In 1971 hopes were high in Congo that prosperity for the new nation, so rich in natural resources, was just around the corner. Optimism among the people was fueled by the change in the foreign presence in the country: Americans, representing U.S. based corporations, a large U.S. diplomatic and military advisor corps, and the Peace Corps, had replaced the Belgian colonialists, and the Congolese saw us Americans as true, worthy friends.
By the end of the 1970’s those hopes in American investment, foreign aid and support for the new nation were fast eroding with the increasingly brutal repression of the Mobutu dictatorship. By the beginning of the 1990’s, there was good reason for Congolese to believe that their new American friends had betrayed and turned their backs on them.
A new era for Congo was struggling to be born when I returned in 2010. Thanks to the presence of nearly 20,000 U.N. troops and increased international pressure on the Kabila administration, a new constitution called for a presidential election in 2011 and again some dared to believe that the post independence years of dysfunctional, corrupt and brutal rule might come to an end in Congo.
But for me it was the reconnecting of U.S. Disciples with the Disciples community in Congo, leaders in the creation of the Church of Christ of Congo, that led me to return after forty years to Mbandaka. Since the rioting of Mobutu’s troops in 1991 led to the evacuation of most foreigners, no American Disciple has served as a missionary in Congo. And until the naming of former Congo missionary Sandra Gourdet as U.S. Disciples Africa Executive and the election of Rev. Sharon Watkins, who served for three years in Congo, as President of U.S. Disciples, ties with our Congolese long time friends had weakened.
This context added to my thrill in returning to Ikengo on June 19, 2010 and seeing the dormitory we dedicated to house the staff of Director and ten young men in training at the Disciples farm project. Two videos have been posted on You Tube that take up the story from here. The first, titled “Return to Ikengo”, shows our arrival by pirogue and the second records the villagers singing on the shore to welcome us. You may catch a glimpse of one of the soldiers making up the small Congolese Army outpost at the farm’s port. He was and is a reminder that for Congo to realize those hopes held so widely and fervently in 1970, much remains to be done.
See the videos: