Steps Under Way to Strengthen Aviation Ministries in Congo
by Elliott Wright
New York, NY, May 25, 2011--Steps are under way to strengthen and coordinate the United Methodist Church's aviation ministries in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). One goal is the purchase of a larger aircraft to replace one of the small planes now in service.
General directions for the United Methodist Aviation Ministry were worked out on May 23 in a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, attended by three Congolese missionary pilots and leaders of the General Board of Global Ministries and the West Ohio Annual (regional) Conference.
West Ohio is raising the remaining million needed to buy a $1.6 million Cessna Caravan plane; $600,000 in donations or commitments is on hand. Sports figure Chris Spielman, a football analyst for ESPN, is heading up the campaign as honorary chairman.
"Air transportation is essential to mission in the DRC, where distances are great and roads are few," said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries, the worldwide United Methodist mission agency. "The planes carry medical supplies as well as critically ill patients; ferry missionaries, volunteers, and church leaders, and deliver Bibles and other resources required for church development across the country. Our emphasis will remain on mission service."
The DRC has three episcopal areas, each of which currently has an aviation ministry related to Global Ministries. The three missionary pilots collaborate closely, but the Columbus meeting looked at ways to tighten collaboration in aircraft maintenance, staffing, and administration--moves approved by bishops in the three areas.
The new plane would replace a small Cessna assigned to the North Katanga Episcopal Area but would be available for special use in other regions. It will triple the hauling capacity of older aircraft.
The campaign in West Ohio will last through June 2012. Donors may make pledges lasting beyond that time frame. While the church in the DRC is quite poor, United Methodists of North Katanga are expected to contribute $25,000 toward the $1.6 million.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, the episcopal leader of West Ohio, sees the purchase of the Caravan as a measure of hope for often poor, widely scattered United Methodists in the DRC. "Hope to these desperately poor people comes in the form of a small airplane and a pilot," he said. "God has given the people of the West Ohio Conference a vision to raise $1.6 million to replace the aging Cessna 210 with a Caravan, a larger, more fuel-efficient aircraft."
The three Congolese pilots and their areas are Gaston Ntambo (Wings of the Morning, North Katanga), Jacques Umembudi (Wings of Caring, Central Congo), and Rukang Chikomb (Wings of the Morning, South Congo). Steve Quigg, the missionary aviator, coordinator of the Global Ministries' Aviation Resource Department, also took part in the Columbus talks, as did Daniel Gabler, another missionary aviator working in South Africa.
One benefit of the campaign to buy the Caravan is the visibility it will give to the importance of aviation ministry in a country where The United Methodist Church is growing and playing an increasingly large role in addressing issues such as health and poverty.
Likely new measures coming out of the Columbus talks include:
In addition to Bishop Ough, Thomas Kemper, and the missionary aviators, other participants in the May 23 meeting included Gail Coulson, Global Ministries' mission executive for the DRC; George Howard, a Global Ministries' director from West Ohio; the Rev. Bob Knell, a retired Ohio pastor with a background in aviation ministry; Lyn Savidge, volunteer administrator for the West Ohio Wings of the Morning Campaign Team; and Deanna Stickley-Miner, director of connectional mission and justice for West Ohio.
Additional information on the United Methodist Aviation Ministries is online at UMAviationMinistries.org.
Date posted: May 26, 2011