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.

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