"Thank You, Methodists": A Bishop Solidifies the Peace
By Linda Beher
Posted: December 3, 2004 Print-friendly
United Methodists in the Democratic Republic of Congo believe food security is a key to peace. In the weeks since one of their bishops, Ntambo Nkulu, moderated a September 2004 peace accord in 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 North Katanga Annual Conference do and say matters. There are a million United Methodists in the DRC, with another four million in worship, the largest concentration outside of the United States.
Bishop Ntambo was in New York on Nov. 23, 2004, to meet with staff of the General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, a unit of the mission agency. The charismatic leader spoke of bringing hope to a war-torn region. His vibrant laugh warms an audience.
Bringing Hope to a War-Torn Region
A brutal civil war began in 1996, Bishop Ntambo's first term as head of Africa's then newest United Methodist conference. The conflict raged in 30 of the bishop's 32 districts. Armed groups destroyed crops and burned whole villages to the ground. With widespread destruction of homes and hospitals, the war left children without parents and people without limbs. 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.
In that same period cholera killed thousands. When a disaster like war destroys supplies of clean water and food, cholera bacteria can flourish, killing with dehydration and shock.
In the midst of the horrors of war and disease, the bishop brought hope to the Katanga region. Partnering with UMCOR, he brought new agricultural products into the area. And in September, after nearly eight years of war, he helped to broker a peace settlement for Katanga at a conference attended by 250 fighters who committed not to fight again.
"The church bought the peace," said Bishop Ntambo, who moderated the conference, which was funded by United Methodist donations, including one from UMCOR. 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 Katanga and his headquarters community of Kamina, in the south Congo.
A Cabbage Called "Thank You, Methodists"
During the war years, North Katanga Annual Conference, in partnership with UMCOR, introduced an important new sustainable agriculture and development program-- Chinese cabbage cultivation. The cabbage is a source of nutrition and income for families who sell them at regional markets. "United Methodists became the source of hope for many," said Bishop Ntambo, noting that the common name of the cabbage today is "Thank You, Methodists."
The cabbage experiment led to other sustainable crops like the moringa tree. The 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 every family in Kamina-- Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist, and others-- has planted moringa trees and can make a pain reliever similar to aspirin from their foliage." Small eggplants, called garden eggs, chickens, and cattle-- all results of UMCOR's sustainable agriculture program-- provide additional food security.
Bishop Ntambo sees these activities as ways the church is helping to sustain the peace in the Katanga area. "People were fighting for complex reasons," he said. The peace treaty, read to the peace conference in three languages-- Swahili, Kiluba, and French-- 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.
"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. United Methodists were the only ones trusted to bring all together." Bishop Ntambo Nkulu smiles broadly. "Thank you, Methodists," he says.
Bishop Ntambo's vibrant laugh warms an audience. The episcopal leader of the North Katanga Annual Conference in Democratic Republic of Congo preached for morning worship on April 29 during the 2004 General Conference of The United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Credit: UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin, April 28, 2004.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UMCOR distributed seeds for crops to farmers near Pweto in Katanga province. One sustainable agriculture and development program introduced Chinese cabbage cultivation. The cabbage is both a source of nutrition and of income through sales at regional markets. "...United Methodists became the source of hope for many," says Bishop Ntambo Nkulu of the region's North Katanga Annual Conference. The common name of the cabbage today is "Thank You, Methodists." Credit: UMCOR/DR Congo, October 2003.
How to Participate in This Program
Generous donations to UMCOR Advance #982188, Sustainable Agriculture and Development, can continue to assist programs like those in the Democratic Republic of Congo that strengthen a community's livelihood, food security, and hope. Gifts to UMCOR Advance #982920, World Hunger/Poverty, assist the millions of people who suffer from chronic malnutrition and hunger. Programs emphasize alleviation of root causes of hunger.
Linda Beher is the communications director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.