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Commentary: Praying for paradise in Kamina
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Taylor Walters

Dec. 20, 2005

A UMNS Commentary

By Taylor Walters* 

Relaxing on a woven mat, I pop another roasted peanut in my mouth. The breeze is gentle but still strong enough for the kids running barefoot in the sand to keep their hand-made kites high in the air. Some of the younger girls cuddle up next to me. They are enjoying salted lemons — much too sour for me. From the churchyard across the way, I can hear the youth choir practicing. I can’t help but think they sound like the Grateful Dead.

Am I in paradise? Well, I’ve got palm trees, warm weather, fresh fruits and vegetables, good music, and 48 incredible children to play with every evening, but, no, I am not in paradise. Not yet, that is.

I am in Kamina, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the so-called Heart of Darkness, where most people are lucky to eat once a day. I am less than 40 miles from the edge of the war zone where millions of people recently lost their lives in ways too nightmarish to describe. Countless communities were looted and burned to the ground. Kamina, which has suffered much over the years, was spared this time. Much credit for this miracle is due to the leadership and mediation skills of Bishop Ntambo Nkulu.

While the war raged on, the United Methodist Church of North Katanga continued its many projects, focusing its energies in Kamina. Church leaders from across the conference were forced to flee for their lives, and many took refuge in Kamina, just as tens of thousands of others did. Working together, they planted crops, raised cattle, and built churches, parsonages, schools, clinics and wells. Feeding programs — especially for the in-flow of war orphans — were organized, and a children’s home was created.

In fall 2004, Bishop Ntambo served as the moderator for the country’s major peace negotiations, held in Kamina. Recently, I got to watch as high-tech voter registration centers were opened across town. Hopes are high that Congolese will soon get to vote for the first time since the country’s independence.

I am often asked, “What are you doing there?” When I hopped on the plane for Congo last March, I was not sure how to answer that question. All I knew was that great things were happening in Kamina, and I wanted to be there to witness the transformation and to offer whatever assistance I could. I was humbled and thrilled a few weeks later when Bishop Nkulu appointed me as bishop’s assistant for the North Katanga Annual Conference and coordinator of the department of development, which is in charge of creating and supervising community development projects in the conference.

I am responsible for responding to all e-mails sent to the bishop, checking on projects, creating accountability and support structures for projects and their directors, supervising and leading seminars on everything from AIDS to cooperative farming, raising funds and doing anything else the bishop asks. Early mornings are often spent in intensive French and Swahili classes. Evenings and whenever else I can sneak in the time, I lead songs and games and just hang out with our children at the orphanage.

Focused on rebuilding

Things are mostly calm in North Katanga, and the United Methodist Church is doing more than pray that they stay that way. While many international organizations are waiting to find out who will rule the country next, we are committed to starting a massive rebuilding effort to infuse help, hope and sustainability into our devastated districts right now. This means constructing schools, clinics, churches and parsonages. It means digging wells for clean water, distributing seeds and tools, providing agricultural training for people to start supporting their families again, and purchasing ham radios and solar panels for a new and improved communications/emergency notification system between our districts.

In Kamina, the many projects that began during the war are accelerating. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has stepped in to help us with innovative ways to address hunger. It has helped us fund the construction of an agricultural training center at our 500-hectare farm outside town that will allow 20 men and 20 women from across the conference to live and learn at the farm for several weeks at a time. The agency also is sponsoring cooperative farming programs and farmer field schools, a system whereby farmers are trained to be teachers in their communities by organizing teams to cultivate demonstration fields.

There is so much going on that I can’t mention everything, but most of our projects are highlighted on our North Katanga Web site, just launched at www.northkatangaumc.org.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Taylor Walters.

Children at Kamina Children's Home receive love and shelter.
One of those ministries is the Kamina Project, an initiative that is starting between South Indiana Conference and North Katanga. The dream is simple: encourage one another to bring about transformation in North Katanga and South Indiana. This means improving communications between our congregations — which will be easier now that the very first Internet cafe in North Katanga recently opened in Kamina — exchanging ideas and sharing resources to accomplish the visions we create. Since most United Methodist churches in North Katanga are so packed that people often look through the windows even after all the children have been crammed on the floor in the altar area, church growth methods might be a topic to discuss.

We picked the town of Kamina as our focus community because it’s the only place with phone and Internet access, and it already has all the ingredients for the makings of a development success story. All we’ll do is act as catalysts and enjoy the fun of creating glimpses of heaven here on earth.

*Walters is the bishop’s assistant and coordinator of the department of development in the United Methodist Church’s North Katanga Annual (regional) Conference. More information about her work is available at www.taylorinafrica.org. To receive Walters’ e-letters, send a request for an invitation to taylor@taylorinafrica.org.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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