“A connection in the heart”
The Congo Partnership
By John W. Coleman*
“Now I can see and know.”
A smiling Dr. Ado lphe Yamba Yamba, director and lead physician at Mpasa Medical and Nutrition Center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), offered that exciting news of revelation to visitors about the new ultrasound machine they had helped him purchase.
He explained what it was like to perform surgery before having this essential medical equipment so common in the United States but rare in areas of developing countries. “Can you imagine not being able to know what was happening to the mother?” he asked. “Far too many women have died when surgery was too late. Now I can see and know. This ultrasound machine is saving lives.”
Dr. Yamba Yamba’s visitors, leaders of the Bishop Peter D. Weaver Congo Partnership, a United Methodist jointinitiative, came from the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware conferences to “see and know” the lifesaving ministries made possible by the support of many members and churches in their conferences.
Logo: Partners of the Bishop Peter D. Weaver Partnership include the Central Congo Episcopal area of the DRC and the Peninsula-Delaware, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Western North Carolina conferences in the United States.
Those ministries are a welcome blessing for dozens of new and expectant mothers who fill the center’s rooms and courtyard daily. They include a new pediatric surgical center with a new baby incubator and equipment to enable usage of solar energy for refrigeration and other needs. Dr. Yamba Yamba, who directs onsite operations of the Congo Partnership, told his guests that a baby had just been born there that morning and was placed in the solar-powered incubator for additional care.
The eight U.S. visitors, led by Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, a district superintendent in the Eastern PA Conference, arrived February 15 to spend nearly two weeks in the DRC at Mpasa and other area mission sites. Also on the team were: the Rev. Robert Wilt, pastor of Lima UMC, and Lima UMC members Tony Barnett and Ann Jacob; plus three clergy members serving in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference: the Rev. Joseph Archie, a district superintendent; the Rev. Vicki Gordy-Stith, director of connectional ministries, and the Rev. David Ryan, a pastor on-loan there from Eastern PA.
Their hosts, in addition to Dr. Yamba Yamba, included Bishop Daniel Onashuyaka Lunge, elected in 2016 to lead the Central Congo Episcopal Area; the Rev. Jonathan Baker and his wife Donna Baker, both United Methodist Global Ministries missionaries who just retired March 31, 2018; and the many indigenous staff members of the various mission centers there. “We are God’s ambassadors.” That is how Jonathan Baker described all these servant-leaders working together to improve the health, education, and well-being of residents in this economically depressed area of the DRC.
Bishop Peter Weaver, now retired, led the Peninsula-Delaware Conference to create the Congo Partnership with then Central Congo Bishop Fama Onema in 2002, as part of the Council of Bishops’ Hope for the Children of Africa Appeal. They initially focused on improving medical and maternal health care and nutrition in Mpasa, serving an area burgeoning with millions of refugees escaping war and famine in Sudan, South Sudan, and Angola.
The crucial need for more services and coordinated support prompted the Eastern PA and Western North Carolina conferences to join and expand the partnership in 2014, the centennial year of Methodism’s historic establishment in Central Congo by U.S. missionaries.
Before the Mpasa nutrition program began, many children there suffered from severe malnutrition, evidenced by their bloated bellies and skinny arms and legs, reported the Bakers, who have been involved since the start. Today, such conditions are rare.
Anthony Barnett of Lima UMC visits with children of the Mpasa Nutrition Center. PHOTO: ROBERT WILT
“Children run into the feeding room for their daily meal,” announces the Congo Partnership website. “When they arrive, they praise the Lord for the gift of a nutritious meal.” The Eastern PA Conference’s North and South districts, in particular, have contributed thousands of dollars to the nutrition program. The South District also raised over $150,000 to help build and furnish Mpasa’s new pediatric clinic.
“Our hope is to further the relationship with the Congo Partnership, as we plan for an Eye Clinic/Cataract Care facility in the Mpasa area,” said Taylor-Storm, South District superintendent.
From the moment of their arrival, the visiting team enjoyed their hosts’ extraordinary hospitality, generous gifts, and passionate praise and worship of God. They also gained a humbling appreciation for their resilient faith and fortitude. Despite the severe economic poverty, civil strife, and other challenges the people face, they seem rich in spirit and in gratitude for God’s blessings.
The team first visited the Central Congo Conference Center in the capital city of Kinshasa. “We were greeted by an enthusiastic group of young people who sang and danced, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, accompanied by loud drumming,” Bishop Johnson reported. This was her second visit to the area. “There will be a church in the future because of this next generation of young people who are on fire for the Lord.”
“The hospitality of the Congolese far exceeds anything I have ever seen,” Taylor-Storm shared. “Bishop Lunge met us at the airport with a delegation. Pastors from the Congo Episcopal area traveled with us. How beautiful to see pastors from the Philadelphia Episcopal Area sharing fellowship and a Congolese feast
with pastors from the DRC.”
Several of the U.S. clergy taught classes in United Methodist history, polity, and sacraments for their hosts at an arranged Local Pastors School. Other delegation members divided into teams to visit and volunteer at various Partnership mission sites beyond Mpasa, some in remote rural areas, including:
• Miriam’s Table, a children’s nutrition and health program that daily feeds more than 350 children from low-income families;
• Wembo Nyama Children’s Ministry in Sankuru Province, which serves over 6,000 children per month while teaching them about Jesus;
• The Cape Lodja Farm in Diengenga, which is growing crops and raising animals to become self-sustaining;
• Several United Methodist schools and development projects, including a trade school and the Mama Tola Secondary School.
It took a mighty big drill to get to the deep waters of Wembo Nyama, but the team finally met with success. PHOTO: FRANCOIS OMANYONDO
In one of many highlights, the Bakers and their visitors were able to witness the operation of “a new well they had worked very hard to dig for the town of Wembo Nyama,” reported Bishop Johnson. “There had been many attempts, and the ground was not right. But finally, a suitable vein of water was located, and the Bakers raised funds through the partnership. This is an incredible gift to a town that only had a river to depend on for water.”
Jonathan Baker dedicated this first well, offering fresh, life-giving water. Now, residents in the Sankuru Province are saved from having to trek miles to the river, where dangerously contaminated water used for bathing, cleaning, and drinking has caused illnesses and deaths, especially among children.
“Hallelujah!” Dr. Yamba Yamba rejoiced in a Facebook post. “We dropped to our knees with joy as we saw the water gushing from the earth!” In total, four new wells were dug in Wembo Nyama and three more in nearby Tshumbe, thanks to the generosity of donor churches and individuals.
The Bakers can attest to the invaluable benefits that result from interpreting the needs and progress of the mission to churches in the United States through their periodic visits and their video newsletters filled with vivid images, narration, and music.
“We’re sure hundreds of thousands of dollars were given because of the information we shared and the relationships we developed with supportive churches,” said Jonathan Baker, a retired pastor and former Peninsula-Delaware Conference Council on Ministries director who previously chaired the Partnership Board.
Bishop Daniel Onashuyaka Lunge of the Central Congo (2nd man from left), Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area (3rd from left), and other team members and partners prepare to greet United Methodists arriving in Wembo Nyama. PHOTO: ROBERT WILT
“People want to be a part of something viable and special,” said Donna Baker, a retired Advanced Clinical Practice Nurse and a former nursing educator who recently agreed to update and manage the informative Congo Partnership website: http://www.congo-mission.org/. “They often say, ‘Now we get it! Now we understand how important our support is for this work and for the people of Congo.’”
“People want to be a part of something viable and special. They often say, ‘Now we get it! Now we understand how important our support is for this work and for the people of Congo.’”
Donna Baker, recently retired missionary serving with the Congo Partnership
Likewise, the chance for U.S. church leaders to visit the site of lifesaving mission work is also vital, she added. “They develop relationships and get a personal perspective when they meet people who lack access to fresh water, when they visit homes, schools, and hospitals and see how little people have but also how resilient, faithful, and full of hope people are. They can go back and share what they have learned.”
Everyone Plays a Part
The Bakers, who have retired to Florida, continue to share what they have learned in three years as Congo Partnership missionaries wherever they are invited. “We were inspired by the Congolese people’s incredible witness of hope and trust in God,” recalls Jonathan Baker. “We saw evidence of it every day. The things we might throw our hands up in despair over, they would respond to by just trusting more in God.”
Dr.Adolphe Yamba Yamba, director and lead physician at Mpasa Medical and Nutrition Center in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and members of the Mpasa medical team point out some of the new equipment made possible by the Congo Partnership. PHOTO: COURTESY ROBERT WILT
Dr. Yamba Yamba may be the greatest example of that witness for Baker. He grew up poor—his family devastated by war—and he sold bread on the streets to pay for his schooling. He went on to earn medical degrees in Kinshasa, speaks nine languages, and is working on a master’s degree in Maternal Health.
“He’s a man of great ability and deep faith,” said Jonathan Baker, citing the difficulties and physical danger the gifted doctor and mission coordinator has faced in his dual jobs.
The Bakers trained Dr. Yamba Yamba’s new administrative aide, Anthony Papano Stephie, over the past two years. An Africa University graduate from the Central Congo area, he brings impressive skills to do that work, they said, but also to manage logistics for future teams that come to visit and volunteer at the various Congo Partnership mission sites.
Efforts to make these mission sites and the people they help to become more self-sustaining remain crucial, said Jonathan Baker. Classes in sewing, tie-dyeing fabrics, and making soap are examples, along with lessons in business development and management of the farm to produce income.
If they can acquire funds, leaders also want to refurbish a barge to reach churches upcountry by water, because currently there is no viable way to bring resources to those rural areas.
The Eastern PA Conference’s South District may consider supporting that effort when it finishes raising funds for the new Eye Clinic/Cataract Care facility in Mpasa, said
“The Congo Partnership is an example of our connectional system at its best,” observed Bishop Johnson. “Each of the parts does its part to lift up the gospel of Jesus Christ. I continue to be amazed at the work of God that is happening among faithful people there.”
“We feel a connection in the heart that we have with you in this partnership,” Bishop Lunge told both Philadelphia Episcopal Area conferences when he visited them in November 2017, just before the Council of Bishops’ fall meeting. He offered thanks and reported on the impressive mission strides taken so far with their support.
But his vision and his heart seemed clearly set on looking further down the road: “We would like to have that connection become an everlasting thing.”
*John W. Coleman is the director of communications for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.