“We were together from the beginning.” This is what I recently said to Bob and Teri Walters at their kitchen table (in Plainfield, Ind.).
Before I was a bishop, I had the idea that we could provide bicycles for our pastors and other church leaders. I asked Bob to raise enough money for 200 bicycles. With the money he brought from churches in Indiana, I shopped every store in Lubumbashi to find 200 bicycles and they were delivered at the 1995 annual conference session. I said, “This is the most important thing we have done together in all my years.” The bicycles put pastors on the road as evangelists. They were transportation for the whole village. That next year, 59 babies were delivered by bicycle.
When I became bishop, I asked the General Board of Global Ministries to hire Bob as a missionary and station him at the Likasi School of Theology as the Director of Leadership Development for North Katanga. Unfortunately, Bob’s time as a missionary was made short by the war. The General Board of Global Ministries evacuated all its missionaries in late 1998, but Bob’s messages can still be heard from pulpits throughout Katanga.
Those messages of hope helped me create a vision for the pastors and churches of North Katanga. When the war came, we remembered the call to courage, and instead of running, The United Methodist Church stayed and continued to minister to the villages. We built churches and schools. We talked of peace with the most feared warlords. We worked with the army on issues of food security. We built a chapel on the army base and I said to the soldiers, “I am your pastor.”
The worst of the war is behind us. There is much recovery work to do. We want to return to the vision that God gave me for our pastors and churches. This past year at annual conference, Bob and (his daughter) Taylor (Walters Denyer) brought farm tools for our pastors, so that they might make gardens and set an example for their people. It was United Methodist churches in Indiana who paid for those farm tools, as well as for 300 bicycles and $50,000 in church construction.
Bob has returned to North Katanga with a passion for the pastors who serve in our most remote villages, especially the villages destroyed in the war. He has demonstrated his love for them by suffering with them as he traveled 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) visiting 10 districts by bicycle. (Click here for more about his trip.)
We have no money to pay him. Therefore, we give thanks to each church and person in Indiana and in other places who donates to make it possible for Bob and Taylor to work alongside our pastors. We give thanks to you Bishop Mike for agreeing to this special appointment.
We speak with one voice. The projects that Bob and Taylor bring to Indiana are projects that I and my cabinet have asked them to make a priority. They are projects that help support the work of our pastors and lay leaders.
God has blessed the people of North Katanga with so many good friends in Indiana. Thank you, and may God bless the churches in Indiana for all the help you have given to us for so many years.
Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda
North Katanga Conference
Democratic Republic of Congo
Editor’s note: The Rev. Bob Walters is president of Friendly Planet Missiology based in Plainfield. He can be reached at 317-837-9649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.