COLUMBUS, Ind. – Two months and a half world away, the Rev. Joseph Mulongo, a United Methodist superintendent in the North Katanga Conference of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, finally met up with the Rev. Bob Walters of Friendly Planet Missiology. They met to celebrate and share their experience of riding 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) across North Katanga during February and March and Walters experience of riding 1,000 miles across Indiana during September.
Because of passport problems with the DRC, Mulongo arrived in Indiana in early October, a couple of weeks after the Indiana ride done by Walters.
Both trips were to raise awareness of the strong covenant partnership between the North Katanga and Indiana conferences of the church.
Together interviewed Mulongo during the Pastor’s Convocation in Columbus Oct. 11. Mulongo began by clarifying that the war in the DRC was not a civil war but an invasion of countries surrounding the DRC. The war claimed an estimated five million lives from 1998 to 2004.
According to Walters and Mulongo, United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkula Ntanda played a primary role in bringing troops, war lords and rebels together for a three-day meeting which resulted in peace.
Talking about his trans-North Katanga bike trip with Walters, Mulongo said, “People felt abandoned; when they saw us coming, it was great joy for them,” then adding that the war with guns is over, but in its wake is another deadly war that will claim almost as many victims.
Lack of safe water, sanitation, education and medical care are all taking a deadly toll on villages deep in the countryside. Most of the villages were 85 percent burned by government soldiers or rebels or warlord troops, Mulongo said.
“Women were raped. Several women were taken from out of their families for several days, even for one or two years, by somebody who used them as they wanted,” he said.
Walters was a missionary in the Congo in 1998 when all United Methodist missionaries were forced to evacuate. In the midst of the war, when most people were fleeing, Bishop Ntambo told his United Methodist pastors to stay. Because they stayed, the people put great trust in them. Many became United Methodists.
“We were pastors of all the community – not only pastors for the United Methodist members,” Mulonga said. During the war, United Methodists were organizing schools, building health centers and other centers for the community. Despite the war, life continued.
“All the people found in The United Methodist Church the good shepherd,” Mulongo said.
One of the projects of the Indiana Conference was to deliver 300 bikes and sets of farming tools for the pastors. During his trek across N. Katanga this spring, Walters said, “When we encountered pastors who had received these tools, they literally said, ‘You saved our lives.’”
“The mission of Indiana-based Friendly Planet Missiology is to put the right tools in the right hands to leverage the greatest change,” he added. “Money is not always the right tool.
“We have seen waves of charity go through villages with very little long-term effect and no real change,” he said. “Most of the pastors do this job very well. A lot of what we do is come in alongside and reinforce that with tools that are obviously missing.”
Mulongo said there is extreme poverty in the villages of the DRC. School teachers receive salaries of $50 per month. Pastors only receive $10 a month. Some villages are huge and have as many as 100,000 inhabitants. When a village sees a missionary, they see him or her as someone who comes with resources from outside.
“If the missionary comes in with the answer, then the missionary is responsible for delivering the solution. And when the missionary leaves, the solution goes with the missionary,” Walters said.
The same is true of pastors. The goal instead is to teach the pastors to engage the whole community in the solution. Leadership and community development become extremely important if the people of the DRC are to become self-sustaining.
Walters plans to return to the DRC just in time for the next rainy season.
Kathy Gilbert, a multimedia reporter for United Methodist Communications in Nashville. Tenn., contributed to this report.
Day one of the 1,000-km (600 mile) bike tour of the rural areas of North Katanga. (Left to right) Shabana Banza, Mumba Masimango, Bob Walters, Ngoy wa Kasongo, Prospere Banza.
“All the people found in The United Methodist Church the good shepherd.”
– Joseph Mulongo