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Congo bishop works to solidify peace

 


Congo bishop works to solidify peace

Dec. 7, 2004

By Linda Beher*

NEW YORK (UMNS)--United Methodists in the Democratic Republic of Congo believe food security is a key to peace.

In the weeks since Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo moderated a September peace accord in North Katanga, they are emphasizing an agriculture ministry in the southeastern part of their nation, with the bishop in the lead.

What United Methodists in the Katanga Conference do and say matters, Ntambo told staff of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Committee on Relief during a late November visit to New York. There are a million official United Methodists in the DRC, with another four million in worship.

Ntambo’s first term as head of Africa’s then newest United Methodist conference occurred as a brutal civil war began in 1996. During that same period, cholera killed thousands. In the midst of the horrors of war and disease, the bishop brought hope to the North Katanga region.

Partnering with UMCOR, he brought new agricultural products into the area. Last September, after nearly eight years of war, he helped to broker a peace settlement for North Katanga at a conference attended by 250 fighters who committed not to fight again.

"The church bought the peace," said Ntambo, who moderated the peace conference, which was funded by United Methodist donations, including an UMCOR grant.

Now the bishop is planning for a future where the church can assist with clean water, housing, nutritious food, solid education, and decent livelihoods to strengthen North Katanga and his headquarters community of Kamina, in the south Congo.

When war erupted there, the conflict raged in 30 of the bishop’s 32 districts. With widespread destruction of homes and hospitals, the war left children without parents and people without limbs. Armed groups destroyed crops and burned whole villages to the ground. The lack of clean water and food allowed cholera bacteria to flourish, killing with dehydration and shock.

Press reports from the war years highlight bitter violence. Massacres, rapes, and execution style killings were commonplace. The DRC conflict was particularly marked by the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war.

The bishop’s leadership in the peace process affirmed the trust placed in the church by the former fighters. During the war years, Ntambo kept hope alive through his partnership with UMCOR.

A sustainable agriculture and development program introduced Chinese cabbage cultivation. Because it is more affordable than other foods, the cabbage is both a source of nutrition and of income through sales at regional markets. "So United Methodists became the source of hope for many," Ntambo said, adding that the common name of the cabbage today is "Thank You Methodists."

The cabbage experiment led to other sustainable crops. The moringa tree’s uses include food as well as medicine. "To buy aspirin one had to walk 50 miles," explained the bishop. On an income of less than $100 a year, such a medicine was difficult to obtain. Now many families in Kamina -- Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal, United Methodist and

others – have planted moringa trees and can make a pain reliever similar to aspirin from their foliage. Through UMCOR’s sustainable agriculture program, small eggplants, known as "garden eggs," chickens, and cattle provide additional food security.

Ntambo considers these activities as ways the church is helping to sustain the peace in North Katanga. He believes the peace treaty enabled people to transform the energy of fighting into the energy of building a country. The bishop envisions a university for Kamina, and has already dedicated an interfaith chapel there.

"In Kamina there are different tribes, different religions and different cultures," he said. "Through the programs of the United Methodist Church and UMCOR in Kamina, the city is united."

Donations to UMCOR Advance #982188, Sustainable Agriculture and Development, can continue to assist programs like those in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gifts to UMCOR Advance #982920, World Hunger/Poverty, assist the millions of people who suffer from chronic malnutrition and hunger.

Checks can be placed in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Linda Beher is executive secretary for communications for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

News media contact: Linda Bloom·(646)369-3759·New York· E-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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