Why Congo Matters

A man digs for cobalt in the Shaba Province of Congo May, 2015.  Photo by Federico Scoppa AFP/Getty Images
A man digs for cobalt in the Shaba Province of Congo May, 2015. Photo by Federico Scoppa AFP/Getty Images

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

Salonga National Park is one of five World Heritage Sites located in Congo.  All five are classified by UNESCO as World Heritage in Danger.
Salonga National Park is one of five World Heritage Sites located in Congo. All five are classified by UNESCO as World Heritage in Danger.
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.

Photo from the era of colonial rule in Asia.  Martin Luther King once declared: "Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally - economic exploitation- provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation."
Photo from the era of colonial rule in Asia. Martin Luther King once declared: “Racism is no mere American phenomenon. Its vicious grasp knows no geographical boundaries. In fact, racism and its perennial ally – economic exploitation- provide the key to understanding most of the international complications of this generation.”

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.

Educating Congo’s Future Leaders

Ms. Linda James in back of UPC students on the campus.  "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela
Ms. Linda James in back of UPC students at the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Day event on the campus. “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

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

UPC Theology student works on a translation from Hebrew Bible
UPC Theology student works on a translation from Hebrew Bible

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.

Disciples missionary and first President  Dr. Ben Hobgood at UPC's  first sign in 1959
Disciples missionary and among the first UPC Presidents, Dr. Ben Hobgood, at the University’s first sign in 1959

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

Current UPC medical students in a chemistry class
Current UPC medical students in a chemistry class

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.

Highlights –

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)

New Medical School Classroom at the UPC
New Medical School Classroom at the UPC

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.


Global Citizen Muhammed Ali

Muhammed Ali on the way from Kinshasa to his Nsele training camp 1974
Muhammed Ali on the way from Kinshasa to his Nsele training camp 1974. News coverage of his refusal to be inducted for the Vietnam War had elevated him to heroic stature world wide

“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

Ali praying over The Koran in an African mosque
Ali praying over The Koran in an African mosque
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.”[8] 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.” [14] 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?”

The Marginalized Pygmies as Our Protectors

Dra. Bijoux MAKUTA Likombe Moze grew up in the first Disciples  of Christ congregation in Congo Her father is a Disciple minister as is her husband.
Dr. Bijoux MAKUTA Likombe Moze grew up in the first Disciples of Christ congregation in Congo. Her father is a Disciple minister as is her husband. DEFAP photo

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 dougnslp@gmail.com.

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

In the village of Ikengo, the Disciples' agricultural project did employ a Pygmy staff, including 3 men on the right, and provide Pygmy children with scholarships.
In the village of Ikengo, the Disciples’ agricultural project did employ a Pygmy staff, including 3 men on the right, and provide Pygmy children with scholarships.
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.

Muslims and Christians “Together Towards Life”

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

Head of the largest Christian university in the U.S. Jerry Falwell Jr. joined Donald Trump at a January campaign event in Iowa
Head of the largest Christian university in the U.S. Jerry Falwell Jr. joined Donald Trump at a January campaign event in Iowa
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

Chair of the Commission on Mission and Evangelism Bishop Mor Coorilos (WCC photo)
Chair of the Commission on Mission and Evangelism Bishop Mor Coorilos (WCC photo)
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

Son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver Sadiq Khan is the newly elected Mayor of London (Photo by Jonathan Brady, Press Association)
Son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver Sadiq Khan is the newly elected Mayor of London (Photo by Jonathan Brady, Press Association)
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)

Pour la traduction du document de la Commission en francais ver https://www.oikoumene.org/fr/resources/documents/commissions/mission-and-evangelism/together-towards-life-mission-and-evangelism-in-changing-landscapes?set_language=fr

Pour la traducción en español du document de la Comisión ver

“Beyond Vietnam 1967 to Congo 2016”

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Denis Mukwege has pioneered surgical treatment of gang rape victims in eastern Congo.  He is the son of pastors in the Pentecostal Church.
Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Denis Mukwege has pioneered surgical treatment of gang rape victims in eastern Congo. He is the son of pastors in the Pentecostal Church.

On April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King spoke out against the U.S. waging war on Vietnam. His “Beyond Vietnam” sermon will undoubtedly stand as a landmark speech in the history of the United States. Among the words of powerful prophecy we read,

“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality [applause], and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. [sustained applause] So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.”

Today a peaceful revolution is under way in the Congo. This revolution prevented the regime in power from changing the constitution last year to extend the president’s rule. Despite heightened repression of the opposition, demonstrations throughout the country this year have called on the government to prepare for the constitutionally- mandated presidential election. The response to these demonstrations has been arrests and attempts to silence Congolese citizens’ calls for change and their defense of the right to a free and fair presidential election in 2016.

One of those speaking out for change is the renowned Congolese doctor and founder of the leading clinic treating victims of the violence in eastern Congo. In a March talk at the French cultural center in Kinshasa, Dr. Denis Mukwege declared that in an election year which also brings the end of the President’s second term, “We have spoken too much of rape, of war and destruction; now is the time when we can also talk about development”. In response, the government’s spokesperson chastised the surgeon for “talking politics” and characterized his speech as “gross pandering” stating that he should focus on his medical work.

Within Congo, the government in power is attempting to silence even members of opposing political parties. In Equateur Province, the governor elected in March, M. Tony Patrick Bolamba, identifies himself as an “Independent”, which apparently is cause for suspicion. Since his election, the ruling party has attempted to unseat him to no avail. Their latest accusation challenged the validity of the new governor’s voter i.d. card. Such a trivial charge is another sign that the President’s party has been intent on preserving his rule indefinitely. In a “mini-gathering” of the ruling party held in Mbandaka two years ago its Secretary General declared, “We must enable the party and its founder (President Kabila) to hold on to power”.

What is the United States and other major foreign powers doing to support constitutionally-mandated change in Congo? What are the major powers doing to support the peaceful revolution under way now? Unfortunately, very little. Apart from statements calling for the election to be held, no action has been taken to bolster the people’s calls for change.

The focus of the major powers remains pacifying eastern Congo. On March 30, the UN Security Council voted to maintain the UN’s 20,000 member force for another year “to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process.” Investing in reducing the mayhem and horror wrought by multiple armed groups plundering eastern Congo does little to nothing to support the holding of elections and the peaceful revolution carried out by the people of the country. The primary obstacle to holding free and fair presidential elections is not the marauding bandits of eastern Congo; the primary obstacle is in Kinshasa where the current government will never have, as the Mobutu regime never had, the popular backing nor the will to pacify the eastern region of the vast country. The latest UN resolution defies the regime’s desire to have the UN force reduced but does nothing to pressure the regime to prepare for the presidential election.

Why no sanctions on economic dealings of Congolese regime leaders as the U.S. has undertaken with respect to Venezuela? Why no withholding of aid to Congo by Belgium, France or the U.S.? Why no embargo imposed on Congolese exports? Maintaining UN troops in the East simply shores up the current regime’s armed forces and their enforcement of the status quo and stands in opposition therefore to the peaceful revolution in embryo throughout the country.

As achieved in South Africa, as well as in all the former Portuguese colonies including Mozambique, free and fair presidential elections will some day be held in Congo. It is the will and the dream of the Congolese people since independence from Belgian rule in 1960. The questions now are how much longer must they wait and at what cost? How the United States responds to the people’s organizing for change in Congo will have much to do with the answers to these questions.

Could it be that the U.S. embrace of political change in Congo will require profound change in the United States? Following the words quoted above from the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, the Baptist preacher declared,

“The words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Nearly fifty years later, we are still a long way in the U.S. from making the shift to that “person-oriented society” Martin Luther King envisioned. Does this mean the people of Congo cannot count on their nation’s leading benefactor, the U.S. government, to support them in their peaceful revolution? The answer to this question at this time has to be yes. Does this mean the Congolese should not count on friends in the U.S. to stand with them in their struggle for freedom? The answer to this question remains to be seen.

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The entire text of “Beyond Vietnam” can be found at the King archives’ site: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/multimediaentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/index.html

The March of the Christians in Congo

The U.S. Jewish World Watch is calling for "targeted sanctions" on the leaders of the Kabila regime to apply pressure for a presidential election  this year
The U.S. Jewish World Watch is calling for “targeted sanctions” on the leaders of the Kabila regime to apply pressure for a presidential election this year

On this day of February 16, in Congo, the “heart of Africa”, the largest demonstration was organized in opposition to the dictator Mobutu Sese Soko in 1992.  It was the first time Congolese Protestants and Catholics had come together on such a grand scale for any cause and it is known still in the country as the “March of the Christians”.   At least thirty persons, lay and clergypersons, were killed by troops and police during the non violent gatherings but it now marks the beginning of Mobutu’s decline and eventual flight from Congo in 1997.

As recently as December it was expected among Congolese leaders of the church and civil society that the Catholic Church would again take the lead in organizing another mass demonstration in the capital Kinshasa on this day.  Instead people are being urged to stay home away from school and work and thereby shut down the city in a call to the current ruler Joseph Kabila to hold the presidential elections as required this year by the nation’s Constitution.  It is being referred to as the “ville morte/dead city” protest and no one seems to know exactly why the Catholic Church continues its silence on this and any future mobilizations in support of the election.

Leading foreign political commentators on Congo agree that the Vatican has counseled Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo and other Church leaders to halt their former pointed and persistent calls for government action in organizing the elections.  There may been have been a clue of a shift in Vatican oversight of Congolese Church leadership with two

Pope Francis opens the Holy Door prior to declaring the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy  at the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis opens the Holy Door prior to declaring the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy at the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

developments toward the end of 2015.

The Church’s delegate to a Dakar Conference on elections in sub Saharan Africa in December left the meeting protesting the anti incumbent character of the proceedings and the need for the Church to maintain its position of “neutrality”.  The second development took shape with Pope Francis’ visits in Africa late in the year and the relative lack of attention paid to Congo, the country with more Catholics than any other on the continent.

In contrast with the Pope’s prophetic critiques of economic and political elites while visiting Mexico this week,  Pope Francis’s response to African authoritarian rule and genocide was to declare in a late November visit to Bangui, Central African Republic the year 2016 as the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Cardinal Monsengwo followed suit just before Christmas recapitulating the Pope’s proclamation of Mercy at Kinsahsa’s Cathedral and calling for prayers for the success of the elections in the coming year.

Three weeks ago, the veteran Belgian journalist/political scientist specializing in Congo Colette Braeckman quoted the Congolese Minister of the Interior’s comment that “big marches were ruled out; Christians should limit themselves to praying.”  In Braeckman’s view, there was no doubt of what was behind the Congolese Catholic Church’s shift in position: “while there were “marches of Christians” originally planned for February 26 (sic!), there were directives from Rome instructing the Congolese Conference of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) to stay out of politics”.

Meanwhile, there is little evidence of progress in the monumental task of organizing national elections in a vast country with impenetrable rain forests, abysmally poor roads and a history of chicanery and duplicity on the part of the regime in power.  During a lull in the fighting in Eastern Congo, the Kabila administration has focused on arrest and silencing of the opposition to its rule rather than preparing for a transition in leadership.  And at this time, the major powers historically involved in Congo, with the U.S. and the United Nations at the forefront, seem content to defer any pressure on behalf of the Congolese people’s aspirations for democracy and self rule in exchange for a period of relative calm.

In the view of the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the Congo, the risk of violence surrounding the elections especially in eastern Congo is simply too great. “In the absence of agreement on the electoral process, political polarization has heightened tensions and contributed to an atmosphere of increased harassment and human rights violations” Maman Sidikou reported to the UN Security Council last month.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo has powerfully advocated for peaceful leadership change in Congo in the past.  The US National Catholic Reporter touted him as a leading candidate to succeed Pope Benedict.
Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo has powerfully advocated for peaceful leadership change in Congo in the past. The US National Catholic Reporter touted him as a leading candidate to succeed Pope Benedict.

The weakness, if not fallacy, of this view emerges when one first considers that the eastern Congo has been at war almost continually since Indepdendence of the Congo in 1960. Secondly, the violence associated with “increased harassment and human rights violations” takes place in Kinshasa on the other side of the country and has always been caused by brutal state-sponsored repression of non violent resistance and protest.  To associate or imply association of violence in Eastern Congo as stemming from the call for democratic elections in the country is completely misleading.  The people’s desire for a free and fair presidential election will be reflected in their peaceful participation in the “Dead City” general strike today in Kinshasa.

Whatever the outcome today, it is certain that it won’t be long before the Congolese people’s voice on behalf of their right to democratic self rule will be heard much louder and more clearly.  It is also certain that their struggle for peace – with justice!- will be a non violent one following the example of the Lord of Mercy.  The “March of the Christians” in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues.