forest loss estimated at 0.2 percent per annum remains relatively low, but is a growing problem in certain areas.

    5)   Its considerable untapped mineral reserves are of strategic importanceto the global economy (estimated to be worth USD 24 trillion). Yet the legacy of a century of mining in various parts of the country,and particularly in Katanga, has created considerable environmental liabilities and a new modern approach to mining is required. Currently, the DRC has the largest artisanal mining workforce in the world – around two million people – but a lack of controls have led to land degradation and pollution

     6)    The DRC has the highest level of biodiversity in Africa, yet 190 species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.  Up to 1.7 million tons of bushmeat (mainly antelope, duiker, monkey and wild boar) are harvested annually from unregulated hunting and poaching, contributing to species depletion.

 The UN report also calls attention to the impact on the Congo’s environment of 15 years of occasionally intense fighting in many areas of the country.  Most significant in this regard according to the report is the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) “that still dot the landscape”.  The international Mines Advisory Group    announced this year that it had cleared 4 mine fields with 41 mines in the Disciples post of Ikela on the Tshuapa River.

 With the release of this report, the UN Environmental Program hopes to stimulate a sizable increase in funding of sustainable development practices by international funders and the Congolese government.  A doubling of aid is called for, including an increase of $200 million per year in funding for preservation of the environment.  The report concludes with a summary call to action:

 “The imperative for the DRC to overcome entrenched poverty and recover 20 years of lost development is immense. Long-term support and commitment from the international community to assist the DRC realise its massive potential as one of Africa’s richest countries and key engines for economic growth is essential.

To see the full report of the UN Environmental Program’s “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment of the DRC” go to : www.unep.org/drcongo.