​Tshiela Kalonji takes a break from her studies at Kalonda Bible Institute with three of her five children. Photo by Charles Buller.

By Charles Buller
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

After six years of working with established Mennonite leaders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa Leadership Coaching Network held a January seminar at Kalonda Bible Institute to prepare future leaders. This Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission coaching ministry is a Mennonite Mission Network partner. 

KALONDA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission/Mennonite Mission Network) — A week of seminars Jan. 26-31 at Kalonda Bible Institute realized Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission's long-held desire to invest in the future leaders of the Mennonite churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo. AIMM and Mennonite Mission Network have partnered in African church leadership development for decades.

When the Africa Leadership Coaching Network began in 2014, the seminars drew largely older, established church and community leaders. Now, we are beginning to more proactively seek out the young adults who will lead their communities into the future. 

The younger leaders, those in their 20s and 30s, often seem to resonate at a deeper level with some of the new paradigms we teach in our Multiplying Transformational Communities seminar. Topics include shared leadership in marriage, church, and community life. 

A difficult motor-bike taxi trip over rocky terrain and a wipe-out left one of our team members bloodied and limping. Yet our spirits lifted as we entered the town of Kalonda to the embrace of about 30 students in joyful song. 

Our six-person coaching team took turns teaching — Leonard Kiswangi, Albert and Albertine Mulamba, Bercie and Caloten Mundedi, and me. Bercie Mundedi, the director of Kalonda Bible Institute, led an introductory study of Philippians, a letter about church leadership. 

The Holy Spirit worked in our hearts throughout the week. I never cease to be amazed how, even though we have taught this material many times before, new insights make these seminars come alive in ways that keep us all on the edge of our seats.

Paul's words in Romans 8:15-16, as paraphrased by The Message, express well the anticipation and wonder that grip us as teachers and students during these seminar experiences: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" 

It makes good sense that when seeking to live a life of Christ-like transformation, there should be that element of expectancy — even surprise — with God! 

One of the students, Tshiela Kalonji, was a quiet, strong presence in our seminar sessions. She rarely spoke up, yet I could see she took it all in. A widow, she had come to the Bible Institute three years ago with nothing but high recommendations from her church district of Mayi Munene.

Church leaders reported that Kalonji had a tenacious commitment to support women in their daily lives and Christian growth, even though she had lost all her earthly possessions when Kamuina Nsapu fighters ransacked her home village. (The Kamuina Nsapu rebellion began four years ago in the Kasaï provinces, home to many Congolese Mennonites.) 

Kalonji and her five children arrived in Kalonda with little luggage — not even one kitchen utensil with which to cook. Some of the Institute faculty members protested Kalonji's enrollment as a student, asking how she would have time to step into a pastoral role in a congregation. Bercie Mundedi defended Kalonji, arguing that she could minister in ways other than pastoring a congregation.

Kalonji's first two years at the institute were plagued with sickness. Eventually, her mother came to care for her and to help with the children. When Kalonji's mother died in December, her oldest daughter stepped up to care for the younger children, while her mother is in class. Kalonji is now in her final year at the Bible Institute.

I return from every to trip to Africa with a confluence of emotions. I try to comprehend what life must be like for people like Kalonji. She struggles to feed and clothe her family on her annual AIMM scholarship of $500 and the pennies earned from selling charcoal for cooking fires. 

"We live in a country where so much economic and political instability leave us shaken and off-balance," Mundedi said. "With the breakfasts and lunches provided during the seminars by donations from our friends in North America, neither we nor our spouses had to think about where our next meal was coming from. We could focus on receiving God's word, which richly nourished our souls, our marriages, and our ministries. Our stomachs are satisfied, and hearts are full!"

In addition to the Multiplying Transformational Communities seminar, Africa Leadership Coaching Network trainers followed up with participants in last year's Trauma Healing Seminar. This seminar was offered to expand church leaders' ability to respond to members who had lost homes and loved ones during the Kamuina Nsapu massacres.






Charles Buller works in international ministries through Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and organizes the Africa Leadership Coaching Network.



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