Paul Turner, the author of the following article, serves in Congo as a Consultant in the development projects of the Church of Christ of Congo’s Disciples of Christ Community. His latest message reports on progress in preparations for a presidential election in Congo before the end of this year. His title “Give Us the Ballot” refers to the 1957 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial which focused on voting rights for all citizens of the United States.
On December 19th, DR Congo witnessed large protests in several major cities such as Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, in response to the opposition’s call for demonstrations against President Kabila’s refusal to relinquish power. Police and military personnel were well-organized and out in force. The government went so far as to shut down social media throughout the country to slow the opposition’s ability to organize and share information concerning the number of arrests and detainees.
In the midst of this tense situation Catholic Church Bishops began facilitating negotiations between the government and opposition groups. An agreement was reached whereby President Kabila would leave office at the end of 2017 following elections, and there would be no attempt to change the constitution to allow for a third term. This agreement was a welcomed development because it kept the peace and solidified the importance of holding elections in 2017.
There is another piece of the story that has not been widely reported. At the same time protests were happening throughout the country, Congolese were also signing up to register to vote and receive their voter identification cards. Perhaps this was another form of protest expressing the people’s eagerness for democracy and elections. It was an encouraging sight to see men and women lining up to receive new voter ID cards at Nouvelle Cite Parish. In fact, five churches affiliated with the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC) are hosting National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) Enrollment Centers. Rev. Eliki Bonanga, President of CDCC, was asked why the CDCC partnered with CENI to help boost enrollments, he said, “it is our will and hope that people will register and participate in elections so that government will one day respond to the people’s needs.” He also mentioned that the church is a member of civil society and must do its part to secure a hopeful future in DR Congo.
The CENI Enrollment Centers are not operated by the government. As the name implies, it is an independent institution designed to be an objective agent in the electoral process. A recent visit to one CENI Center in Mbandaka revealed that this particular enrollment center had distributed 200 new voter ID cards in the first two weeks. Half of the folks coming through were issued voter ID cards for the first time, suggesting these would be new voters who didn’t participate in the last election in 2011. The other half were older people seeking to replace their old and worn voter ID cards because they are used for identification in the same way a driver’s license is used in the US. The enrollments will continue through March and end around the second week of April. This time frame suggests that elections could take place by the end of the year.
Pro-democracy advocacy is a key strategy for establishing the long-term benefits of good governance, anti-corruption and full citizen participation. In the past few weeks Congolese were making sure their voices were being heard in the streets and at the enrollment centers as they walked away with new voter identification cards. When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “Give Us the Ballot” speech, he was addressing voting rights and the suppression of the vote in the American South. Yet, the same sentiment of empowerment that comes from exercising the franchise of voting ring true in DR Congo.
In the United States, we are all trying to decipher the messages sent us by the resounding election victories of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While the election’s handwriting on the wall will continue to be interpreted in different ways as in Daniel chapter 5, one area of the message is certain. As much as we try to ignore or put it behind us, mistrust, fear and abuse of the Other (persons of other races and nationalities) continue to threaten the rule of democracy in the United States.
Here in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the African American baseball players who never made it to the major leagues of the “great American past time” not because they didn’t have the talent but because of their exclusion from U.S. professional teams until the year 1947. The Kansas City museum also honors the memory of those white players who in the winter off season during the years of segregated baseball played on teams outside the country with black players.
Surprisingly, some of those white players, like the brothers Paul and Dizzy Dean, had grown up in the fiercely segregationist southern states which enforced separation of the races in their territory. For some of the whites like the Dean brothers, the wintertime move to Mexico, Cuba and other nations of the Caribbean was motivated by the desire to play baseball against and with the best U.S. players, whether black or white.
For the African American players, leaving their home country to play baseball brought benefits the whites took for granted in the U.S. As the black player Willie Wells said of playing ball in Mexico, “We live in the best hotels, go to the best restaurants, and can go anywhere we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States.” In short, Wells and the other African Americans found “respect, freedom and democracy. In Mexico.”
Today of course, professional sports teams in the United States are fully integrated and black players excel. But the recent election provides additional evidence of a strategy to restrict if not suppress the rights and the impact of African American and other voters in U.S. elections. Anti- democratic voiding of the ballots of several thousand black voters in Florida in the 2000 presidential election put us on notice. Since then we have learned of defective voting machines, closing of polling places, new voter identification requirements, redrawing of voting districts in the states, and new voter registration procedures all implemented within states, in the south and the north, controlled by Republican legislatures intent on limiting the impact of the increased numbers of persons of color in American elections.
One of the most troubling aspects of the past election is summed up by the observation made by one U.S. political scientist who said, “this is the first election held in this country without the full protections of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965”. One way to better understand the importance of this statement is offered by viewing the 2014 film “Selma”.
This film recounts the history of the struggle for African Americans’ right to vote in southern states. For decades since the Civil War southern politicians had devised various ways to deny African Americans the right to vote. Now in our day, the 1965 Act that prohibited such practices has been weakened through devious legislative maneuvers in many states of the U.S.
What might the long term effects on American democracy be if such practices continue and a wall is built between persons of color and the U.S. polling place? Let me share a story, a kind of parable, that suggests what we might be in for.
In the mid 1970’s a friend here in Kansas City played basketball for one of Kansas’ community colleges. The team had black and white players on it and had a couple of games against teams in the southern State of Texas. When they got to the small town’s biggest restaurant the black players were told, and this only forty years ago, that they would be served in the room behind the kitchen.
My friend and the other black players went to the back room and enjoyed meeting the entirely black kitchen staff and eating what they cooked for them. Their portions were more than ample and the kitchen help offered to make the leftovers into sandwiches for the team’s trip north. That night some of the white players got to sample what their black teammates had eaten. When they returned to the same restaurant after the next day’s game all the white players told the coach they wanted to eat the better food and bigger portions provided in the back room too.
The story suggests what this country will lose if the campaign continues to limit or exclude the human rights of segments of the population. Not only will citizens of the nation, of all ethnic backgrounds, be deprived of the best a democracy offers. The image of the U.S. as a bastion of democracy world wide will be malnourished. And this means we all will suffer the consequences.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest French speaking country among the nations of the world.
In terms of area, the DRC is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest on the continent after Algeria.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources; its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US$24 trillion. The Congo has 70% of the world’s coltan, a third of its cobalt, more than 30% of its diamond reserves, and a tenth of its copper.
Since its independence from Belgium in 1960, the Congo has received more U.S. foreign aid than any other nation in Sub Saharan Africa
The richest uranium is found in Congo and 65 % pure uranium (contrasted with 1 % pure uranium deposits in Canada and the U.S.) from Shinkolobwe mine in Shaba Province was the crucial ingredient in the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“The most important deposit of uranium yet discovered in the world,” stated a top secret American intelligence report in November 1943, “is in the Shinkolobwe Mine in the Belgian Congo.” The Congo’s “known resources of uranium, which are the world’s largest,” added the report, “are vital to the welfare of the United States…Definite steps should be taken to insure access to the resources for the United States.”
Congo (Kinshasa) has the largest population of Roman Catholics on the African continent. The Church remained the most consistent and severe institutional critic of Mobutu’s 32 year dictatorial rule.
The Congo was the focus of the first international human rights campaign. The Congo Reform Association’s “red rubber campaign” brought an end to King Leopold of Belgium’s horrific exploitation of Congolese labor in the harvesting of their land’s rubber vines. It also resulted in the transfer of rule over Congo from the King himself to Belgian State colonial rule.
At the turn of the 20th Century, King Leopold’s Congo Free State along with the Amazon rainforest supplied the bulk of the world’s supply of rubber. With its love for bicycling, the U.S. consumed half of the rubber produced from 1875 to 1900.
The Congo River has the second largest water flow and the second largest watershed among the rivers of the world (the Amazon is the largest). Its Inga Dam was designed with the intention of supplying hydroelectric power to all of Central Africa. The dam has never achieved close to full operating capacity.
The Congo rainforest is the second largest in the world after the Amazon’s. The two vast expanses of forest have been described by environmentalists as “the lungs of the world”. In recent years, Congo’s rainforest has seen stepped up logging and cutting of the trees for large scale agricultural projects.
Despite the country’s wealth in natural resources, the DRC consistently ranks near the bottom in the UN Human Development Index. In 2011 it was ranked the lowest among the 187 nations evaluated
The former Belgian Congo called on the United Nations in 1960 for support in defending its political independence in the face of attempts by Belgian settlers and mining companies to maintain control of the nation’s mines.
Since 1999 the United Nations has carried out the largest and the longest serving peacemaking mission in its history in the RDC. The chief of the UN Mission, formerly MONUC and now known as MONUSCO, in a report to the Security Council this month declared, “The Democratic Republic of Congo has entered a period of extreme risk to its stability. The electoral crisis has become a constitutional crisis, with deepening political polarization and no immediate resolution in sight.”
UN official reports of the effects of armed conflicts in eastern Congo have led to the area’s description as the most dangerous place to be a woman on the planet. One UN investigator called the area the “rape capital of the world” and the prevalence of sexual violence there described as the worst in the world.
It is estimated that about 4.7 million children aged 5–14 work in Congo. In addition to copper mines, children with their families participate in artisanal mining of the land’s precious minerals. These children use hammers to break free the ore, pour harsh chemicals with no protective equipment, and manually transport rocks from deep pit or open pit mines.
The Atlantic slave trade between Africa and the Americas began with the Portuguese shipment in 1526 of slaves purchased from the Kingdom of Kongo. For three hundred years, Portuguese traders controlled the purchase of human beings at the Congo River’s mouth which remained the leading source of slaves for the European colonies in the West.
At the ceremony declaring the new nation’s independence on June 30, 1960, the newly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba foresaw that “The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent”. Thirty four years after Lumumba spoke, the former Portuguese colonies and South Africa had freed themselves from white rule. Lumumba also prophesied in the same speech, “we are going to make the Congo the focal point for the development of all of Africa”. The potential of Congo remains huge, but Lumumba’s prophecy regarding the nation’s economic and social development has yet to be realized. Both Lumumba and the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, also a fierce defender of Congo independence, were martyred in 1961.
This posting is inspired by all those who expressed solidarity with the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo by participating in consciousness-raising activities of Congo Week last week. To follow political movements in support of free and fair elections in the DRC go to http://www.friendsofthecongo.org and/or the site of the Africa Faith and Justice Network http://www.afjn.org. The latter site has just published their Congolese staff member’s commentary on political developments in the country, including the September 19-20 demonstration in Kinshasa which resulted in multiple deaths at the hands of the Kabila regime’s security forces.
For over two years Ms. Linda James has served the Protestant University of the Congo as a Consultant in Development and Communications. As a Long Term Volunteer with Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the U.S., Ms. James will be thanking churches in the Kansas City area this month for their support of the University before her return. She wrote the following history of the University’s remarkable growth and its many and varied contributions to improving health services, educating leaders and preparing citizens for their important role in the global economy.
Founded in 1959 with three students in the School of Theology, the Université Protestante au Congo (Congo
Protestant University) with 8000 students today is a pioneer in Congolese higher education. Unlike many former colonies in Africa, Congo had only one Congolese PhD graduate at the time of independence in 1960. So the Disciples of Christ Church of Congo took the lead with four other Protestant church bodies in founding the Free University of Congo.
During the university’s 50-year history, it has survived chaotic political regimes, wars and civil strife that ensued after Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960. In 1961, after the assassination of Congo’s first elected Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, chaos reigned. During the Simba Rebellion in the mid-1960’s, rebels moved into the city of Kisangani, the university’s home, forcing it to move to Kinshasa where it joined forces with an established Roman Catholic university in the nation’s capital.
For 20 years, the university survived a period of “nationalization” under Mobutu Sese Seko, the longtime dictator. Shortly after regaining its independence and returning to Kinshasa from Kisangani, the University began to expand beyond the original School of Theology. At that point, the Schools of Business and Law were established. Then came the wars in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when approximately 5.4 million Congolese lost their lives. Yet, the University remained in operation and, in 2006, the School of Medicine opened.
The Disciples of Christ of Congo’s influence and partnership throughout the years have been essential in the University’s success. Longtime Disciple missionary and Congo-born Dr. Ben Hobgood served as President of the University in the early years. Until his death in 2014 Dr. Hobgood’s commitment to Congolese higher education led him to serve on his return to the States as consultant to the University and to found the North American Liaison Bureau, the University support organization.
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” While the Mustard Seed parable is widely cited, it holds special meaning for work here in Congo. Keeping the faith, even when the forward progress can be slower than expected, is so very important. Over the span of over 50 years, the perseverance of the Disciples and other founding church bodies in keeping this institution going even in times of violence and chaos have enabled advancement in hundreds of lives and hope for change in this new nation.
The faith which founded the University is now bearing fruit under the leadership of the current University
President, Dr. and Rev. Daniel Ngoy, who was raised in the Disciples Church in Equator Province. The University now produces a variety of success stories: Fulbright Scholars, leaders in nonprofit work, doctors in the rural areas, and pastors and community leaders.
From the beginning, the University’s leadership, faculty and students have distinguished themselves through a record of achievement under the most difficult circumstances, as illustrated by:
• Creating an indigenous self-sustaining higher education business model;
• Attracting a student population that is over fifty percent women;
• Recruiting predominately Congolese faculty, many of whom received their undergraduate education at the Congo Protestant University; and
• Producing alumni who become leaders including the University President who himself has a doctorate in Theology.
Theology School: 2016 marked another milestone in University history – after awarding her the PhD in Theology, the School of Theology brought on staff Dr. Bijoux Matuta, the first Congolese female Disciple to earn a PhD. (See the interview with Dr. Makuta in a recent lokoleyacongo blog posting)
Medical School: Training physicians to work in the interior of the country by sending every Medical School student to rural hospitals to complete their year-long internship.
Business School: Doctoral program established to provide local opportunity to pursue an advanced degree thereby guarding against the brain drain that is detrimental to the development of Congo. Executive MBA program trains young professionals in the Congolese business community.
Law School: Masters program in African Business law. Regular participation in international Moot Court competitions.
Without the support and commitment of those original five visionary Protestant denominations who founded the Congo Protestant University, this outstanding educational institution would not be the force in Congo that it is today. For further information on University programs, do a search on the Global Ministries web site: http://www.globalministries.org. The North American Liason Bureau web site: http://www.upcongo.org offers regular updates on University achievements and on ways to support its continuing growth.
“I know that beating George Foreman and conquering the world with my fists does not bring freedom to my people. I am well aware that I must go beyond all this and prepare myself for more. I know,” said Muhammed Ali, “that I enter a new arena.” So spoke Ali summing up the significance for himself of reclaiming the Heavyweight Championship just hours after the 1974 fight held in Kinshasa, capital of the then Zaire.
Before the long awaited match of the powerful, younger Foreman and the cagey former champ, Muhammed Ali had reflected publicly on the larger role he assumed with his conversion to Islam and refusal of induction to the Army. “If I win”, he declared, “I’m going to be the black Kissinger. It’s full of glory, but it’s tiresome. Every time I visit a place, I got to go by the schools, by the old folks’ home. I’m not just a fighter, I’m a world figure to these people.”
During the month-long delay of the fight, Ali had plenty of time in Kinshasa to carry out and describe further his mission as a “world figure”. As the excitement mounted, a few days prior to the bout he said, “Nobody is ready to know what I’m up to. People in America just find it hard to take a fighter seriously.” He then issued an alert, “They don’t know that I’m using boxing for the sake of getting over certain points you couldn’t get over without it. Being a fighter enables me to attain certain ends. I’m not doing this,” he revealed, “for the glory of fighting, but to change a lot of things.”
In his interpretation of the pronouncements and ever expanding persona of Ali before and after the Foreman fight, Norman Mailer wrote, “Was he still a kid from Louisville talking, talking, through the afternoon, and for all anyone knew through the night, talking through the ungovernable anxiety of a youth seized by history to enter the dynamos of history? Or was he in full process of becoming that most unique phenomenon, a twentieth century prophet, and so the anger and the fear of his voice was that he could not teach, could not convince, could not convince?”
Reading Mailer’s account in The Fight of his grappling with Ali’s meaning to people in Congo and the rest of the world, this reader felt the writer had come closest to the measure, the legacy of the recently deceased champ. Mailer wrote, “One only had to open to the possibility that Ali had a large mind rather than a repetitive mind and was ready for oncoming chaos, ready for the volcanic disruptions that would boil through the world in these approaching years of pollution, malfunction and economic disaster.” It seems Mailer had to go to Congo to learn to understand and accept that this “prophet” had been shaped and prepared by his Muslim faith and co-believers.
Mailer confessed in his book, “He (Mailer) had implicitly kept waiting for some evidence that Ali was not a Black Muslim, not really, and that was absurd. It was time to recognize that being a Black Muslim might be the core of Ali’s existence and the center of his strength. What was one to do about that?” On his flight back to the States Mailer was confronted by stunning evidence that the Muslim world claimed Ali as one of them.
Before landing in Dakar, capital of largely Muslim Senegal, the pilot announced they would divert to a remote airport runway to evade the couple of thousand persons waiting for the chance to greet what they thought was their champ’s plane. Undaunted, the crowd surrounded the plane and were persuaded to disperse only after a few were allowed to search thoroughly for Ali inside the aircraft.
In a time when Christians especially in the U.S. need greater understanding of Islam and its approximately 1.5 billion followers, it is unfortunate that very few obituaries paid homage to the depth and profound influence of the man’s faith. Prior to the fight in Kinshasa he had noted referring to his projected earnings, “I’m left with a million three. That ain’t no money. You give me a hundred million today, I’ll be broke tomorrow. We got a hospital we’re working on, a Black hospital being built in Chicago, costs fifty million dollars. My money goes into causes.” With little understanding of Islam, Mailer cannot escape the insight that Ali’s courage and integrity were founded on the bedrock of his Muslim faith.
In the end, it was that courage and integrity that won over his most bitter foes. In 1981 George Foreman reconciled with the man he had loathed since losing to him. Much later he recalled, “In 1981, a reporter came to my ranch and asked me: ‘What happened in Africa, George?’ I had to look him in the eye and say, “I lost. He beat me.”
Following that interview with the reporter, Foreman softened. “Before that I had nothing but revenge and hate on my mind, but from then on it was clear. I’ll never be able to win that match, so I had to let it go.” Foreman eventually concluded, in 2003: “[Ali is] the greatest man I’ve ever known. Not greatest boxer that’s too small for him. He had a gift. He’s not pretty he’s beautiful. Everything America should be, Muhammad Ali is.”  In response to Foreman’s statement we citizens of the U.S. in 2016 are left with the question, “What was one to do about that?”
Dr. Bijoux Makuta’s doctoral thesis “Evangelism of the Pygmy People: Mysticism and Missiological Challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)” takes on global importance when we consider the role of the Congolese rain forest in absorbing the carbon dioxide we produce. For centuries it is the Pygmy people who have co existed with and protected their rainforest home.
In the interview below she describes her childhood experience of schooling with Pygmy children as a prime motive in study of the topic. Enlisting the aid and participation of Pygmy leaders is crucial, in Dr. Makuta’s view, in the Church’s mission of protection of the natural environment. She has founded, with the help of her students at the Protestant University of the Congo and other faculty, a non profit Imago Dei to provide scholarships and other forms of support for the education of Pygmy children and youth. For information on Imago Dei and how you can support its efforts write Douglas Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are a child of the Disciples of Christ Community of the Church of Christ of Congo, the CDCC. How has this Community participated in your formation as a modern woman and as a servant of the Church?
Born at the Disciples’ first mission post at Bolenge, the ninth of eleven children, our father Rev. André Makuta Bololo and our mother Ida Likombe Mamongo have served the Lord Jesus Christ all their lives as servants of the CDCC. So in the first place, throughout childhood we all benefited from schooling in the Church’s schools. To cap it all in my case, our mother Church would recommend me as a student of Theology at the Protestant University of the Congo, UPC, and then for a DEFAP (Protestant Mission of France) scholarship to enable completion of my Phd thesis in Paris.
Again with the recommendation of my CDCC Community, since 2007 I’ve been working at the UPC as professor of Missions, Ecumenism and World Religions. I am one of six Disciples who have achieved the doctorate degree and among the three who now serve at the UPC: Ngoy Boliya is the current Rector of the UPC, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology is Ekofo Bonyeku, and I represent the first Disciple woman PhD to teach at the university. Three others served the Disciples Community as President and Legal Representative and although now deceased must be mentioned: Boyaka Inkomo, Elonda Efefe and Ngili Bofeko Batsu. My Community, in making possible my formation at this level of study, has placed me in the debt of these great men and distinguished servants in the history of our Church and our nation and I am proud to be the first Congolese woman doctor of Theology while recognizing the weight of the responsibility this brings to my shoulders.
How did you choose this topic for your thesis: “The Mission of Evangelism among the Pygmy Peoples”?
It comes out of my life story which is in part a mea culpa with origins in the complexity of our Bantu culture’s responses to relationships with the Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). Several personal experiences have led me to devote my doctoral thesis to the mission of evangelism on behalf of the Pygmy people.
In the first place, you should know that I lived and studied with Pygmy children who were certainly more intelligent than I, but did not have the financial means to progress in a neglectful education system. Secondly, from my childhood on I participated with my thoughts and behavior in the continued marginalization and stigmatization of the Pygmy population. It was only with my ordination as God’s servant that I took account of the evil treatment of the Pygmy and I committed myself to defend their cause while seeking to understand why we Bantu don’t like this people who are like us imago Dei.
I then stumbled on the legend of Elshout which recounts how Pygmies and Bantu are descended from two brothers. The older brother is the Pygmy ancestor who was disinherited by the father for not following tradition in dividing up an antelope he had killed. In sum, the father did not receive the choice portion which was his due according to custom. Despite the father’s pleas, the elder son didn’t change his ways and the father transferred all his rights to the younger son, the Bantus’ ancestor.
It is also said that the Pygmies became people of the forest because the older son took his sister into the forest and on their return she was pregnant. To flee the shame of incest, they would forever hide away like animals in the forest. And they would be called Batwa or “nomads”, from the Bantu root cwa or tswa meaning “to go”.
And so it was that the Bantu, as the heirs of the father, according to the Elshout legend, became the heirs of the whites while the Pygmies, as the disinherited, were again dispossessed of their lands by colonialism for the benefit of the Bantu. It was the same within the Church when the autonomy of Congolese Disciples came in 1964 and the responsibility of educating the Pygmy was handed over to the Congolese leadership. It is at that time that the Bantu responded in a self serving manner depriving the Pygmy of proper attention and the power and resources that came with the transition.
Yet a third reason for my interest in the topic derives from the mystical beliefs of the Pygmy people. In effect, it seemed to me important that with the tools of research light be shed on the consequences of the Pygmy practice of regular communication with their ancestors. When they go there to ask their blessing of a harvest, their fishing or a hunt, there is no problem. But when it has to do with a marriage, a birth, conflicts over land, life and death matters, the reliance on the ancestors’ counsel serves to perpetuate the conflicts between the Pygmy people and the Bantu. As God calls every human being to undertake a holy mission which leads to eternal life, the white man, the Bantu and the Pygmy need to bury the hachet to save ourselves from our sinful nature and work for each other’s salvation.
Tell us how the Protestant churches of Congo have done in their evangelization of Pygmies and what are the primary challenges in carrying out the mission.
It’s not a positive report to share about what the Protestant churches in general have accomplished in this mission. We wouldn’t want you to think there haven’t been efforts to evangelise the Pygmy population. However, when we take account of how political history evolves, we must recognize that in one setting or another all liberation struggles must consider how the tensions and bad blood in daily interactions bear on the relationships of the dominated people with the dominant population.
While there is not much progress in the evangelistic efforts, it is not due to atheistic disbelief among the Pygmies. It rather has to do with the complex situation of the modern Pygmy. We must remember that Christianity is a religion of the book and the statistics tell us that the low level of educational advance puts the Pygmy more than two centuries behind. Hence, there is the urgent need to help educate the population and then embark on other aspects of their formation. Educational efforts are however impeded by the fact that most Bantu still consider the Pygmy their slaves, like a resource they can use up and dispose of.
As a result, the evangelism among the Pygmy is compromised at the outset by an approach which fails to consider the collective and individual consciousness which doesn’t permit a sincere opening by people who are yet considered as the source of all Pygmy misfortune and the offspring of those who have occupied and seized their land. The thesis notes that the Pygmy population have a long memory. Conversation about the healing of souls always submits to the word of God all the ethical, moral, psychological and sociological domains of human interaction.
To the extent that the Pygmy-Bantu conversation always puts the Bantu on the defensive, that one becomes preoccupied with proving he or she is justified by God’s judgment. The cure of the other’s soul in that context only can take place through the other asking for pardon of the Bantu as preliminary to asking God for pardon of oneself. This is the condition placed on accepting the truth that all is grace since everyone who wishes their life to be valued must also value the life of the other in an act of grace bestowed on the world.
Give us please some idea of the gifts of Pygmy culture that you foresee will be a blessing to the Protestant churches of Congo when they take part in the Church’s mission in the future.
The Church must be served by all its members and, notwithstanding their oppressed status at present, the Pygmy is called according to their gifts to serve as pastors, prophets, evangelists, elders and deacons as well as to be beneficiaries of scholarships to study at the college and post college levels so that they may also serve as intellectuals, professors, counselors, administrative leaders, and governmental leaders. I can testify that both the Church and the State owe themselves what the Pygmy can contribute to their work from the learnings of their culture.
There is no question that their culture offers a whole host of knowledge regarding protection of nature and the conservation of species that are threatened today. Let it be said that the Church needs their expertise in carrying out its responsibility to help protect the environment which nourishes us and without which we will perish.
These days, we in the United States continue to discover new intersections of our personal political positions and our personal theology. In this year’s campaign for President, the issue of immigration policy has taken a new direction with even more obvious theological overtones in the contrasting positions of the two parties on admitting Muslim refugees.
As we approach the presidential election, it is likely that Donald Trump’s opposition to Muslims being admitted into the country will continue to feed the perception that the nation with the most Christians in the world is conducting a war on Islam. Some U.S. Christians counter that perception with action such as helping Syrian refugees resettle in the country (as reported in the last blog on https://erasingborders.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/report-from-kansas-city-un-informe-de-kansas-city/). In our context of xenophobia and fear, such action needs now to be joined by defense of freedom of religion along with declaring trust and respect for adherents of Islam.
It is also important if not urgent for Christians in the U.S. to clarify their views on mission and evangelism in the Muslim world. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, conservative Christian mission boards in the U.S. had considerably stepped up efforts to convert Muslims overseas to the Christian faith. The Southern Baptist Convention began distribution of a prayer guide in the late 90’s to guide their followers in praying for conversion of Muslims at the same time they considerably increased the number of missionaries being sent to majority Muslim countries such as Kyrgyzstan.
Fortunately, U.S. Christians seeking ways to unite with Muslims in movements of reconciliation and healing worldwide can find guidance and encouragement in the beautiful statement written by the Commission on Mission and Evangelism of the 349 worldwide churches making up the World Council of Churches. Led by a Bishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Commission unequivocally proclaims that the aim of Christian mission and evangelism today is to join with persons of other faith traditions in affirming human life and the whole of creation.
A summary statement of the Commission’s 2012 document “Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes” declares, “Authentic evangelism is done with respect for freedom of religion and belief, for all human beings as images of God. Proselytism by violent means, economic incentive, or abuse of power is contrary to the message of the gospel. In doing evangelism it is important to build relations of respect and trust between people of different faiths.”
At the beginning of the document, the Commission envisions its task as discerning the implications of the “shift of the centre of gravity of Christianity”. One outcome emphasized is the accompanying “shift in mission concept from ‘mission to the margins’ to ‘mission from the margins’” and the ensuing question of “what then is the distinctive contribution of the people from the margins?”
Living the Christian faith as a minority community on the “margins” leads to some profound reflections on our relationships with persons of other faiths: “Plurality is a challenge to the churches and serious commitment to interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural communication is therefore indispensable. What are the ecumenical convictions regarding common witnessing and practicing life-giving mission in a world of many religions and cultures?”
One conviction that emerged from the Commission’s deliberations is that “mission activity linked with colonization has often denigrated cultures and failed to recognize the wisdom of local people. Local wisdom and culture which are life-affirming are gifts from God’s Spirit.” Christians in mission today who join with “local people”, whatever their faith tradition, in life sustaining and life enhancing actions find that “marginalized people are reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that are needed to remain faithful to the promised reign of God”.
In this time of deep division within the two political parties of the United States and within the country itself, the World Council of Churches’ overview of Christian mission and evangelism calls us to a new vision of unity. The document “Together Towards Life” challenges us to include the entire human species in our interpretation and celebration of the familiar words of Psalm 133:
“How very good and pleasant it is/ when kindred live together in unity!” (NRSV version)