Resistance brings more progress than expectedby Mennonite Church USA staff
KINSHASA, Congo—Two Mennonite Church USA leaders returned to Congo Nov. 11- 24 to follow up on a church delegation visit of more than a year ago. They found resistance, but concluded that the resistance was good because it provided the tension necessary to make progress in relationship building.
From left, Mennonite Church USA moderator Sharon Waltner, national director for women’s work for CEM Marie Claire Kamwanya Meta, women’s president for CEM Florence Nsumbu and women’s secretary for CEM Josee Mbombo Bintu talk. Photo by Tim Lind.
Mennonite Church USA’s moderator Sharon Waltner and associate executive director Ron Byler traveled to Kinshasa and Mbuji Mayi to strengthen church relationships with the two conferences: Communaute Mennonite au Congo (CMCo) and Communaute Evangelique Mennonite (CEM). In Kinshasa, Waltner and Byler participated in the Mennonite World Conference Forum, a three-year process bringing together youth, women and pastors with leaders of the two Mennonite conferences and the Mennonite Brethren to talk about how they relate to each other and to Mennonites in other parts of the world.
“The best process is one that bothers us, one that provides sufficient resistance to enable progress,” said Toss Mukwa, the facilitator of the group. He cited electricity and gearshifts as examples of how resistance brings forward movement.
Congo churches want to work for self sufficiency by forming partnerships at all levels of the church. They want unity among their churches and they want to be an active part of the global church community. Mukwa encouraged participants to think about the future and the gifts each member has to share.
“How do we engage all of our members in the work of the church, not just this small group?” Mukwa asked.
“God is showing us new things and that usually means change,” Waltner said in her closing remarks to the group. “Change is hard in Congo and the United States but with God’s help and with our prayers for each other, we can exceed our expectations.”
President Komuesa Kalunga and vice president Birakara Ilowa of Communaute Mennonite au Congo view letters from children attending the San José 2007 Mennonite Church USA convention. Children gave their offerings for medical supplies for hospitals in Tshikapa, Congo. Photo by Ron Byler.
Tim Lind, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) staff is assigned to work with Congo and Mennonite Church USA leaders. Rod Hollinger Janzen is director of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM). Waltner and Byler returned with the two men to Mbuji Mayi, more than 500 miles east of Kinshasa. They had visited the area with the previous delegation in early 2007.
In Mbuji Mayi they met with Rev. Benjamin Mubenga, CEM president, Mathieu Shimatu, vice president, and more than a half dozen women and men who are key church leaders. Leaders of the two churches talked about the opportunities and challenges of being faithful churches in their respective cultural settings.
Leaders of CEM showed their incredulity at the realities of church life in the United States. How can the church community be the church when it only meets on Sunday morning, they wondered? In Mbuji Mayi, women, youth and other groups in the church meet at least weekly to support each other and to be involved in their communities.
“We help each other in times of difficulty, we encourage families to be self sufficient and we seek peace,” said Marie Claire Kamwanya Meta, national director of women’s work for CEM who is currently studying theology.
CEM and Mennonite Church USA leaders completed an agreement committing themselves in the future to the mutual sharing of gifts, face-to-face visits and responding to each others’ needs. The agreement calls for special attention to working together to train pastors, nurture women’s leadership gifts, increase youth involvement in the church and exchange experiences in church planting and peacemaking.
“The Mennonite women in Congo inspired me, “said Waltner. “They are faithful, well organized and persistent. We want to work together to see how we can best use the leadership gifts of women in both our church cultures.”
Waltner and Byler had originally hoped to travel to Tshikapa to meet with CMCo leaders at their church headquarters, but that became impossible when Jeanne Sowela Komuesa, wife of CMCo president Komuesa Kalunga, died unexpectedly the day they arrived in Kinshasa. They attended the funeral and expressed condolences to Komuesa on behalf of the Mennonite Church USA.
After returning from a meeting with CEM leaders in Mbuji Mayi, Mennonite Church USA church leaders were able to meet with several CMCo leaders in Kinshasa, including Komuesa and vice president Birakara Ilowa.
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