The United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to work toward reconciliation and healing between indigenous pygmies and Bantus, the majority ethnic group, in the Tanganyika province.
The church has been leading peacebuilding efforts in districts of the Tanganyika Conference, including the villages of Manono, Kabalo and Nyunzu, where there has been conflict between pygmies and Bantus since 2013.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 630,000 people have been internally displaced due to violent clashes between the Twa (also known as pygmies) and the Bantu (mainly of the Luba ethnic group) since December 2016.
Last month, the U.N. refugee agency warned of “a humanitarian disaster of extraordinary proportions” in the DRC as Tanganyika “plunges further into violence, triggering spiraling displacement and human rights abuses,” said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic.
United Methodist Women in Tanganyika, particularly in Nyunzu, has been welcoming pygmies into the church and community. The women’s group also has initiated dialogue between the two groups and has been leading vocational training to empower both pygmy women and Bantus.
“Coming together with pygmies again in The United Methodist Church is a powerful sign of love, hope and peace in Nyunzu,” said Muzinga Bahati, chairperson of United Methodist Women for the district.
The skills training includes cooking, basic hygiene, sewing, knitting, nutrition and soap making. One of the goals is to help pygmy women meet their basic needs so that they can stop their nomadic lifestyles, which can be difficult, especially for children who aren’t able to attend school.
Gertrude Mutumpe, who led the soap-making workshop, said soap had been coming from companies in big cities, often taking weeks to get washing and laundry soap.
“Now, with United Methodist Women’s soap-making program, women make soap themselves. They use their own soap in their homes and they sell it to generate income. It helps to apportion in the local church, (support) schoolchildren and care for the family,” she said.
With these church initiatives, “there is a cohabitation between pygmies and Bantus,” said Kisimba Nyongololo, a pygmy man. “Tranquility and peace are coming.”
Ferdinand Nkulu Banza, pastor in charge of Kisima United Methodist Church in the Nyunzu district, said the programs are fostering respect within the community.
“Knowing each and everyone’s limits and respecting each other are values to be reinforced in the family and Nyunzu community,” he said. “Peace, unity and respect are values to be promoted in the church for Bantus and pygmies’ development.”
The Rev. Kongolo Muzila Nkulu Francois, a 70-year-old father of eight, is assigned to village mission and evangelism in the Kilwa village, which is 55 miles from Nyunzu. The United Methodist Church there has almost 300 pygmy members.
“I love to reach out to them. They are special people. They do not read but they are good at listening,” Kongolo said. “It needs love and determination to do ministry to pygmies. Sometimes, I wake at 2 a.m. and walk from Nyunzu to Kilwa and reach Kilwa in the morning. They are children of God and God needs their soul,” Kongolo said.
“As a pastor shepherding them, there is one Bible, one hymnal book. I read the Bible for them and teach them songs,” he said.
Kongolo hopes to one day have a Bible study program and provide audio Bibles to those in the remote area.
“Any initiative for Bible study or a manual for Sunday school for a children’s ministry will empower pygmy families and children who are growing. (The efforts would) strengthen indigenous people, community building and transformation,” he said.
Musau is the communicator of North Katanga Episcopal Area. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.