Conference leaders and Mennonites in Kikwit.
Mennonite Church Canada
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

KINSHASA, Congo (Mennonite Mission Network/Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission) — Although the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to approximately 200,000 Mennonites and three Mennonite conferences, an ongoing war over resources coupled with transportation issues have kept those groups from meeting together – until recently.

Leaders of the three Congo Mennonite conferences were able to make three fraternal visits by air to each others’ headquarters thousands of miles apart. Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Mission Network and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission encouraged the gatherings and provided financial support.

From February 16–19, Damien Pelende Tshinyama, president of Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo, a Mennonite Brethren conference based in Kikwit, hosted Benjamin Mubenga wa Kabanga, president of Communauté Evangélique Mennonite and Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, president of Communauté Mennonite au Congo.

Earlier visits had taken the three leaders to Mbuji Mayi to visit the offices and churches of the CEM conference, and to Tshikapa, where the CMCo is centered.

The three leaders, who began working more closely together through the new Partnership Council structure of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission in 2004, recognized the need to be more aware of each others’ churches and contexts in order to develop stronger relationships as leaders and colleagues despite the distance between them.

“These visits have been very useful,” Komuesa explains. “They have reminded us that in the past there was more contact among our churches. The economic and political difficulties of Congo in the past decades have not only isolated us from our overseas partners but also from each other,” said Komuesa.

Congo is the second largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, occupying some 875,000 square miles – roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. Despite this vast area, Congo has only about 1,400 miles of paved, all-weather roads. Of these, around half are in good condition – approximately the distance from Albuquerque to Atlanta or from Seattle to Minneapolis.

For more than a decade, Congo has been plagued by what some news media call the “forgotten war,” a conflict that has received little Western attention despite an estimated 5.4 million deaths. During this time, the Congolese government often has directed finances toward military initiatives rather than infrastructure like roads.

Most roads are centered around the capital city, Kinshasa, leaving air transportation as the only option for long-distance travel.

Rod Hollinger-Janzen, AIMM's executive coordinator, said difficulties in communication have hampered the church.

“In North America, there are many opportunities for exchanging ideas and information and building relations among Mennonite groups,” Hollinger-Janzen said. “God works through such exchanges and problems often find creative solutions when God’s people pool gifts and resources. God’s people everywhere need to gather in these ways.”

Hippolyto Tshimanga, Mennonite Church Canada’s Facilitator for Mission Partnerships in Africa, said that through these visits, Pelende, Mubenga and Komuesa opened the door to building unity among Mennonites in Congo despite the distance between them.

“We encouraged them to find ways of working together, to see what each church is doing,” Tshimanga said. “Maybe in the future they can work together to find common solutions for the challenges they face and work together with a common agenda.” 

People from all levels of the three conferences also have been meeting in a national Congo Inter-Mennonite Forum for Conversation, facilitated by Mennonite World Conference and with support from Mennonite Mission Network, AIMM, Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, to deepen relationships among one another and with other global Mennonite bodies.

Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mission Network director for Africa, said the growing trust and collaboration was evident during conversation about a potential 2007 conflict about oversight of joint church plants that ended with a decision to give decision-making power to individual congregations.

"To me this showed the wisdom of Solomon in that they did not divide up the congregations among the three denominations but kept them together," Wiebe-Johnson said.

Mubenga agrees that much has been learned from the exchange visits. As president of a church that does not have a history of foreign missionaries, he was impressed by the extensive infrastructure developed in the other conferences from their early mission-era history. “It was an encouragement to me to see what is possible,” he noted. “Especially I saw projects that are helping to provide a financial base for the churches.”

While the leaders did not discover major theological differences among them as Anabaptist-related churches, they did notice differences in culture and practice. “I saw in Kikwit that the CEFMC church uses young women to lead congregational singing,” Mubenga said. “This is a good way to involve more people, and something we can do in our churches as well.”

According to Pelende the visits have been a good start toward closer relations. “We are now planning a meeting to evaluate the steps taken so far, to see what comes next. Perhaps a common project or action can be initiated.”

The leaders hope that their example will be followed by the members of their churches, and that greater unity at the grass roots level will result, despite the distances that separate them.

Hollinger-Janzen said North American partners have no desire to control the process or predetermine an outcome, only to help facilitate the process that allows Congolese believers to follow the Holy Spirit toward creative ways of faithful living.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to approximately 200,000 Mennonites and three Mennonite conferences.

Ryan Miller also contributed to this story.

 

 

 Related

 

 

Mission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceRefugee ministryhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4707/Mission-Network-family-to-join-ministry-of-hospitality-for-refugees-in-FranceMission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Calais
Russian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesUkrainehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4708/Russian-and-Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-support-refugeesRussian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Klaipėda
Youth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceYouth Venture/SOOP hybridhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4706/Youth-Venture-trip-provides-mentorship-plants-seeds-for-future-serviceYouth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Kykotsmovi, Arizona
Bokgoni Sporting Club offers a better future through recreational sportsBokgoni Sporting Clubhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4705/Bokgoni-Sporting-Club-offers-a-better-future-through-recreational-sportsBokgoni Sporting Club offers a better future through recreational sportsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Francistown
New legal office to offer immigration justiceLa Posadahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4702/New-legal-office-to-offer-immigration-justiceNew legal office to offer immigration justiceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Elkhart, Indiana
Mission Network welcomes new directorsNews Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4703/Mission-Network-welcomes-new-directorsMission Network welcomes new directorsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
MVS gathering in San Francisco is a time of connection, comradery and cable carsMVShttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4697/MVS-gathering-in-San-Francisco-is-a-time-of-connection-comradery-and-cable-carsMVS gathering in San Francisco is a time of connection, comradery and cable carsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476San Francisco, California
Mission worker practiced hospitality on three continentsRemembering Wilma Shankhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4694/Mission-worker-practiced-hospitality-on-three-continentsMission worker practiced hospitality on three continentsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
EMS students participate in Youth Venture Civil Rights Learning TourEMS and Youth Venturehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4692/EMS-students-participate-in-Youth-Venture-Civil-Rights-Learning-TourEMS students participate in Youth Venture Civil Rights Learning TourGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Climate change concerns should not keep Anabaptists from experiencing PentecostClimate change and MWChttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4689/Climate-change-concerns-should-not-keep-Anabaptists-from-experiencing-PentecostClimate change concerns should not keep Anabaptists from experiencing PentecostGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
French-language Anabaptist justice and peace curriculum takes shapeFrench-language curriculumhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4687/French-language-Anabaptist-justice-and-peace-curriculum-takes-shapeFrench-language Anabaptist justice and peace curriculum takes shapeGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Mission worker embodied gospel of peaceRemembering John Driverhttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4686/Mission-worker-embodied-gospel-of-peace-Mission worker embodied gospel of peaceGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
Ukrainian students in Lithuania join relief effortsLithuaniahttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4684/Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-join-relief-effortsUkrainian students in Lithuania join relief effortsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476Klaipéda
Mission Network sends aid for Ukrainian studentsNews Releasehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4682/Mission-Network-sends-aid-for-Ukrainian-studentsMission Network sends aid for Ukrainian studentsGP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476
How can I be a peace witness in time of war?Ukrainehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4681/How-can-I-be-a-peace-witness-in-time-of-warHow can I be a peace witness in time of war?GP0|#52c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1;L0|#052c46992-a072-4af3-b006-834f7e8b9cb1|News;GTSet|#544fcc8d-5de2-49c8-9d51-afee09323476

 

 



 

 

Mission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in Francehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4707/Mission-Network-family-to-join-ministry-of-hospitality-for-refugees-in-FranceMission Network family to join ministry of hospitality for refugees in FranceRefugee ministry
Russian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeeshttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4708/Russian-and-Ukrainian-students-in-Lithuania-support-refugeesRussian and Ukrainian students in Lithuania support refugeesUkraine
Reflections on the Sent Conferencehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/blog/4709/Reflections-on-the-Sent-ConferenceReflections on the Sent ConferenceSent Conference
A joining of Pentecost and creation carehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/extending-beyond/4710/A-joining-of-Pentecost-and-creation-careA joining of Pentecost and creation careExtending Beyond
MissionWary live podcasthttps://www.mennonitemission.net/podcasts/missionwary/4698/MissionWary-live-podcastMissionWary live podcastLive webinar
Youth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future servicehttps://www.mennonitemission.net/news/4706/Youth-Venture-trip-provides-mentorship-plants-seeds-for-future-serviceYouth Venture trip provides mentorship, plants seeds for future serviceYouth Venture/SOOP hybrid