Congo Visit 2012
Episcopal visit to Aru Diocese, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC. 25 August- 8 September 2012
In May 2011 Bishop Keith met with Revd Ralph Kemp and Dr John Owens to discuss the possibility of an Episcopal visit to the dioceses of Aru and Boga, officially linked to the Diocese of Chester since 2009. Bishop Ande of Aru Diocese had invited Bishop Keith to visit, but until then there had been no opportunity. A decision was made to arrange things for sometime in 2012. A meeting of possible team members was convened in late October 2011 to discuss arrangements and a draft itinerary was produced. It was agreed that a separate team tasked to run a discipleship course, Rooted in Jesus, should accompany the Episcopal group.
The original intention was for the Episcopal team to spend most of their time in Aru, followed by a 3-4 day stay in Boga Diocese. Unfortunately, at the beginning of March 2012 an email from Bishop William informed us that a brigade was threatening to desert the national army and rebel soldiers had come down from the hills. Those planning the visit kept a careful eye on the situation and were still planning to visit Bunia, the main town in the area, as this was deemed to be safe. At the end of July, however, we learnt that 5 students travelling from Bunia to Uganda had been murdered and that angry youths were rioting in the town. Sadly, it was decided that this part of the trip had to be cancelled.
Groups from Chester Diocese have been visiting Aru since 2007 and there have never been any issues with security. There was therefore never any doubt that this part of the trip would go ahead. In the event, the logistics of visiting Boga on this occasion would have been difficult: a 3 day stay would have been woefully inadequate for Bishop Keith and his team. In addition, the Rooted in Jesus team would have had to split into two groups of three, one for Aru and the other for Bunia, and our experience showed that there would not have been enough members in each team.
A group of thirteen people (7 Episcopal, 6 Rooted in Jesus) met at Manchester Airport at midday on Friday 24 August 2012. The flight to Entebbe, Uganda was via Doha, Qatar. This itinerary was chosen as the price for individual bookings was £165 less than KLM, the second best as regards cost. The downside was a 6 hour wait in Doha Airport on the return flight, and an 18 hour journey from Entebbe to Manchester, compared with 10 hours via KLM. The group flew on to Arua in northwest Uganda without a break, arriving mid-morning on 25 August. They were met by Gill Brown, who had been in Aru for 6 months, and a small number of diocesan staff, who drove them the relatively short distance to the DRC border.
Attached to this report is:
- A personal reflection by Bishop Keith. As this is a day by day account of his experiences, the present, more formal, report will deal with the visit under a number of headings.
- A record of visits and experiences regarding the diocese’s work amongst children by David Bell and Philip Alston.
- Reports of the two Rooted in Jesus courses in Mahagi and Aru. Rooted in Jesus is separate from, but fully endorsed by, the ABC Link committee. It was originally used in Tanzania, but it is being taken up by an increasing number of Sub-Saharan African countries.
Aru has only been a diocese in its own right since 2005. Bishop Ande Titre is a highly intelligent, dynamic, innovative leader, who has a PhD from the University of Birmingham. The diocese is huge. Aru town is near the Ugandan border but the diocese stretches 600 kilometres to the west and 400 kilometres north/south. The dirt roads are nearly all extremely poor. There are 4 archdeaconries: Aru, Kumuru, Mahagi and Djalasiga. Each of these is subdivided into parishes, which are further divided into ‘chapelles’. For instance, Kumuru Archdeaconry has 7 parishes and 76 chapelles. There are about 250 languages in DRC. In Aru Diocese, Lingala and Swahili are the trade languages, with Lubara, Kakwa and Alur being spoken locally. Translation is a way of life in church services.
Bishop Keith’s visit took place in the rainy season; thus it rained most days and the temperatures were easily bearable for someone from the UK (Aru is about 4,000feet above sea level). The team was present on two Sundays and on both occasions attended Aru Cathedral; on the second Sunday Bishop Keith preached and then confirmed 60 candidates, including 3 members of Bishop Ande’s family! There were also visits to two rural churches on consecutive days. Those familiar with the customs of Congolese Christians recognise the wonderful hospitality of the people. The guests are greeted with a host of church members, singing, dancing and waving palm branches. After being allowed to rest briefly after the journey, the visitors enter the church, where they are asked to introduce themselves. Services can last up to 4 hours, especially if there are several choirs performing, and are followed by generous helpings of local food and often by gifts: Bishop Keith received a couple of chickens and a goat during his stay. At one church he and Bishop Ande confirmed 280 people. Quite a number of women were admitted to membership of the Mothers Union at the same time; Bishop Ande’s wife, Maturu, and Rosie Sinclair dressed up in MU uniform for the occasion.
The bishop was asked to speak at two special events. The diocese holds regular retreats for pastors; this time the village of Ombi was chosen, near the Ugandan border. Forty pastors and their wives attended, the two sessions being on the theme of Grace. The next day he spoke at a large Youth Conference in the cathedral, teaching them on prayer and basing this on 4 Psalms. When the Rooted in Jesus course started in Aru, Bishop Keith decided to attend for the whole of the first day. He was particularly stirred by some of the testimonies he heard. On the last day he presented the certificates. Revd Jean Bosco, Director of Christian Education and the Local Coordinator of Rooted in Jesus impressed everyone by his faith and his administrative abilities.
On most mornings Bishop Keith, Ralph Kemp, David Bell and Philip Alston attended prayers for staff at the Diocesan Office, each of them giving a meditation at some stage. The diocese is in the process of constructing a large new office building over a 5 year period.
Those who visit Aru town are always impressed by the development that is going on in the area. Progress has been possible because of the peace and security there has been since the end of the war. Buildings are springing up in the town, including the new Nursing School and Diocesan Offices.
The Bureau du Développement Diocésain (BDD: Diocesan Development Office) has a number of ongoing projects, which were discussed with Bishop Keith and Ralph Kemp during a visit. A butcher’s shop has been opened and there are plans for a canteen for selling food and a goat rearing scheme. There is also a carpentry workshop for young men which the team had visited earlier in their stay. Bishop Keith introduced the possibility of becoming involved with Five Talents. The latter is an Anglican micro-finance project whose vision is to work in the smallest, poorest and riskiest situations. Bishop Keith is one of the trustees of this organisation. The BDD was very interested in pursuing this; it might help some of the men who have undergone the carpentry course to start up their own businesses. The bishop will discuss this with UK Director, Tom Sanderson.
Other BDD schemes include a literacy programme for women and youths, a tailoring centre for people with disabilities, and tree planting and clean water projects. There is also a Peace and Reconciliation programme. This looks at human rights, helping victims of the war and helping to resolve conflicts over land, and generally speaking promotes peace in the diocese.
The Episcopal team visited the hospital in Aru town. Until its recent designation, this was a Health Centre. This provides basic surgery, general and paediatric medical care, dentistry and midwifery. The Medical Director is Ezati Ezai and Baba is the Administrator. Dr Francesca Elloway, CMS Mission Partner, has established a palliative care service and at the time of the visit was in the UK gaining some practical experience in this discipline.
The team also spent several hours learning about IPASC (Institut Panafricaine de Santé Communautaire et Médecine Tropicale: Pan-African Institute of Community Health and Tropical Medicine). This organisation was founded by the late Revd Dr Pat Nickson OBE in Nyankunde Hospital, Boga Diocese. During the recent war it moved to Aru, but it still has representation in Bunia, where a university degree is offered. Amuda Baba, the newly appointed director, explained the history of IPASC and its current work in training and delivery. Projects include clean water provision, HIV care and safe motherhood. IPASC is a NGO, but has applied to be a part of the Anglican Province of DR Congo.
CHILDREN, YOUNG PEOPLE, SCHOOLS
There are 49 Anglican schools in the diocese. Children attend Primary School from age 6 or 7 and go on to Secondary School age 12 to 13. Some families cannot afford education and four years ago only 60% went on to Secondary School. The war which ended in 2004 caused a number to delay their education. Primary School costs $35 per annum, Secondary School $45 per annum.
The Episcopal team included David Bell, Diocesan Adviser for Ministry among Children and Philip Alston, Children’s Worker, All Saints Church, Marple. Their underlying aim during the visit was to start to make relationships with some of those involved with children’s work in Aru Diocese and to see how the ABC Link could benefit children in Chester and DR Congo. Anna and David Sinclair ably assisted them.
They were able to visit the Sunday School at Aru Cathedral on two occasions and to meet with the Sunday School leaders. Dealing with large numbers of children with limited resources is an issue and this was discussed with the visiting team. For the first week of the visit the schools were still on holiday; however, when they returned a week later David and Philip were able to present Etoma-Liri, the church primary school, with pictures and information from their Chester link, Micklehurst CE Primary School, Mossley. During the team’s second weekend, there was a large youth convention of about 350 people at which David, Philip, Anna and David spoke.
The children’s team was very impressed by the welcome they received in each place they visited as well as the huge numbers of children that the Aru churches are connected with. They found the Sunday School leaders at Aru Cathedral to be of a high quality, with a real commitment to the children they teach. In spite of frustrations because of language barriers, they came away enthused about the possibility of links between churches and schools in Aru, Boga and Chester being established. Indeed Philip has already started such a link between Kids Church at All Saints, Marple and Aru Cathedral Sunday School.
At the time of the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the bishops of Aru and Boga visited Chester Diocese. In discussion with them, the following aims of the Link were identified:
- Sharing information
- Visiting each other
- Funding projects (NB This was deliberately placed towards the bottom of the list by the bishops)
- Encouraging parishes in all three dioceses to get involved
In terms of a fulfilment of the first five aims in the list, the visit of both teams has been a resounding success. Our hope is that the enthusiasm engendered will spread to those churches in Chester Diocese which do not currently have a link partner. Apart from that general hope, we wish to set out a number of initiatives which might spring out of the visit.
1. Future visits: There was some concern that frequent visits from Chester Diocese might be too great a burden for our Congolese brothers and sisters. Looking after us takes people from their everyday work, places responsibilities on the church regarding our safety and security and costs them dear in providing food and lodging. When we spoke to Bishop Ande, however, he was adamant that such visits should continue. The Congolese church, he said, benefits from our presence, whether it is in ministry, such as preaching, or just by our being there and getting to know people.
We suggest that a visit headed by senior Chester diocesan staff to Aru or Boga should take place every 2-3 years. In the interval, we should plan regular introductory visits for those in the diocese who would be interested in meeting our link partners. As regards Rooted in Jesus, some further trips will be required, but we look forward to this course being taken over by the Congolese church itself in the fullness of time. Visits by members of the Congolese Church to the UK would be more problematic, not least because of the language barrier, although many educated people speak English. This possibility would have to be thought through carefully.
2. Five Talents: Bishop Ande’s three priorities are for the church to be self-supporting; to improve training; and to build up the link between Aru and Boga. The latter has been discussed above and training is addressed below. Self-support does not mean there should be no financial input at all from the West: microfinance schemes can help to pump-prime development. With Bishop Ande’s blessing, Bishop Keith is going to explore the possibility of involving Five Talents in Aru.
3. Children and Young People: (See attached report from David Bell and Philip Alston) There is currently a single link between schools in Chester and Aru Dioceses. This should be maintained and encouraged. The ABC Link committee want to raise awareness of the link with children and leaders using a resource pack; hopefully similar school-to-school links will spring up as a result of this. In the same way, links between Sunday Schools will be established on the lines of the one set up in All Saints Marple.
4. Training: Bishop Ande, as well as other far-sighted colleagues, is anxious to change the way students are trained and educated. The traditional method is for teaching by monologue, followed with learning by rote. This encourages passivity and lack of initiative. He wants to find those who can teach the teachers and change this ethos to one of questioning, challenging, debate, research and innovation. He feels that development in DR Congo will remain stunted unless this change of culture takes place. Currently a possible link between the University of Chester and the Diocese of Aru is being considered. David Bell and Philip Alston in their report mention the possibility of involvement in further training.
5. Diocesan Projects in Aru: Aru Diocese is in the course of building a new two-storey diocesan office, which is a 5-year project. It is a joint enterprise, each parish, for instance, being responsible for providing a window. A guest house is also being constructed but is not yet completed; otherwise the team members would not have been accommodated in several houses. Bishop Keith suggested that Chester Diocese might be able to contribute to these schemes as happened with the building of Chester House, the guest house in Honiara, Melanesia. Bishop Keith also wondered whether we could help Aru Diocese establish an equivalent of the Chester Clergy Family Trust as many pastors in DRC struggle financially.
Bishop Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead
Ralph Kemp, NSM, Christchurch Chester
David Bell, Diocesan Children’s Adviser
Philip Alston, Children’s Worker, All Saints Marple
ROOTED IN JESUS TEAM
Martin Daly, Associate Vicar, St Mary’s Upton, Wirral (Leader)
James Gandon, Ordinand
John Hughes, Vicar, St John the Evangelist, Sandiway
Thia Hughes, Curate, St Michael’s, Middlewich
Margaret Owens, Vicar, Disley Parish
John Owens, Lay Reader, Disley Parish