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Pastors bike through Congo to bring hope

 
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1:00 P.M. EST November 3, 2010

Villagers load the pirogue (dugout canoe) with bicycles to cross the river. Road conditions often make it impossible to travel by car. UMNS photos by Friendly Planet Missiology.
Villagers load the pirogue (dugout canoe) with bicycles to cross the river. Road conditions often make it impossible to travel by car in the Democratic Republic of Congo. UMNS photos by Friendly Planet Missiology.
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Hop on a bike, ride a hundred kilometers or so into “le triangle de la mort” (the triangle of death) and bring hope to people who feel forgotten.

Typical day for the Rev. Bob Walters and the Rev. Joseph Mulongo.

At least it was typical for them for six weeks in February and March when they rode 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) deep into the Democratic Republic of the Congo to parts of the district that haven’t been visited since the war ended. Mulongo is a district superintendent in the North Katanga Annual (regional) Conference, Walters is a former missionary to North Katanga from the Indiana Annual Conference.

Walters and his daughter, the Rev. Taylor Walters Denyer, have founded Friendly Planet Missiology, which links Indiana and North Katanga in a conference-to-conference covenant partnerships.

Walters decided the best way to assess needs and talk to community and church leaders was to take a bike ride into the remote areas during the worst time of the year—the rainy season. There are no roads, so travel by car is impossible.

The primary reason for the trip was pastoral, Mulongo said.

Radical hospitality

Everywhere they went they were met with “radical hospitality,” Walters said.

Team member Ngoy wa Kasongo fords the river; he is called “Elephant” for his work ethic.
Team member Ngoy wa Kasongo fords the river; he is called “Elephant” for his work ethic.
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“We were never more than two days away from the full embrace of The United Methodist Church, safe drinking water and grand meals,” wrote Walters in a blog he kept during the trip.

“People felt abandoned; when they saw us coming, it was great joy for them,” Mulongo said, adding that the war with guns is over, but in its wake is another deadly war that will claim almost as many victims.

Lack of safe water, sanitation, education and medical care are all taking a deadly toll on villages deep in the countryside.

Most of the villages were 85 percent burned by government soldiers or rebels or warlord troops, Mulongo said. “Women were raped. Several women were taken from out of their families for several days, even for one or two years, by somebody who used them as they wanted. And women were raped publicly in order to dishonor them.”

‘You saved our lives’

Walters was a missionary in the Congo in 1998 when all United Methodist missionaries were forced to evacuate.

Day one of the 1,000-km bike tour of the rural areas of North Katanga. (Left to right) Shabana Banza, Mumba Masimango, Bob Walters, Ngoy wa Kasongo, Prospere Banza.
Day one of the 1,000-km bike tour of the rural areas of North Katanga. (Left to right) Shabana Banza, Mumba Masimango, Bob Walters, Ngoy wa Kasongo, Prospere Banza.
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In the midst of the war, when most people were fleeing, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda told the United Methodist pastors to stay.

“We were pastors of all the community – not only pastors for the United Methodist members,” Mulonga said. During the war, the United Methodist episcopal area was organizing schools and other centers for the community.

“All the people in different areas found in The United Methodist Church the good shepherd.”

One of the projects of the Indiana conference was to deliver 300 bikes and sets of farming tools for the pastors.

“When we encountered pastors who had received these tools, they literally said, ‘You saved our lives,’” Walters said.

The mission of Friendly Planet Missiology is to put the right tools in the right hands to leverage the greatest change, he added. Money is not always the right tool.

“We have seen waves of charity go through villages with very little long-term effect and no real change,” he said. “Most of the pastors do this job very well. A lot of what we do is come in alongside and reinforce that with tools that are obviously missing.”

Mulonga said when a village sees a missionary, they see him or her as someone who comes with resources from outside.

The Rev. Joseph Mulongo and the Rev. Bob Walters lead a team on a 1,000-km trip through ten rural districts.
The Rev. Joseph Mulongo and the Rev. Bob Walters lead a team on a 1,000-km trip through ten rural districts.
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“If the missionary comes in with the answer, then the missionary is responsible for delivering the solution. And when the missionary leaves, the solution goes with the missionary,” Walters said.

The same is true of pastors. The goal instead is to teach the pastors to engage the whole community in the solution.

Walters will return in time for the next rainy season.

When The United Methodist Church comes into a community, builds a church and puts up the cross and flame, that is a sign that THE United Methodist Church is present, Walters said.

“And the pastors, they do this work believing we have their backs. I don’t want to be the one to tell them that we don’t.”

*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

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

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