Congo Trip Report
Report for the Global Ministries/OGHS Trip to Congo – Kinshasa, Congo – Brazzaville and South Africa, 15 October – 4 November, 2006
Report for the Global Ministries/OGHS Trip to Congo – Kinshasa, Congo – Brazzaville and South Africa, 15 October – 4 November, 2006
15 Oct: South Africa
Phyllis Richards of OGHS and I arrive in South Africa. It is early evening and we have just enough time to get to the hotel and then go to dinner with Rev. Prince Dibeela, the general secretary of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) and his wife Rev. Cheryl Dibeela. Good meal and good conversation about missiology and the role and function of missionaries from both the North and the South.
16 Oct: Congo – Kinshasa
We fly to Congo – Kinshasa. There we are greeted by the Protocol officer, our missionary and one of the leaders of the church, the Disciples of Christ Community (CDCC). We are taken to CAP where we settle in and meet with Rev. Eale, conference minister for Kinshasa. Kinshasa is both a city and a region and Rev. Eale has been the regional minister for about 5 years.
17 Oct: Mbandaka
We fly to Mbandaka, the heart of the church because that’s where the church began. It is in the rural area and part of the Equatuer region. We stay in the “mission house” that has as its backyard the Congo River. Amazingly beautiful, serene and calming. Though there is only electricity from 6:00 pm – 10: 00pm, I have already fallen in love with its natural beauty.
We also met with the general secretary, Rev. Bonanga and the Management Team of the church (CDCC). They met us at the airport where I had my first freshly picked litchi (which was delicious). We have lunch at Rev. Bonanga’s home, meet his wife who welcomed us with open arms and I meet Rev. Chrisiane Ikete, the minister who we tried in vain to get to attend Mix in 06. That was a joy and a pleasure. Unfortunately, because of our visa and immigration restrictions our country would not grant her a visa to travel to the Mix. However, the numerous phone calls and emails made during that trying process created a bond between us that made us feel like long lost friends when we finally met. The most striking and notable item so far in this trip is the warmth with which we have been greeted. All are genuinely pleased that we have made the trip and that we chose to journey with them during the uncertain time right before the run off elections. This, for them, is a powerful witness of our commitment to walk with them and to stand by them in both good times and bad.
18 Oct: ICC, School of Theology, Bolenge Hospital
Today we visited schools in both Mbandaka and Bolenge and the Bolenge Hospital. The first school we visited was the Congolese Christian Institute (ICC) with Mr. Inano as Director, was founded in 1928 and now has a total student body of 568. Of that student body 198 are girls and they have 92 students in Kindergarten. The school is divided into 2 sections – Science and Education. In total there are 30 teachers, 3 of whom are women. Why the emphasis on women? The church is fully committed to the empowerment of girls and women and as a result throughout the entire church, the role, number and function of women is of keen importance. The church realizes the vital role women play both in the church and in the larger community and it wants to be an agent of empowerment. Therefore it is looking at all levels of church and community life including schools as education is an important aspect of female empowerment. By the way, this is also the school at which both Rev. Sandra and Daniel Gourdet taught when they were missionaries in the Congo.
Once we left ICC we went to the Theological College. It has 62 students, 5 of whom are women. This is a number they are determined to increase. It is a small school with a small theological library. Though it may be small it is a school determined to education young men and women.
The challenge has been that the political instability of the country. The school was destroyed in both1999 and 2005. They took the generator, screens, tables, desks and everything to slow the school down. They also took everything from the dorms, because if the students and teachers were not comfortable, they wouldn’t do well, and they might not stay at the school.
Through our churches generosity, we (GM) have been able to assist them by having the benches, screens, windows replaced and the walls repainted. Its greatest need now is the library. There are books there older than many of our grandparents and yet the students doggedly read so that they can deepen their understanding of their church and the God they serve. What I enjoyed most about the school is the pride with which the Director speaks of the students and the work that they are doing. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the flood of daily, mundane tasks and activities that overwhelm us, but sitting and watching the smile that comes across Rev. Mbompbo‘s face as he shares about his students and the commitment of the teachers reminds me of the most important ingredient in teaching-the care and concern of the educators and the commitment of the students.
Walking up to the hospital, I was struck by the devastation caused by the fire earlier this year. It’s like walking among ruins except these weren’t created through the passage of time. Building after building burned to almost nothing….and yet the church and the hospital refuse to be shaken. In the midst of the devastation there are temporary facilities for surgery, recovery, for a pharmacy and for patients.
This was the first hospital, began in 1958. They lost almost everything due to an electrical fire earlier this year. They have been able to replace much from the money sent from their government, through Global Ministries, and from other churches in the U.S. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) donated the funds for the ceiling in the operating room. The hospital is also important to the community because it is a teaching hospital, and it also makes visits to the community through its mobile clinic. It is especially important for rural areas where it is difficult, if not impossible, for people to get to the hospital.
On the hospital site there is a well that was dug in 1995 provides access to clean, potable water for the hospital so that they have a constant source. Though the pump is used from 9 am to 3 pm and then it’s locked, when needed, the pump can be unlocked. Why do they need to do this? Because fuel is both expensive and difficult to get and because they need to replenish the water level. The good news is that clean water can be available 24 hours a day and as they rebuild, this will be a source of water for the new hospital complex.
The new hospital complex will include a section for the following: Maternity, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Ob-gyn, Surgery & Recovery, Morgue, Administration and Consultation along with a Dining Hall and a Chapel. The configuration is to include a quadrangle with the Men’s, Women’s and Children’s sections and a Lab and recovery area. This is to all be covered so that once a patient leaves the operating room they can go to the Quad area without feeling the affects of the weather. Currently the entire area is exposed.
The hospital plans are both thorough and well thought out. When the complex is built the area will have a hospital that can truly serve the varied medical needs of the entire community.
Later in the afternoon we travel to Djombo to visit with the women’s group in the church that serves widows and orphans. They are having a prayer service when we arrive and again we are warmly welcomed. As is the tradition when welcoming guests, they gave us of their best even though they had very little. They prepared food and drinks for us (Coke & Fanta) and when we didn’t have time to eat, they sent the food back with us instead of keeping it for themselves. It is this understanding of community or ubuntu that is helping them be successful in their micro-credit project.
The women are working on an income generating project that involves the growing of manioc or cassava from which the widows earn money to purchase animals that they can then sell (by selling the offspring) and use some of the funds to finance other projects. This is a micro-credit project that employs Two hundred and fifty women who farm 20 hectares of land from which they all benefit.
Ikengo Agriculture & Training Center
In 2003, Mr. Celestin Engelemba, the young man who the church supported through school, returned to the Equatuer region and started the Ikengo farm in 2004.
We leave early in the morning to travel by canoe to Ikengo Farm-pretty amazing experience! There, a group of both men and women, though mainly women, greet us with the hospitality that reminds us that we are all one in Christ. Phyllis and I are presented with shirts that reflect our ties with the women on this farm, in this church and in this community. After a few more formalities we begin our tour of the Center.
What began with the purchase of 20 pigs has expanded in less than 2 years time to 130 pigs. By the time the program is 2-years old, there will be approximately 305 pigs that resulted from the initial investment.
The important aspect of this program is that the community is directly impacted. As women and men take part in the training programs offered at Ikengo Agriculture Center, they are in-turn given animals to keep. They learn how to take care of the animal and how to keep them healthy. As they grow and mate their animals, they sell the animals to others in their community. In this way many families begin to earn a living resulting in their being better able to take care of themselves and their children.
In addition to working with pigs, Ikengo Agriculture Center provides direction on growing vegetables, fruits, plants and chickens. Participants are selected to be in this project through the church, usually because they have very limited means. In the 3-month training program, participants learn how to care for, and grow various produce. For example, there is a growing project designed just for women. The women plant the seeds, care for the plants, and harvest the crops at the appropriate time, all the while learning new skills and techniques that will help them in their own gardens. Upon completion of the training program, the women are also given small hand tools for gardening, along with seeds and “cuttings” from the very plants that they cared for while at the Training Center.
In talking with Celestine, he said one of the unexpected blessings that has come out of all of this is that the Ikengo Training Center is helping people in the community to eat more healthy. Ikengo, located on the Congo River, is part of a community that is used to eating fish. However, since the growing projects began, people in the community are coming to Ikengo to buy their vegetables and fruits which helps to create a more balanced diet. Celestin’s vision is for the products grown and the animals raised at Ikengo to help the community and the church become self-sufficient so that they, in turn, can help others.
20 Oct: General Secretary & Management Team Meetings
The CDCC is divided into 22 “posts” or districts, much like our regions and conferences and each post has a minister who is responsible for the churches under their jurisdiction, very similar to our Conference and Regional Ministers. While there is a General Secretary and a Management team along with the Administrative Council which includes the GS and the Management team, the most important level of the church is the local church.
The Church has the largest Disciples community on the continent and its membership is larger than the Disciples community in the U.S. It has 650,000 members with 525 pastors (14 women pastors), 203 of whom have university degrees in Theology.
The church has 5 Departments on the national level – Evangelism, Education, Health, Development & Administration and Finance.
Department of Education
Schools report 60 – 70 % of children receive an education, mostly boys, but some girls. They also would like to get funding to evaluate the Portable School project. Although they have anecdotal documentation, they have not been able to gather the necessary data or evaluate the actual statistics to speak with any definitiveness about the effectiveness of the project. However, through anecdotal evidence, the project has increased the literacy of those in the most rural areas thanks to the efforts of Rev. Boetse who has been taking the school to where the most needy are for over 20 years.
Hospital/Clinics – 6 hospitals, 150 health centers.
Main difficulties: communications and transportation
- need help with computers, mail and telephone
- can’t travel far whether by road or by river, which makes it difficult to make site visits. Too few bikes and outboard motors for canoes
Department of Development
- Responsible for all development projects of the church
- Goal is to empower members through ownership of and authority over projects
- Difficult to support income generating projects because of initial outlay of funds needed
- They are moving toward self sufficiency – developed 7 ways to get support from members:
- 1. Tithing 5. Support from Outside Partners
- 2. Offerings 6. NGOs
- 3. Projects 7. Gifts
- 4. Fee Assessments at Posts
Department of Evangelism (church life and mission)
This department provides services/programs in the following areas: Women, Youth, HIV/AIDS, Diaconate, Portable Schools. These are areas of importance, but not quite to the level of a department in the church.
Women & the Church:
We met with Rosette, who was one of the women from the Congo who went to the Philippines to learn how to work with women and children’s issues. She also learned to speak English. One of the issues addressed is that women from both countries tend to not want to be involved in leadership roles.
The women would also like to receive information on how to do good projects that will benefit the community.
- No roads to get items to churches to sell or to make
- No gifts in kinds received to help reduce costs or services
- Identifying projects that are self sustaining and are income generating
i.e guest house, library, Ikengo Agriculture Projects, Women’s Micro-credit projects, stands/property that the Church owns and rents out, owning property that needs repair.
- Other Services HIV/AIDS
- Moving the Women’s program to the level of a department to be more in line with other department vs. program status which it now has.
The women want constant communication with women in the U.S. They want to know what we are doing and how we address the issues that women all over the world face and they want to exchange ideas, programs, suggestions so that women in the U.S. can learn from them and so that they can learn from the women in the U.S. There was an emphasis placed on the mutuality of learning and sharing to ensure that it wasn’t all one-sided. They also want very concrete and specific guidelines for programs and projects and to share our experiences with them as to how they work in our context so that they can see how those programs, projects may be adapted by them to their own contexts.
Interestingly enough the women (and later the men echoed this plea) also asked for advocacy in 2 areas –
- To ask US government to help with peacekeeping in the Congo.
- To keep the riches in the country for the benefit of the people of the Congo.
That evening, after a very long and productive day, we all gathered for a farewell meal at the house where we were staying. It was Rev. Bonanga (the GS of the CDCC) and the Management Committee. At that dinner both Phyllis and I were given names selected by the church based on the attributes that they noticed about each of us. Great care is taken to give a name that reflects both the person on whom it is bestowed as well as the community from which it comes. No, I will not share our names, but no how very significant it was to us for them to have chosen names for us. It is yet another example of ubuntu (see web site for more information on ubuntu).
21 Oct: Travel back to Kinshasa
22 Oct: Worship at Lemba Church
We spent Sunday at the Lemba Church where we treated to a service that included 6 different choirs! It very much reminds me of my home church in Connecticut where the service can easily last for 2 hours. This service was filled with good singing, good dancing and good fellowship. It was a joy and pleasure to be there on the Sunday before the run-off elections. What is noteworthy is the fact that the worship leaders made sure that when they introduced us they prefaced it by commenting on how much it meant to them that 2 women from their partners in the U.S. were undeterred by reports of violence (exaggerated reports I might add) and came to be with them during this time of uncertainty.
After church we visited with the women in Kinshasa, shared our joys and concerns and visited their income generating project that involves the selling of CDCC cloth as well as other goods.
Later that afternoon we were taken to see the House of Life orphanage and the fish pond that is part of the income generating project that hopefully will help the orphanage become self-sustaining.
The day ended on a high note with a dinner with all of the church leaders in Kinshasa arranged by Rev. Eale.
23 Oct: Congo – Brazzaville
While in Congo – Kinshasa I had thought that there could be no more hospitality shown to us. The red carpet of food & fellowship had been laid out for us everywhere we went and I thought I had seen it all. And then we went to Brazzaville. Rev. Lucien Kobele and his “management team” along with the women and members of the church showed us not only great food and fellowship, but they added new depth and dimension to my understanding of sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others. The Disciples of Christ church of the Congo (ECC) is a young church, started with the help of the CDCC. But it stands independent and strong as it continues to grow.
Soap Making Project
Part of what is helping to make this church strong is its commitment both to women and to micro-credit projects. Their commitment to women begins with a literacy program that helps women to read and write and then gives them a small loan to start an income generating project.
The project we had an opportunity to see in action is the women’s soap making project. The women of the church make the soap using market testing techniques to know the exact amount of perfume and other ingredients to use that meets the needs of the consumers (other women). Not only do they make and sell the soap, they tailor it to the different places it is sold so that it is as appealing as possible to potential costumers.
The most striking aspect of the project is the pride with which the women take in making the soap and in showing off the end product. While women are the ones making and selling the soap, men are there to help also and the church houses the project because they can not yet afford a separate place to make and store the soap throughout the production process. The women work together as a group on this project and on a weaving project that they have started so that both projects-soap and women’s woven purses-benefit the entire community.
After getting a demonstration of soap making, we went to the next big income generating church project-the Agricultural Farm Project.
Agricultural Farm Project
The farm project includes growing manioc, peanuts & corn on over 10 hectares of land. The land is far and difficult to get to, but it is very fertile, virgin land and should produce good crops. The field has already been cleared and the manioc planted. Next they will plant peanuts in between the manioc on half of the land and corn in between the manioc on the other half of the land. The goal is to get the peanuts and corn harvested and to market in about 3 months and then harvest the manioc in 12 months. This is a project with which the entire church is involved with volunteers clearing, planting and in due time harvesting the produce.
This is a church with a shared vision, committed members and extremely competent leaders whose goal is to be transparent and empowering. I pray that God continues to strengthen, guide, and unify this church so that it can be an example to all of church transformation and vitality.
24 Oct: Return to Kinshasa
This was an evening spent preparing for the next leg of our journey-South Africa.
25 Oct: Travel to Johannesburg, South Africa
26 Oct: UCCSA offices
This was a day to meet with missionaries as well as to visit the regional and denominational offices of the UCCSA.
We also spent time at the Bridgman center run by Malusi Maluleka. It is a UCCSA sponsored youth center that has HIV/AIDS prevention programs for girls and boys as well as tutoring through their Saturday School program and provides a safe place for young people to hang out in Soweto.
In the afternoon we toured Soweto to get a sense of the township as well as the informal settlements in and around Joburg.
27 Oct: Apartheid Museum, Mandela’s Home, Winnie Mandela’s home
Today was spent visiting Museums and learning about the history and culture of South Africa.
28 Oct: Travel to Cape Town & Black Economic Empowerment Project
We traveled to Cape Town and then once there we drove through the countryside to see the natural beauty and visited 1 of the first Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) projects in Stellenbosch. Throughout the trip we learned more about the culture and the political, economic and racial dynamics of South Africa.
Our first evening in Cape Town was topped off by a barbeque or braai at the home of Cyril and Bridget Payle our tour guide and members of a UCCSA church in Cape Town. Having dinner with their family reminded us that hospitality is truly continent wide and is an important part of all African cultures. Both the food and the fellowship were wonderful.
29 Oct: Robben Island
We took the ferry to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The most striking part of the prison was the way in which those who were political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe used the time there as a “school” to sharpen their political skills and then to apply the lessons to those in power in the prison.
30 Oct: Ons Plek “Our Place”
On the top of our agenda was to visit Ons Plek (Our Place in Afrikaans) which is a facility for female street children in Cape Town. Opened in 1988, it is the only intake shelter for girls in Cape Town. The girls’ basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, education, and support are provided. It is a project that we have supported for many years and our support continues because of their commitment to young girls.
Ons Plek provides the girls with a safe environment and shelter, while providing appropriate programs for the girls based on an assessment of each girl’s circumstances.
Family reunification and preservation are preferred unless the circumstances make it inappropriate.
After developmental and scholastic assessment, girls are placed in the educational program that best suits their needs. Ons Plek holds classes focusing on cooperation and other skills necessary for a successful return to formal education. Another alternative is for girls to attend class at the Learn to Live School for street children; or they may attend the Cape Town schools.
The Director, Pam Jackson, is committed to the empowerment of girls who are marginalized. There original building was burned in a fire earlier this year and they are still struggling to provide shelter, care and comfort to anyone who knocks on their door.
We ended the evening with a dinner at Africa Café which introduced us to the variety of cuisine that is available throughout the continent.
31 Oct: Wola Nani “We embrace and develop each other”
We awoke early so that we could visit, Wola Nani, one of our projects that focuses on women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Wola Nani, which means “we embrace and develop each other” in the Xhosa and was created in 1994 to respond to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis. Its goal is to bring relief to families and communities hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic and assist them to develop their own strategies to respond to the crisis.
Their programs focus on the needs of women and children in order to ease the burden of HIV/AIDS on poor families by enabling mothers with HIV to live positively and develop self-help programs. Through a counseling and case management approach combined with income generation activities, women attain coping and life skills.
Moira Jones, Director of Wola Nani, proudly gave us a tour of the products that are made and sold by the women. The bright colors and innovative use of paper, beads and other materials gave us a sense of the pride with which each item is made.
Travel back to the U.S.