Expansion of Evangelism
by Benoit Ngereza Mahamudi
In general, the majority of the Congolese population lives in rural settings, with roughly 60 to 70 percent of the people residing in small rural villages. In the Eastern Congo, many villages are in remote places and a community may be made up of just a few hundred people. Other Christian movements across the world are likely to employ a missionary approach focused on creating faith communities and congregations in some selected, densely populated cities and towns. In contrast, Eastern Congo United Methodists seek to bring the gospel to every village, knowing that each sheep matters in the eyes of the Lord. Using this approach, we end up with a very high number of local churches with small memberships that range from 25 to 500 members, at most.
To reach people, we take every opportunity either to meet people where they congregate or to sponsor events that bring people together. For example, we place chaplains in schools, hospitals, and health centers. The women and youth of our churches organize music performances, playing and singing in public places in our villages. We also hold small prayer meetings in local churches, and our lay members volunteer to serve as evangelists and to visit people in their homes. Our church members will also attend public social gatherings, such as youth events or occasions when there is a large distribution of mosquito nets.
Drawbacks of Village Approach
While our village approach seems to be the best way for us to reach people for Christ, given our demographics, this kind of church planting is not without its drawbacks. Having a large number of small local churches may prove to be financially unsustainable, as it is difficult for small congregations to attain self-reliance. There may not be enough people involved to maintain the facilities or even to pay the pastor. This creates a disincentive for pastors, particularly when there is already a shortage of trained, ordained clergy. So a significant number of our churches are administered by lay preachers—and they are not always adequately trained.
In the more populated urban areas, Christians seem to be drawn to spectacular megachurches under the spell of the media. These churches have enough money and members to advertise on the internet. Televangelists also draw people into their churches, and church choirs are expected to perform using sophisticated instruments. Thanks to the media hype, large gatherings create high expectations that miraculous events will occur during church services. United Methodist churches actually lose members in some urban areas because they cannot compete with the megachurch entertainment.
As the Eastern Congo is still recovering from years of war, many churches are in bad shape. Some lack roofs. Others had all the furniture taken or burned. And some are simply in disrepair from neglect.
Our pastors seek continuing education opportunities, but we have insufficient training material and equipment to meet their needs. There is also little opportunity for continuing education for pastoral trainers. Parsonages in the area are in the same condition as the churches, so pastors experience deteriorating living conditions. In the two Kivu Provinces, persistent insecurity is an ongoing challenge to evangelism.
Meeting the Challenges
In order to overcome some of these challenges, the episcopal office has been working diligently to provide effective and appropriate training for lay evangelists. We have employed a “Train the Trainers” model to multiply the effectiveness of evangelists back in the villages. Different levels of the church have also sponsored music events, which are very popular here and draw a lot of people.
We hope that the global UMC will be inclined to invest in the improvement of Eastern Congo’s low-income church infrastructure. This is not to say that churches in the United States and Europe should build our churches. But simply providing roof sheeting and materials to make cement would go a long way toward encouraging Eastern Congo members to do the rest.
The Eastern Congo also seeks help in building the capacity of trainers in each conference. A few additional technical resources made available to local churches, such as computers and access to the internet, would greatly assist the churches in their mission to strengthen their members. All of this would go a long way in supporting self-reliance initiatives in rural congregations.
The Rev. Benoit Ngereza Mahamudi (MAHAMUDI NGEREZA Benoit) is the coordinator of Evangelism for the East Congo Episcopal Area. This article was first published in the November-December 2014 issue of New World Outlook magazine. Used by permission.
Children of the Nazareth UMC bow in prayer. This congregation has just completed a new roof for the sanctuary and has begun to lay bricks.
Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, North Katanga Episcopal Area, DRC, addresses pastors and church leaders of the East Congo area. Photos: Christie R. House
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