Building churches and numbers in East Congo

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East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda blesses the new Amani United Methodist Church in Goma, Congo, in October. The church is the 33rd new church built in eastern Congo over the past eight years as part of Unda's "Rise and Build" evangelism campaign. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.
East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda blesses the new Amani United Methodist Church in Goma, Congo, in October. The church is the 33rd new church built in eastern Congo over the past eight years as part of Unda's "Rise and Build" evangelism campaign. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.
Thousands of United Methodist faithful in eastern Congo have a new place to worship with the completion of a large, modern church in Amani.
  
The church is the 33rd new church to be built since 2012 as part of Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda’s “Rise and Build” campaign to strengthen evangelism.
 
According to 2020 annual conference reports, there are more than 500 United Methodist churches and some 850,000 members in the Eastern Congo Episcopal Area, which includes the East Congo, Kivu, and Oriental and Equator conferences. That number is up from the more than 665,000 professing members noted in the General Council on Finance and Administration’s 2017 central conference data, the most recent report compiled by the agency.
 
Unda inaugurated Amani United Methodist Church during the Kivu Conference in Goma in October.
 
“As soon as I arrived at the head of the episcopal area in East Congo, I invited everyone to rise and build, because we still had local churches that needed reconstruction given different events like natural disasters,” he said, noting that the former church in Amani was damaged by volcano eruptions on two different occasions.

The church was built with contributions from United Methodists in the region and support from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and First United Methodist Church in Martin, Tennessee.

“Today, it is the largest church — (called) the Cathedral — and this is now the pride of East Congo,” said Muthoma Bushiri, director of the bishop’s office.

Unda thanked Frido Kinkolenge, who serves as Africa area liaison for Global Ministries, who helped conceive the idea for the new, larger church and identified sources for the funding. In addition to supporting the construction of the church, Global Ministries also funded the rehabilitation of the United Methodist Orphanage in Goma around the same time.
Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda cuts the ribbon at the new Amani United Methodist Church in Goma, Congo, during a dedication in October. The modern church building can hold more than 1,000 people. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.
Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda cuts the ribbon at the new Amani United Methodist Church in Goma, Congo, during a dedication in October. The modern church building can hold more than 1,000 people. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.
Before the new church was built, members would worship in the open air. The area was devastated by the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in 2002 and 2017, and it also was affected by recent flooding that destroyed the district superintendent and pastor’s homes.

The Goma District church was formed in 1995, when the Rev. Paul Ndjeka Shango, a missionary during the arrival of Rwandan refugees in Congo, evangelized to more than 7,000 people who would become United Methodists.

During that time, people worshipped under a tent covered with a tarpaulin, but late pastor André Sumbu Akelele dreamed of one day erecting a great church, Bushiri said. With the help of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which was assisting the displaced, land was acquired for a church. However, the war of liberation in 1997 halted those plans.
 

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After the war, as evangelization efforts continued and the numbers kept growing, a small chapel was built. But it wasn’t until 2012 that plans for a larger church started brewing again under Unda’s leadership.

The Rev. Clément Lutala Kingombe, Goma District superintendent, and the Rev. Germain Masinda, Amani pastor, set their sights on building a large, modern church, with musical instruments and equipment.
 
“I am in the process of fulfilling the divine recommendation, which is also the mission of the church, to evangelize the world and make it a disciple of Jesus,” Kingombe said.

Richard Letshu, a lay leader at Ibanda United Methodist Church in the Kivu Conference, said the construction of this local church has strengthened evangelism in this part of the country. He thanked the bishop for the steps he has taken to help realize the work of God.

“With its capacity to welcome, we have the possibility of bringing together more than 1,000 people in this church,” he said.

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator for the Kivu Conference.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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