11th Newsletter of the Community of the Church of Christ in Congo
Disciples of Christ in the Congo 11th Newsletter of the Community of the Church of Christ in Congo Église du Christ au Congo
Disciples of Christ in the Congo
Thank you for your interest and the numerous positive reactions shown in our bulletin. This bulletin is an instrument of communication between the General Secretariat, church base and partners to convey accurate information in order to assure the link between the General Secretariat and the Posts, down to the parishes and local churches which constitute the church base.
This special edition has been issued with the goal of sharing the news of a trip the Administrative Committee made in the Tshuapa region, as far as Opala. This was a long trip of 1,300 kilometers (780 miles) under very difficult road conditions and over terrain where the clearance of land mines was not assured. We thank all powerful God who protected us in this adventure of faith which lasted 34 days, and allowed us to experience all the difficult realities of our Community.
In view of the difficulties encountered on this trip, we must really pay tribute to the predecessors of the Community who paid with their lives, such as Is’ea Mpela (R. R. Eldred), who drowned in the Lokoro river and was buried out in the forest, or who paid with their bodies such as one who lost part of his arm (buried at Monieka). Without this courage, the CDCC would not have existed for 108 years. We asked ourselves: “Why not us?” We need courage, steadfastness and determination to go forward in the proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A hundred and eight years of work in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a lot, and the Community must be responsible for itself. That’s why we insist the Community be responsible from its base; and, as we have just experienced, the base is poor and we need to solicit the help of our partners. We must recognize that the financial means of our partners is diminishing, and we must take the necessary measures at the local level to avoid a break of evangelization.
May God bless the CDCC
Rev. Eliki Bonanga
Community President and Legal Representative
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (I Thessalonians 4, 11-12)
God blesses work and not laziness. For work produces peace, honor, and autonomy, while laziness is the source of jealousy, animosity and conflicts. Let us work with our own hands and make our honor from peace.
The Community President Visits 11 of the 22 Posts of the ECC/10-CDCC
Departing from Mbandaka March 18 on two canoes tied together and pushed by an outboard motor, the Community President of the ECC/10-CDCC, Rev. Eliki Bonanga, accompanied by the Community Vice-President in charge of evangelization and church life, Rev. Clement Mputu Yonganga, the Medical Coordinator, Dr. Andre Ilanga Lokula, the head of the Department of Administration and Finance, Mr. Joseph Ikete Eselenga, the Education Counselor, Mr. Nsengondi Bahilo, and the head of the sub-department of Women and Family, Christiane Ikete Engetele.
The Community President undertook this perilous trip in order to determine the state of things in the Posts of the upper Tshuapa after the war, and to strengthen the link between the Secretariat and the Posts. In fact, not only did the trip by canoe expose the delegation to the weather (sun and rain), but also to traveling on roads littered with broken down vehicles which had encountered land mines. The state of the roads inspired little confidence for we know that these regions have not yet been declared free from anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.
We needed not only courage and determination, but faith and love for 34 days covering the 1,300 kilometers that separate Mbandaka from Opala passing by Ingende, Monieka, Boende, Lofoy, Wema, Wini, Bokungu, Mondombe, Loombo and Ikela. Besides the two canoes and the outboard motor, it was necessary to add a motorcycle to travel on roads where there were no rivers. However, an encouraging note was that everywhere they went, the delegates received a welcome without precedent, especially since some parishes had never received the visit of a Community President since their creation. Poor management by administrators, the national debt and multiple armed conflicts that have bereaved several families in this part of the CDCC, resulted in impoverishing the population to the point that famine, nudity and other signs of misery were obvious.
Nevertheless, for the thousands of Christians who came to meet the delegation of the General Secretariat, the joy in the faces, the willingness to welcome in the hearts, and the moments of euphoria caused people to momentarily forget their difficulties. Places to sleep were arranged and chickens and goats were provided to feed the guests. The visit didn’t consist only in these passive observations, but very lively church services were celebrated, evangelistic campaigns started and meetings with women were organized. Thirteen children were dedicated to God, one marriage was blessed, two 70 year old servants of God, Rev. Bolombo of Lofoy and Rev. Bokese of Mondombe, were retired with colorful ceremonies, a chapel was dedicated in the post of Bokungo, parish of Bokunga, Christians were informed about the new vision of the church (that is self-determination of the Community from the base), and seminars were led on the reform of the church. In general, the different heads of services had working meetings with those in their respective fields.
Everywhere needs were obvious to the delegates. The centers of health were not supported by the health structures, especially in the health zone of Monieka. Basic equipment and medicines are not to be found. The infrastructures left by the missionaries need either to be considerably remodeled in the Posts of Monieka, Wema and Mondombe. Roofing is needed for the schools, health center, and chapels, especially in the large centers where the CDCC works along side the Roman Catholic Church, notably in Bokungu, Yalusaka, Ikela and Boende. Titles to land must be renewed for property acquired by the missionaries as the validity of a property title is only for 25 years. This lack of validation could cause the break up of property of the Community. The population is almost nude and lacks manufactured products of first necessity: soap, sugar, salt, etc. Cups and trays for communion are lacking to the point that certain parishes are incapable of having communion every Sunday. Bibles and song books are lacking, but a bible costs 10$ and a song book 8$. How will Christians be able to obtain these sums, when they don’t even have a machete to rework their fields? There is no lack of willingness to produce, but there is a lack of tools, seeds, and a means of getting products to market to get the population out of poverty.
Rural pastors have to travel on foot to visit the local churches, sometimes at distances of more than 50 kilometers (30 miles).
The welcome of the Community President
Parishes that, since their creation had never received the visit of a Community President, were honored to do so at this time. Up to 100km from the centers of the Posts, the Community President and the Vice President mounted motorbikes to learn about the life of the church in the parishes in the forest.
Children who had never seen a motorbike or other vehicle, were filled with wonder. Some said it was a big bicycle, while others doubted a bicycle could make noises like a leopard. A world apart, cut off from others, many consider current events to be a legend or a story. In fact, nobody believed it was possible to communicate with someone else by telephone across thousands of kilometers. So it is normal that without this type of visit, the pastors carry on as they wish, ignoring the dispositions taken by organs of the Community. But, organizing such visits requires an investment in health, materials and finances. This single trip required 1,400 liters (370 gallons) of gasoline, 2 canoes, an outboard motor, a motor bike, and 34 days of exposure to the weather.
Portable school for the wives of pastors
Thirty-one wives of pastors of the Posts of Mbandaka and Bolenge entered the 40th session of the portable school directed by Ref. Jean Boetesa Djou. The framework chosen was the agro-pastoral project of Ikengo. Not wanting to remain on the outside of the mission of their spouses, these women who, for the most part, passively attended the ordination of their spouses, decided to learn the occupation for which their spouses were consecrated in order to work in a more active and effective manner in the ministry of the Lord. Other sessions are to be encouraged.
Nightmares of the Leaders of the CDCC
We want to say that many leaders live on the verge of a trip like that made by the team directed by the Community President, Eliki Bonanga. We had the privilege to be invited to the preparatory meetings of this trip of faith, love and compassion with our brothers who lived the horrors of the unfair and devastating war of 1996 to 2003. We sat in on discussions where some expressed their fear of the cost of the trip, and others advancing the argument of the insecurity on the recent information relayed by the radio Okapi on the schemes of a certain former Mai Mai fighter by the name of NKOY AZOKI (injured leopard) in the Ikela vicinity. Once the trip was over, we realized that none of these worries were completely wrong, for 80% of the roads are impractical and the travel conditions are troublesome. Malaria, an endemic disease, did not spare the Vice President of the Community who was unable to visit Opala, the last Post in this line, after being hospitalized at Ikela.
The nightmares of our leaders often oscillated around the necessity to realize the evolution of the work in the back country, on one hand motivating the faithful and on the other to realize the budgetary constraints, security, and geographic accessibility. A prolonged absence from home also figured among the burdens, but who else would visit the totality of the church Posts? To send someone in your place would allow your feet to rest, but not your heart. Bravo to our leaders for there was more worry than harm.
The Involvement of Women in the Church is worth a Candle
The Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo is one of the organizations that understood the role of women. The idea of equality, now in vogue by the transitional government which just officially came into power through elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has supported our community in its efforts so that others can be involved in the re-foundation of our society. This doesn’t mean that everything was always rosy concerning the true role and the place of women in our community. There is still work to be done, but this is a process in which the CDCC has a head start. The sub-department of Women and Family, directed by Rev. Christiane, was included in the delegation of staff who visited the Tshuapa region. It was an opportunity for the director to be involved in the mobilization of women, informing them about the major challenges of today, and to provide their local effort with a sense of responsibility for the Community at its base. It was a surprise for Rev. Christiane who, being unprepared because of the difficulties of communication, encouraged them with her advice, and a symbolic gift of 10,000 Congolese francs (about $20), given to the women of Mondombe. While there she became aware that women are generous toward the Community and ready to serve even more, but experience difficulties with their own development because of the lack of work tools for those who have gardens, and have no work documents for those who are responsible at the level of the post in the parishes, as, for example, Bibles and song books. These women are supervised irregularly by their post and parish leaders from lack of transport which poses a problem of geographic accessibility, and are living in an unfavorable socio-economic context. Here we must also add the burdens of a negative culture which requires more of women than of the favored.
All the above led Rev. Ikete to offer seven Bibles and seven song books to the central parishes of the posts. Now, after this long work period of 34 days with marathon sessions, the Leader has a much clearer vision of the tasks to accomplish.
Nevertheless, we point out that the department doesn’t have a working budget to permit responding to certain urgencies. This calls for more local initiatives, making the partners aware, and also self-examination of the strategies to be put in place. We must point out, however, that women in our Community contribute more than 70% of the financial and material support of our different parishes. They are more and more involved in the different sectors of the church, such as evangelism, health, teaching, and development. The coming days will determine whether the organs of our Community will give responsibility to women at the head of certain church posts and the Administrative Committee.
At work for the next General Assembly of the CDCC
The leaders are at work in all the Community of the Disciples of Christ in Congo. From the General Secretariat to the most distant post, a single preoccupation haunts leaders at every level; preparation for the 2007 General Assembly.
Invitations are sent out to the posts, delegates are chosen, responsibilities are known for meals which will be supported by the posts, the proposed agenda is known, but most importantly, the selection date which respects the statutory requirements. Several church posts have already held their preparatory Councils, others are holding them at this moment, but one thing is sure: the meeting of the General Assembly of the CDCC will take place by the book. Elections will be held, but these must take second place to the major challenge which is the self-determination of the Community. The posts must bring concrete strategies for a vision of the Community.
Will AIDS Make Victims Among These Children?
The long siege of combatants in the region of Ikela did not fail to have consequences in the health of the population after the lifting of the siege. We remember that during the troubled period of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the city of Ikela was occupied by military from Zimbabwe who surrounded the rebel combatants of DRC factions. It was a red zone.
Today the belligerents are gone, the country is pacified, elections have taken place, the third republic is established, but children cast an anxious look at tomorrow because many of their parents are carriers of AIDS according to the statement of health workers of Ikela. The parents are not aware of this since they don’t want to go for voluntary detection. Many don’t know they are HIV positive and often consider AIDS as a disease of the city and they are spared. There is no campaign of awareness, and sexual contacts are not safe. Who will come to the aid of these children condemned to become orphans?
When the General Secretary Comes to the Parishes
A pastoral visit has many aspects, and the trip of the Administrative Committee to the interior of the Community certainly was one. Not only were they welcomed, housed and fed appropriately, but they listened to the reports of activities, held worship services, and organized seminars and evangelistic campaigns. The evangelistic campaigns had the central theme “Let us do our duty to graze the flock of the Lord.” Many people came with items for prayer, and responses were given. We must note that many people were converted and many others were reintegrated into the Community. To come close, to see face to face and to touch is always a good thing to affirm the relationship between the summit and the base, but especially for mutual understanding.
Work instruments, Bibles, song books, utensils for communion, are lacking in the interior of the CDCC. Today, after having eaten together, after having passed nights in the same conditions and after having conversations, the faithful at the base tell themselves that “the leaders in the General Secretariat are people like us.”
Focus on Schools
During the trip of the Community President to the interior of the Community, the Counselor, Jean Didier Nsengondi Bahilo, who represented the Coordination of Teaching, had the task of supervising the education section and to raise four principal problems. These were mostly problems linked to infrastructures, the preparation of teaching materials, problems of the mechanization of teachers, and problems relative to the transfer of teachers’ salaries. School buildings, often built of mud bricks with thatched roofs, don’t provide adequate conditions for the children. In the interior, teachers experience enormous difficulties in preparation of teaching materials and carrying out their content because of the desperate lack of books. Also, it is not easy to transmit obsolete matters due to a lack of teaching materials. Many teachers work without mechanization and to solve this problem, Mr. Nsengondi Bahilo brought more than 500 folders of mechanization and normalization of the administrative situation of teachers in the sector of the Tshuapa. Finally, the thorny problem of the transfer of funds. Because of the drain of charges made during the transfer (often exaggerated), teachers receive less than half their salary each month. This situation is not very encouraging to teachers who must confront a multitude of other social problems. The coordination seeks ways and means to send these funds so that teachers might receive the totality of their salaries.
The Diaconate at the Different Posts of the CDCC
The sub department of the Diaconate did not fold its arms during the travels of the leaders of the CDCC in the Tshuapa region. Its head, Rev. Jeannette Bafalanga, took advantage of the occasion to send 70 pieces of wax and 63 bars of soap to disadvantaged and marginalized people, a gift from the posts of Kinshasa and Mbandaka. Widows, old people, and orphans were the principal targets of this gift. However, we point out that the distribution was not as easy as you might think, because the needs of people who fall into these categories are greater than the availability. And so a choice had to be made. We think it is important to mobilize more of the faithful, other partners to come in aid for the weak. Who is indigent and who is not? That’s the big question we always ask ourselves in the present economic context of our country. A country totally ruined after the recent armed conflicts, and where almost all of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Whatever the given response, we must recognize that there are some less favored than others. This leads to our pathetic appeal that this sub department of Evangelization, directed by a worthy woman, deserves the attention of each one of us with regard to the sufferings of people concerned by its actions.
The CDCC has a Heritage
The Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo presently covers five provinces of the country and the Capital Kinshasa. It includes the provinces of Equator, Bandundu, and more recently the East Province of Bas Congo and Kasai. This is an area about the same as all the Republic of Malawi, and since the time of the mission. Indigenous people have agreed with the Church and the public power to grant small parcels of land for the work of evangelism, teaching, health care, and development which the CDCC organizes. During the period of troubles of the Community, the heritage was not managed in an orthodox manner. There were no longer land documents, no documentation was kept of buildings and furniture, anyone could carry off anything without the hierarchy being informed. Even worse, lands belonging to the CDCC and despoiled during the second Republic, were cut off and attributed to individual persons to the great displeasure of church authorities.
This visit of the Administrative Committee of the CDCC, was an opportunity for Mr. Joseph Ikete Eselenga, head of the department of Administration and Finance, to hone in on this situation in the sector of the Tshuyapa and to give the necessary instructions for the proper management of the property of the church.
The Council of Pastors of Mbandaka, (COPAM), a grouping of all the pastors of Mbandaka and all Communities of the Church of Christ in Congo, has taken up its activities again Monday, March 7, 2007, in the Disciples Church of Mbandaka III led by Mgr Salomon Gwana Naego. More than 50 pastors of Equator Synod present in Mbandaka responded to the appeal, and the preacher of the day, Rev. Clement Mputu Yonganga of the CDCC, exhorted his fellow pastors concerning the necessity of unity in diversity for, as he said, we are all one and we must have regard for the Body of Christ.
After 34 days of traveling, they are back in Mbandaka. Rain, sun, mosquitoes and other pesky insects accompanied our leaders. They saw everything; geographic inaccessibility, non-existent bridges and roads, a lack of means of communication, falling off a motorbike, and the lack of a loudspeaker when addressing thousands of the faithful in a bothersome climatic environment.
Our leaders proved they are determined, since July 2003, to conduct the ship of the CDCC to a safe harbor. It was with joy that we welcomed them home the morning of Friday, April 20, 2007, as heroes returning from battle. And without rest, though very tired from having traveled all night, Rev. Eliki Bonanga went directly to his office to take care of certain urgent matters. This determination to serve the best for the CDCC by actions, and not just by words, was proven by our leaders. It was a determination in an adventure in faith. What one really wants, one is able to do.