Photo Courtesy of Bob Walters
A church-related health clinic in Monono is completely empty inside.
See an update from the author at the end of this article.
Monono is exactly 100 kilometers by bicycle from Mulongo, if you take the short cut through the forest around Kyolo, which we did. The ride was serious fast. Team leader Daniel Mumba was driven to get there in record time. We even dropped a team member and sent him back to Mulongo when he pulled up lame. (At least, we didn't shoot him.)
In the forest, we find a mining encampment. It's a large group with both women and men mining, as well as women doing laundry, cooking meals, and caring for babies. It's also a friendly group. I'm having the feeling of running across a Gypsy camp in the backwoods of eastern Europe. (This is my imagination on sensory overload.) They welcome our picture taking and take time out to pose and smile. Don't let me deceive the reader, this is brutal work and in no way does the friendly welcome of the miners make this situation acceptable. Here is where your laptop or cell phone is born, dug out of the mud by the poorest people on the planet. This hard day's ride in the scorching sun is a physical challenge for me, but they are going to be here every day for the rest of their lives.
Out of the forest and back on the road, we head into the U.N. Peace Keeping Zone. There is some kind of political demonstration happening in the first village we enter. A large crowd has gathered and someone with a lot of energy is speaking. U.N. troops are there to keep a lid on it. The officer in charge of the company of soldiers makes eye contact and without altering his firm posture, waves us through, as if to say, "We don't need you in this mix." I'm needing a rest stop and had mentally prepared myself for stopping in this village, but we wisely keep moving and make our stop 5 kilometers out of town. A couple hours later, the transport with the U.N. Peace Keepers passes us on their way back to their base in Monono.
This is my third visit to Monono, the first in 1991 and the second in 1995. Taylor (with Bishop Ntambo) visited right after the war in 2005. She saw the town in its rubble after being leveled in the war. I'm seeing two distinct pictures. There is the rubble, but it is overgrown and disappearing into the forest. Then there is the artificial city of the United Nations. The "downtown shopping district" of the old colonial days, which was a ghost town even before the war, has freshly painted store fronts and all kinds of trucks unloading all kinds of consumer goods. Generators are running to power communications systems. Pallets of bottled water, Coca-Cola, and beer are stacked outside the stores. The citizens are still living in poverty, but the U.N. soldiers and the accompanying NGO's are living well, and someone is making a tidy profit.
We are greeted by the district leadership of the United Methodist Church. Here is where my blood begins its slow boil. (I felt the same way when I visited Kalemie in 2009, and Kabalo last year.) The United Methodist Church (the General Church) has totally abandoned and absolutely forgotten these people. This is where I personally lose my cool and say things on a blog that is permanent and global that are unwise, but this is the rant that is my 95 Thesis on the Wittenberg Door.
For the life of me, I can't understand how a Church that prides itself in going anywhere and everywhere in the world in response to tragedy, misses the (by death toll) greatest humanitarian disaster since WWII. There is no UMCOR here in Monono, no General Board of Global Ministries, even. It's worse than not responding; we have abandoned the mission stations that were critical to the community for education and health care. And we still haven't returned. Our Congolese colleagues rightly feel abandoned.
That's my second point in this rant. How did the United Methodist Church (General Church) miss the heroic work of the pastors and lay leaders during the war, risking life and livelihood to stay in their appointments? And now those same pastors and lay leaders are still there, exhausted and completely out of resources. And we still aren't there.
These are the brave (and loyal) people who paint a cross and flame on their church or school or health center because they believe that they are on the same team as rest of the United Methodists in the world. They believe that they can go to work each day, without pay and without supplies, because we have their backs. Am I to tell them that Sam Houston isn't coming? That they're on their own?
The Catholic cathedral in the center of Monono had its roof blown off in the war. It is now reproofed and repainted and is a symbol of rebirth. I meet with the territorial administrator and he asks why the United Methodists have abandoned their people. I'm embarrassed and ashamed. We visit a school (auto mechanics and electrical) that had been built by the United Methodist missionary Ken Enright. An Irish NGO (Bono?) paid for a new roof and a fresh coat of paint, but it's still an empty shell. The director of the school hands me an $80,000 proposal for restoring the school to its previous state. I'm helpless to respond, and I'm angry that no one from the General Board of Global Ministries has even been here to see the state of their own projects.
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is meeting in Tampa [April 24-May 4]. There will be 66 delegates from the North Katanga Episcopal Area. If you are there, look them up, shake their hands, and say, "I'm sorry that we weren't there with you, what can we do to help?"
If you're from any of our general agencies, look me up. I'm Bob Walters, the newly appointed Director of Connectional Ministries for the North Katanga Episcopal Area. I'm very cross right now, but I can easily be appeased with a smile and a handshake.
Update April 20, 2012
When you light yourself on fire, you need a good friend standing by with a fire extinguisher. A few days ago I published a blog accusing The United Methodist Church (the General Church) of abandoning the districts inside the war zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was a passionate blog post that many read as angry. (I preferred to only admit to being very cross.) I knew that it would draw some cheers from the cheap seats. (where I sit) And I also knew that if I didn't go strong, the target audience would ignore my plea. Too strong?
I received a friendly email from an American bishop who wanted to alert me to how it was heard in his conference. His concern was that it was heard as a criticism of Bishop Ntambo and the leadership of North Katanga. That mishearing, I must correct!
The blog was meant to inform all United Methodists that we had not celebrated the heroic leadership of our sisters and brothers during a brutal war and that those same colleagues are still there in place in their appointments and desperately need our presence with them. As to Bishop Ntambo's leadership, the Tannenbaum Center in New York City awarded him their Peace Maker in Action Award in 2010. (I was there and a few other UM friends, but official representation of the UMC was painfully absent. - Did I just throw gasoline on the fire?)
In the last decade, no one has grown the United Methodist Church like Bishop Ntambo and his pastors and lay leaders, and they have done it in the midst of a horrific war. Note to lay delegates: In North Katanga, laity are subject to the Bishop's appointment, especially doctors, nurses, and educators.
There was some hard truth telling in my report to Bishop Ntambo. He asked me and I answered truthfully. The remarkable story of recovery that is Kamina (the conference center), including the work of UMCOR and the help of several supporting conferences in the U.S., has not spread out to the remote districts our team visited. This was the biggest complaint we heard and it came not only from UM leadership, but also from the doctors in charge of the health zones and from territorial administrators. The United Methodist Church that stayed with the community through the war is now unable to lead in the recovery process. The support supply line isn't reaching these remote districts.
For those with a map, we are talking specifically about the Tanganyika Conference with the major towns of Kalemie, Monono, and Kabalo, in the northeast corner of the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Therefore, I apologize for my outburst, sort of. Sort of, because we've got to get some real help to these colleagues and we've got to get it to them fast. If I have to set myself on fire to get your attention, then . . .