Celebrating Women in Leadership

150 Congo Disciples women began their gathering this month with a march from the headquarters chapel to the cathedral Mbandaka III church. The meetings’ theme: “A wise woman takes action for development” (Prov 14:1) Photo by Nathan Weteto

Across Africa today, major change is taking place as a result of women in leadership.  While Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election and re-election in Liberia captures the headlines, it is grassroots women leading community development projects in rural and urban settings that signals significant change throughout Africa.  In Liberia, the election of President Sirleaf followed in the footsteps of the hundreds of women who marched for a peaceful resolution to thirty years of civil war in the country.  Elsewhere, it is often the women who lead in organizing the water projects, microcredit groups and agricultural programs that are saving communities from the ravages of climate change across the continent.

It is no different in Congo where the Disciples of Christ Community has made the education of women pastors a priority and recognized the traditions of patriarchy (polygamy among them) as a drag on the country’s development.  There is no more hopeful sign that God is indeed “making all things new” in Congo today than the emerging of women leaders in the Church and in Congolese civil society.  This blog celebrates the work of four Disciples women and the contributions they are making to healthier, more peaceful and more prosperous communities.

But first here’s a little history. A strong women’s movement characterized the newly “autonomous” (African led and governed) Disciples “Communaute” of the 1960’s.  Led by Mama Leale the women of the disciples Mbandaka parishes met regularly to celebrate

1969 Disciples women outside Mbandaka III church including Mama Leale, l. of center woman in blue, and Mama Entombodji to her left.

and support each other’s work in their respective parishes.  Disciples President Rev. Dr. Paul Elonda (later Elonda Ifefe) involved the women in the women in a two year process of theological dialog on polygamy.   As a result, Disciples called for monogamy as a requirement for pastors and church employees and defended the rights of women, and wives in particular, to assume active roles in the economy, civil society and church of the new nation

Revde. Christiane IKETE

Building on the legacy of strong women’s leadership embodied by her predecessors, Revde. Christiane Ikete has in recent years served as Director of the Disciples Office of Women and Family. Mama Christiane has helped organize the micro credit groups among the women of several Mbandaka parishes and most recently in the rural posts of Monieka, Boende, and Boyeka.  In the isolated, impoverished villages around Boyeka, initial distribution among 25 women of $2,159 after six months of loan activity provides a powerful incentive for organizing more micro credit groups.

Dedication festivities last year for the new Restaurant Entombodji

The sale of purses with cap made by Congolese Disciples women at the 2010 Women’s Quadrennial helped fund the initial phase of the Restaurant Entombodji next to the Disciple headquarters in Mbandaka.  Revde. Ikete envisions the Restaurant as providing training in food service and business management as well as tasty food for Mbandaka visitors and residents.  Several small shops behind the headquarters  have been leased to women entrepreneurs for years.

Revde. Janette Bafalanga

One of the first Mbandaka micro credit groups was organized at the dynamic Nouvelle Cite parish where Revde. Janette Bafalanga provided crucial leadership as Assistant Pastor in the parish. Women of the parish have also led in the parish’s aid programs for orphans, in organizing a highly successful preschool and in participation in the literacy classes at Nouvelle Cite.  (See  https://lokoleyacongo.wordpress.com/?s=nouvelle+cite                                             blog for more detail on the parish outreach programs)

In addition to her work at Nouvelle Cite, Mama Janette has also headed the Disciple headquarters’ Outreach and Service Department (“Diakonie”). That Department’s corn and manioc field on the outskirts of Mbandaka models for other parishes a profitable income generating project.  Mama Janette in 2010 hoped to fund new fields and service projects through purchase of a mill to process others’ produce as well as that of the Department’s field.  In 2011 Revde. Bafalanga became Senior Minister at Nouvelle Cite so the current status of the Diakonie projects is not known.

Revde. Madeline Bomboko

The first woman ordained by the Disciples in Congo, Revde. Bomboko, dared to reach out to women fleeing the catastrophic violence and mayhem in eastern Congo.  Meeting one woman who had walked one thousand kms. to what she hoped was safety in Mbandaka was the genesis of her Woman to Woman Listening Ministry that served over 50 refugee women.

Although most of the women had returned home when I met Revde. Bomboko in 2010, she introduced me to a woman whose entire family had been killed in the warfare and who considers Mbandaka her only home now.

(For more of the story see https://lokoleyacongo.wordpress.com/2010/10/)  The pain and suffering of Marie Sauve Vie and other refugee women had deeply touched Mama Madeline and the courageous openness and compassion of Mama Madeline’s response recalls W.H. Auden’s definition of Christian faith:

To choose what is difficult to do all one’s days and make it seem to be easy that is faith.”  (from For the Time Being )

We can celebrate that Revde. Bomboko now serves the Disciples parish next to the Mbandaka headquarters.  And she remains a good friend to Marie Sauve Vie.

Revde. Antoinette Bailu

With an outstanding academic record behind her, 2010 graduate of the Theology Department of the Protestant University of Congo, Revde. Bailu follows a large vision in her call to ministry.  Not only does she fill the traditional roles of pastor as Assistant Phe astor of Mbandaka I.  Revde. Antho has started agricultural projects in both the parishes she has served.  She reported in a recent email, “the pineapple field has begun producing but we need to hire a sentry and enclose the field as our produce continues to be stolen”.

In another recent email, she wrote, “In Equateur Province, our leading natural resource is the rainforest and we must take more advantage of it.”  She sees herself as a spokesperson for the importance of agriculture in the region’s economy and continues “to exhort my friends and fellow pastors to place more importance on developing projects in their parishes”.  She summed up her vision with these words, “I will hold to my mission of struggle against poverty through agricultural development and I know that in spite of difficulties I will achieve this goal”.

NOTE TO READER: This is the final lokoleyacongo post for the time being as Doug Smith and Kate Moyer complete preparations to begin a two year mission assignment with the Disciples and Congregational churches in Mexico.  To follow their work and commentaries on Mexican culture and society and  Mexican Protestant churches’ witness   go to their blog http://erasingborders.wordpress.com/ .  

To follow news of the Disciples of Christ Community in Congo, subscribe to the Community’s blog authored by Director of Communications, and micro credit trainer!,  M. Nathan Weteto at  http://natana.tumblr.com/

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.

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.

Maman Entombodji Restaurant

The yet to be plastered and painted restaurant building was dedicated during a visit of two leaders of the German partner Church

Our thoughts and prayers accompany the 8 Indiana Disciples who on Sunday begin their journey to Mbandaka for a two week visit. With the aim of strengthening the partnership ties of the Indiana and Mbandaka Regions of the Disciples, the group is led by Susan McNeely and the Partnership Chair Rev. Bob Shaw. Follow Susan’s report and commentary on the trip at her blog


While in Mbandaka they will likely be among the first visitors to dine at the new

Maman Entombodji with paper in hand stands with Maman Leale, another past Director of Disciples Women's Department, on her right, outside Mbandaka III cathedral sanctuary in 1971

Restaurant Maman Entombodji next to Disciples headquarters. Running along the south wall of the Secretariat building, this is an income generating, training project of the Disciples’ Department of Women and Families.

Head of the Women’s Department, Rev. Christiane Ikete Engelete, envisions the Restaurant generating revenues for the Department’s programs of literacy education, micro-credit and agricultural cooperatives. Built with the help of funding from the Disciples/U.C.C. Global Ministries and the German United Evangelical Mission, the building comprises the main dining hall, kitchen, office, pantry and interior and exterior rest rooms.

Papa Joseph and Mme. Ikete, parents of Rev. Christiane Ikete Engetele, current Director of Disciples' Department of Women and Families

Restaurant Entombodji was dedicated May 12, forty years after Rev. Christiane’s father participated in the dedication of the dormitory at the Disciples’ CAP (Centre Agro-Pastorale) farm in the village of Ikengo. A dedicated Disciples layman at the time, Joseph IKETE served as volunteer Protocol Chief for the occasion. Now in his 70’s Joseph continues to serve the Disciples as Chief Administrative Assistant in President Bonanga’s office.

In closing, a heart felt “Bon Voyage/Kende Malamu” to the Indiana Disciples as they prepare for their long journey beginning Sunday 5/22. They go with our gratitude for helping strengthen the partnership of U.S. and Congo Christians and our trust that their visit will also strengthen the mission witness of churches in both countries.

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 Season of Hope

In commemoration of the third annual Congo Week October 17-23, I am posting the following article with a plea to all to visit www.congoweek.org and www.afjn.org for updates on how to express solidarity with the people of Congo in their struggle for peace with justice.

A Season of Hope

Wrinkled and hard, the woman looked 70; I did not know her age, only that she was a native of Bunia, the beleaguered city in the eastern Congo terrorized by rebels and its own nation’s army in recent years.  I met her in Mbandaka, a thousand miles from her first home After returning to Bunia and finding none of her family had survived and nothing else to hold her there, she had fled a second time to Mbandaka.

I met her the last night of my two months stay this summer in Mbandaka, the provincial capital of Equateur Province and for me she represented the truth I would have to contend with and describe on my return to the States. Countless times prior to the trip I had been asked about the risk of revisiting the place I lived for two years from 1969 to  1971.  My response had become something like a tape replayed again and again:  Mbandaka was far from the troubles in the eastern Congo and relatively unaffected.

Over the last fifty years since independence as a new nation free of Belgian colonial rule, most of the violent conflict has occurred in the mineral producing areas of the country.  In 1969 there were reports of combat in the Eastern Congo with its array of rare minerals as well as gold.  And the rebel armies in Katanga battled the national army over control of the Province’s copper mines.  But Equateur Province lacks mineral reserves and its relative poverty seemed to create a safe haven from the conflicts bedeviling other areas of the country, the East particularly.

The Hutu refugees who had made it all the way from the East to Mbandaka following Tutsi Paul Kagame’s rise to power in the mid’90’s in Rwanda had sought refuge in Equateur Province..  They managed to live off the fertile land of the Province and survive until the march of the Rwandan troops supporting Laurent Desire Kabila’s persistent ambition to rule Congo.  These Tutsi soldiers made it to Mbandaka and executed every Hutu they could find in the area.

Referring to their prey as “cockroaches”, Kabila’s Tutsi backers stayed three days before descending the River on their way to Kinshasa in the final days of the Mobutu dicatatorship.  A prominent church leader told me the soldiers ordered all residents to stay in their homes while they searched for provisions and wreaked revenge.  Hutu men, women and children were found, lined up and shot with a single bullet.  “They weren’t worth wasting ammunition on” my informant reported they had told their captives.

The man’s account confirmed  journalist Howard French’s reports at the time (see his A Continent for the Taking) of Tutsi forces massacring Hutus in the Mbandaka area. And it convinced me to no longer speak of Mbandaka as insulated from the incessant violence of the eastern Congo.  Surrounded by the Church’s abundant hospitality, I learned first hand of other occasions when Congo’s conflicts had shaken this city.of over a million.

On Easter Sunday this year, a rogue rebel group had attacked Mbandaka and worshippers remained in their churches until they could return home under the cover of night.  The rapid routing of the rebels by the U.N.  troops and the death of a U.N. Ghanaian soldier did not win over the public’s favor.  Security troops of any description appeared to be met with distrust if not disdain by local Congolese

Twice in the last five years local troops of the Congolese Army have gone on the rampage when they had not been paid.  My cook and housekeeper “Papa Jean” lost all of his flock of 50 plus chickens in the latest pillaging.  He is not optimistic enough about the current regime to have restocked his coop with even a pair of chickens.  Although Kabila’s son’s administration has made payments to the army a priority, resulting in long delays for salary payment of teachers, medical workers and civil servants, the uncertainty over the elections scheduled for next year prevails.

A jolting revelation during my stay came with Congolese referring to the Mobutu era as the “good ol days” compared to the current Kabila regime.  Many question the legitimacy of the current ruler and even the legitimacy of the President’s claim to be a citizen of Congo.  There is frequent reference to the young President Kabila having served in the security forces of both Rwanda and Uganda.

Will President Kabila allow elections to be held next November as called for by the country’s constitution and as announced  the week of my departure?  While many educated Congolese are introduced as candidates for Deputy to the National Assembly, few of them speak with certainty about the rules and procedures for running this time. 

The question of whether the election will in fact take place is now giving way to whether President Kabila will be forced by the U.N. presence to relinquish control of the process to impartial overseers.  Although the U.N. troops in Congo represent the largest peacekeeping force in the world today, their record of guaranteeing a fair election in the country is not encouraging.  But Congolese are talking politics more openly and there is unrestrained opposition to the current rule, a notable change from 1971 during the height of Mobutu’s power.

The truth represented by the woman from Bunia had become undeniable by the time I met her the last night in Mbandaka.  I had come to the realization that the entire nation has been gripped and held in check by the foreign exploitation of this richest store house of natural resources in Africa and perhaps anywhere else on the earth.  That the Congo holds such incomparable wealth seems to be another fact which some people would like to remain in the darkness.

Perhaps an even more important and relevant truth about the country as one seeks to influence the march of justice in Congo is that the incessant and unrestrained exploitation of Congo by foreigners did not begin with King Leopold’s creation of the Congo Free State in 1885.  We have to go back to the Portuguese slavers trading at the mouth of the Congo River early in the 1500’s as setting the pattern for the horrors visited today on the people of the Congo.

And the more important and relevant truth about the woman from Bunia is that she has taken another name for herself as a displaced person living in Mbandaka today. She has replaced  the name given her by her family and given herself a  name which suggests what has kept her going through all her losses and the brutality she has suffered.  She is now introduced as Marie Catherine Sauve Vie or Marie Catherine “who saves life”. Strange to say, she may be the clearest sign I received during my stay that God has certainly not finished with Congo yet.