By Pierre T. Omadjela*
KINSASHA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Promoting physical and mental health is something The United Methodist Church feels called to do in a country that continues to see armed conflict and related trauma, officials of the denomination’s Board of Church and Society said here.
The Rev. Neal Christie, Church and Society’s executive for education and leadership formation, and the Rev. Clayton Childers, director of annual conference relations for the agency as well as advocacy director for the Imagine No Malaria campaign, met with government officials and United Methodist colleagues during a 10-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo in July. The Board of Church and Society is charged with advocating the denomination’s social teachings on the world stage.
Much of the conversation concerned emotional suffering by rape victims of the rebel groups operating within Congolese borders, in the country’s eastern region.
“Recovering from trauma is essential to the recovery and development of a community or country in crisis,” Christie said. “In the DRC, there is an active war waged against women and children.”
Richard Muyej, minister of home affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said rape of women is common in North Kivu Province, scene of much armed conflict.
“Many of (the women) find themselves sick with HIV or having a child who will never know his father,” Muyej said.
Emotional trauma always accompanies such violence and for that, Muyej said, “we need the intervention of the church.”
The United Methodist Church can help by providing training for those in a position to counsel victims, Christie said. He discussed with Muyej a partnership in which the church would help train police units.
Christie said the problem has extended economic and domestic consequences, as well as causing great individual suffering.
“A woman who is so abused and then ostracized from her own community, often rejected by her spouse, cannot easily go back out and work the land to earn the money to feed her children,” Christie said.
The Board of Church and Society has conducted counseling training sessions in Liberia and Mozambique.
Geneviève Inangosi Kasongo, the Congo’s minister of gender, family and children, said targeted assistance needs to be coupled with an effort to bring peace.
“My message to the people of the United States of America in particular, and the worldwide community, is that children and women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have suffered a lot,” she said. “It is now time for all friends of our country to work in one direction in order to have peace established.”
In areas of the country where armed conflict persists, she said, the lack of security leads to much higher incidences of rape.
The United Methodist Church’s contribution in the area of physical health came up in a meeting Christie and Childers had with the Congo’s minister of health, Felix Kabange Numbi.
They informed him of a new aviation medical ministry that The United Methodist Church has brought to the Northern Katanga Area.
Childers also shared about the denomination’s Imagine No Malaria campaign, which seeks to raise $75 million to combat a disease that remains disastrously prevalent in Africa.
“We are more than two-thirds the way to our financial goal, and we are moving forward rapidly to work with local health boards in Africa to finance projects to support the fight against malaria,” Childers said. “Some of this money will be designated to support efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the church has more than 200 health care centers, clinics and general hospitals.”
Numbi expressed gratitude and promised to assist the church in its medical efforts in the Congo.
*Omadjela is director of communications and development for the United Methodist Central Congo Episcopal Area.