Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda has been re-elected as a United Methodist bishop by delegates at the Congo Central Conference meeting.
“If I had not worked hard, you would not have chosen me," Unda said. "This election shows your choice in 2012 was not wrong."
Unda was the first bishop elected March 18 at the quadrennial meeting in Kamina, Democratic Republic of Congo. On the first ballot, he received 277 of 287 votes cast. He was elected from the East Congo Episcopal Area, and will continue to serve that area.
He was first elected bishop in 2012 after the East Congo Episcopal Area was created by General Conference. Now that he has been re-elected, Unda will serve as bishop for life.
In his first term, Unda concentrated on rebuilding sanctuaries destroyed during war, but his focus now will be on building a skills center for women.
“Women suffered the most during my area’s civil war and the center would equip them with training to improve their lives. When you heal a woman, you heal children and the nation too,” Unda said.
During his tenure as bishop, Unda has overseen a part of the Congo that has experienced recurring violence since 1998, with millions dead or displaced from their homes. Geographically, the East Congo Conference is the largest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The area defined by this conference encompasses the provinces of Maniema and North and South Kivu to the east — bordering Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda — and Oriental and Equateur across the northern part of the country — which borders South Sudan and the Central African Republic. The episcopal offices are in the city of Kindu, the capital of Maniema Province.
Even today, some parts of the conference are unsafe for travel.
Mostly recently, United Methodists were among the dead in an August 2016 massacre in Beni that has been linked to the rebel Allied Democratic Forces, a partly Islamist armed group of Ugandan origin.
“East Congo is the part of our country that is most affected by repeated wars since 1960 when Congo became independent,” Unda said at the time.
Unda has worked with the Tennessee, Memphis and California-Pacific Conferences to collaborate on “Congo Women Arise” — an initiative to address the needs of rape survivors in a location often called the “rape capital of the world.” Research reports that 12 percent of the country’s women have been raped at least once and that 48 women are raped every hour.
Unda has been working to evangelize the indigenous people known as pygmies, as well as get them better access to education and health care.
Unda is the youngest child in a family of six. His mother died when he was 8 months old and he grew up under the care of missionaries. He studied theology in Mulungushi.
His wife died 10 years ago, and he has eight surviving children.
A consecration service for the three new bishops will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 19 at Kamina. Unda was consecrated when he was first elected.
Three Congolese bishops have retired: Bishops Kainda Katembo (Southern Congo), Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo (North Katanga) and Bishop David Yemba (Central Congo) from Congo Central.
There are seven central conferences — Africa, Central and Southern Europe, Congo, Germany, Northern Europe and Eurasia, Philippines and West Africa. Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference re-elected Bishop Christian Alsted last October, the Philippines Central Conference re-elected its three bishops in December and West Africa elected Bishop Samuel Quire Jr. for Liberia in December.
Germany Central Conference elected the Rev. Harald Rückert as bishop earlier this week. There were no bishop elections in the Africa or Central and Southern Europe central conferences.
Chikwanah is a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference.