Bob Walters is the director of connection ministries in the North Katanga Episcopal Area in the DRCongo. He’s also part of an organization called Friendly Planet Missiology. Friendly Planet is a team of missiologists (Congolese and American) committed to empowering and equipping community leaders–particularly those working in the heart of The United Methodist Church’s North Katanga Area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The North Katanga Episcopal Area, which includes the North Katanga, Tanganyika, and Tanzania Conferences, is one of the fastest growing areas of the United Methodist Church. It is also one of the poorest with malaria, cholera, typhoid, and HIV/AIDS epidemic. Many of its districts have survived the recent horrific war in eastern Congo and are struggling to recover. United Methodist pastors and lay leaders behaved heroically during the war and are now in place to lead in the recovery. North Katanga will have 66 delegates at this year’s General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida, the largest delegation attending. 2010 was the centennial year of Methodism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I give you that information so you can have some perspective on the blog Bob posted yesterday – Abandoned and Forgotten. Here’s what Bob had to say:
Monono is exactly 100 kilometers by bicycle from Mulongo, if you take the short cut through the forest around Kyolo, which we did. The ride was serious fast. Team leader Daniel Mumba was driven to get there in record time. We even dropped a team member and sent him back to Mulongo when he pulled up lame. (At least, we didn’t shoot him.)
In the forest, we find a mining encampment. It’s a large group with both women and men mining, as well as women doing laundry, cooking meals, and caring for babies. It’s also a friendly group. I’m having the feeling of running across a Gypsy camp in the backwoods of eastern Europe. (This is my imagination on sensory overload.) They welcome our picture taking and take time out to pose and smile. Don’t let me deceive the reader, this is brutal work and in no way does the friendly welcome of the miners make this situation acceptable. Here is where your laptop or cell phone is born, dug out of the mud by the poorest people on the planet. This hard day’s ride in the scorching sun is a physical challenge for me, but they are going to be here every day for the rest of their lives.
Out of the forest and back on the road, we head into the U.N. Peace Keeping Zone. There is some kind of political demonstration happening in the first village we enter. A large crowd has gathered and someone with a lot of energy is speaking. U.N. troops are there to keep a lid on it. The officer in charge of the company of soldiers makes eye contact and without altering his firm posture, waves us through, as if to say, “We don’t need you in this mix.” I’m needing a rest stop and had mentally prepared myself for stopping in this village, but we wisely keep moving and make our stop 5 kilometers out of town. A couple hours later, the transport with the U.N. Peace Keepers passes us on their way back to their base in Monono.
This is my third visit to Monono, the first in 1991 and the second in 1995. Taylor (with Bishop Ntambo) visited right after the war in 2005. She saw the town in its rubble after being leveled in the war. I’m seeing two distinct pictures. There is the rubble, but it is overgrown and disappearing into the forest. Then there is the artificial city of the United Nations. The “downtown shopping district” of the old colonial days, which was a ghost town even before the war, has freshly painted store fronts and all kinds of trucks unloading all kinds of consumer goods. Generators are running to power communications systems. Pallets of bottled water, Coca-Cola, and beer are stacked outside the stores. The citizens are still living in poverty, but the U.N. soldiers and the accompanying NGO’s are living well, and someone is making a tidy profit.
We are greeted by the district leadership of the United Methodist Church. Here is where my blood begins its slow boil. (I felt the same way when I visited Kalemie in 2009, and Kabalo last year.) The United Methodist Church (the General Church) has totally abandoned and absolutely forgotten these people. This is where I personally lose my cool and say things on a blog that is permanent and global that are unwise, but this is the rant that is my 95 Thesis on the Wittenberg Door.
For the life of me, I can’t understand how a Church that prides itself in going anywhere and everywhere in the world in response to tragedy, misses the (by death toll) greatest humanitarian disaster since WWII. There is no UMCOR here in Monono, no General Board of Global Ministries, even. It’s worse than not responding, we have abandoned the mission stations that were critical to the community for education and health care. And we still haven’t returned. Our Congolese colleagues rightly feel abandoned.
That’s my second point in this rant. How did the United Methodist Church (General Church) miss the heroic work of the pastors and lay leaders during the war, risking life and livelihood to stay in their appointments? and now those same pastors and lay leaders are still there, exhausted and completely out of resources. And we still aren’t there.
These are the brave (and loyal) people who paint a cross and flame on their church or school or health center because they believe that they are on the same team as rest of the United Methodists in the world. They believe that they can go to work each day, without pay and without supplies, because we have their backs. Am I to tell them that Sam Houston isn’t coming? that they’re on their own?
The Catholic cathedral in the center of Monono had its roof blown off in the war. It is now reproofed and repainted and is a symbol of rebirth. I meet with the territorial administrator and he asks why the United Methodists have abandoned their people. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. We visit a school (auto mechanics and electrical) that had been built by the United Methodist missionary Ken Enright. An Irish NGO (Bono?) paid for a new roof and a fresh coat of paint, but it’s still an empty shell. The director of the school hands me an $80,000 proposal for restoring the school to its previous state. I’m helpless to respond, and I’m angry that no one from the General Board of Global Ministries has even been here to see the state of their own projects.
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is meeting in Tampa next week. There will be 66 delegates from the North Katanga Episcopal Area. If you are there, look them up, shake their hands, and say, “I’m sorry that we weren’t there with you, what can we do to help?”
If you’re from any of our general agencies, look me up. I’m Bob Walters, the newly appointed Director of Connectional Ministries for the North Katanga Episcopal Area. I’m very cross right now, but I can easily be appeased with a smile and a handshake.
We talk about being a worldwide United Methodist Church, but it seems we only really act like it when it’s convenient. Or that could be cynicism getting the best of me. Maybe now that the part of the church that’s actually growing finally has a seat at the table, things might be different. I’m don’t know.