From the Chaos of War, Hope for the Future: NEW YORK, July 26, 2006—United Methodist leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo have high hopes for the presidential and parliamentary elections. The polling on Sunday, July 30—the first in 40 years—marks a break in the chaos of war in Africa’s second largest nation and a tangible step toward democracy and recovery.
UMCOR Development Reaches for a Renaissance in Congo
A more determined people one could not hope to meet, said United Methodist Bishop David Kekumba Yemba during recent meetings in New York. “This year is the year of the Congo,” he said. The church plays a significant role in Congo, both in development through United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and in consensus building among the 27 tribes who live scattered about Congo’s 905,000 square miles.
The Church and the Peace
Bishop Yemba himself serves on a reconciliation task force charged with keeping peace during the run-up to the election. Another United Methodist bishop, Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, has also been instrumental in building and keeping the fragile peace through delicate negotiations with some of the warring factions.
In Katanga Province, where the Episcopal areas of these two leaders are located, the peace has held. Peace seems more uncertain in the regions of the country near borders with Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda. Militant factions in the northeast continue to displace people and disturb civil order.
The road to free elections seems as furrowed as the clay and dust-filled tracks leading out of Lubumbashi, a provincial capital in the southern highlands. The vast country, a fourth of the size of the United States, has but 300 miles of paved roads. Ballots will move by motorcycle and boat. Full results won’t be known until September, according to press reports.
The people’s health suffers from poverty. Lack of medicines, food shortages, and no systemic treatment plague those who are ill. Malaria and HIV-AIDS contribute to a child (birth to age five) mortality rate of 138 in 1,000—compared with France at 9 in 1,000. Most of the 4 million people who died in the war perished from hunger and disease. Those who remain want a renaissance of the Congo through free elections, peace, and development.
“The Church Is Mother and Father Now”
UMCOR has supported development in DRC for the past three years. Program components include girls’ education in 57 schools, agriculture and rural growth, and economic aid such as micro-credit programs for small businesses and farms. A key partner in these activities is the United Methodist Church there. Methodists from the US planted churches in Congo as early as the 1920s. In 1962 the church established an official presence.
Only weeks before the North Katanga Annual Conference in early July, the leading presidential contender Joseph Kabila visited Bishop Ntambo in Kamina. Kabila, now the nation’s interim president, praised development initiatives of the church, said Bishop Ntambo. Kabila’s election could amplify the church’s position as a strong contributor to the restoration of civil society, the bishop said. Kabila frequently seeks the counsel of the bishop he calls “Father.”
On the eve of the elections, people want hospitals, houses with running water, electricity and roads. They want schools and working farms with tractors. They want peace. A country safe for their children.
And, Bishop Ntambo has a special hope for all the orphaned children who find themselves in the care of the North Katanga annual conference. “The church is their mother and father now,” he said.