Mbuji Mayi, Democratic Republic of Congo – A pastor in the Communauté Evangélique Mennonite au Congo has spearheaded a ministry of compassion to suffering prisoners in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jean-Richard Muteba Wa Mbuyi spends a lot of time ministering inside La Prison Centrale de Mbuji Mayi. His outreach began in March 2013, when, while walking by the prison, strains of a song from inside the prison walls gripped his attention: “We are dying of thirst / No water for days.”
Muteba laid aside all other responsibilities and entered the prison gates. He was quickly granted access to the rooms where approximately 800 people were being held while awaiting trial. All were desperate for water to drink.
In Congo, people accused of a crime are guilty until proven innocent. It can be several years before a judge reviews their cases. During this time, prisoners struggle to survive in cramped conditions.
Though prisoners’ families are expected to provide food for them, the prison normally ensures the availability of enough water to sustain life – except when water shortages in the nearby city create a scarcity.
Muteba carried the news of the thirsty prisoners to the Sangilayi Evangelical Mennonite Church, where he is part of the pastoral team. The church leaders decided to disburse some funds to pay for water for the parched prisoners.
With these funds, Muteba paid for several loads of water to be sent to the prison. The delivery system consists of men and boys going to streams with six 50-gallon jugs strapped to their bicycles.
In addition, Muteba visits the prison weekly to provide pastoral counseling to the prisoners. He used to fill his hours in the prison with preaching. However, Muteba has also learned through his theological studies at the Protestant University about the restorative power of listening.
Muteba hears about people who have been locked up for years on false charges, and about people who are starving because they have no family members in Mbuji Mayi to bring them food. Some people have been acquitted in a long-awaited trial, but remain in prison because they have no money for the exit fee.
Sometimes, the Sangilayi church’s prison ministry funds also pay the exit fee. Many of the prisoners join the congregation when they are freed. One of them, Daniel Kasongo, is now part of the pastoral team.
Muteba reports that his visits are a source of hope for the prisoners he visits. Rarely does Muteba enter the prison without hearing many thanks for the water his church provided when they were desperate – water that increases the fruitfulness of the gospel seeds he plants.
From a Mennonite Mission Network release by Lynda Hollinger-Janzen