Kinshasa, DR Congo—Two separate meetings of Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Africa representatives occurred on successive weekends at the end of October and early November 2011 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Together they marked the “end of the beginning” of a five year long process to put into place a new structure for fellowship and collaboration among MWC member churches in Africa.
The first gathering was a workshop of Central African MWC General Council delegates, while the second was the annual meeting of the Africa Caucus Executive Committee.
The new caucus process began In March of 2006 at the MWC General Council meetings in Pasadena, California, where delegates of African Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches agreed that the MWC Africa Caucus would serve as the continental conference for Anabaptist churches in Africa. An implementation plan was developed by MWC staff and approved by the caucus in July 2009 at the Paraguay assembly. Key elements of the plan were regional training workshops for African General Council delegates, and the creation of a caucus executive committee.
Regional workshops were subsequently held in Addis Ababa Ethiopia for Eastern African churches (August of 2010), in Accra, Ghana for West African churches (February 2011), and in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (March 2011) for Southern African churches. The Kinshasa, DR Congo gathering in October 2011 for Central African churches completed the regional trainings.
A combined total of 65 people participated in the workshops, including 35 of the 37 Africa Caucus members. During the workshops caucus members learned about MWC history and mission and the expectations of General Council delegates. Workshop participants also debated the newly developed statutes for the Africa caucus item by item, with each region making proposals for modifications.
Another key activity of the workshops was sharing the gifts and challenges of each church and each region. Many expressed the need for more exchanges among the Anabaptist-related churches of a given region. “Even though we’re not far from Kinshasa, we feel very isolated from other Mennonites,” explained Garcia Pedro Domingos, president of the Igreja da Comunidade Menonita em Angola (Community Mennonite Church of Angola). “It is only when we go to MWC assemblies that we meet our Mennonite brothers and sisters next-door.”
This sense of isolation and desire for more regional fellowship was expressed in every region. Theophilus Tetteh Akoso of the Ghana Mennonite Church gave voice to many when he stressed that “as a caucus we must find ways to strengthen our connections and sharing at every level.”
Africa Caucus Executive Committee members were glad to be able to meet in DR Congo, home to one of the largest bodies of Mennonites in the world. For most of the committee members, including MWC President Danisa Ndlovu, it was their first time in Kinshasa. Other committee members present were Thuma Hamukang’andu (Zambia), Mawangu Francisca Ibanda (Congo), Rebecca Osiro (Kenya), Emelia Amexo (Ghana), and Timothy Lind (Congo). Tigist Gelagle (Ethiopia), the Young Anabaptist network (YAB) representative for Africa, was also present as an observer, as was Toss Mukwa (Congo), consultant.
The primary agenda of the committee was to review the feedback coming from the four regional training workshops, and to prepare an agenda for the Africa Caucus meeting in May 2012 in Switzerland. After studying the proposed changes to the caucus structure coming from each regional group, the committee edited a revised constitution to be presented to the full caucus in May. They also heard reports from each of the four regions, as well as a challenge to incorporate the perspectives of youth in a report from Tigist on the YAB network.
On Sunday 6 November a special inter-Mennonite service was planned at the Mopulu congregation of the Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Congo Mennonite Community—CMCo). Mennonite congregations from throughout the city, and from all three Congo Mennonite conferences, as well as official conference representatives were invited to a joint worship and welcome service. Several choral groups, including the inter-Mennonite women’s choir, performed for the occasion, and MWC president Ndlovu gave a sermon based on Ephesians 4:17 and following, in which he implored Anabaptists to embrace unity and turn away from all manner of falsehood and corruption.
Despite a late start due to torrential downpours and localized flooding just prior to the service, an enthusiastic crowd was eventually on hand for the occasion. Rev. Joly Birakara, Vice-President of CMCo, gave an official welcome to the committee and also invited MWC to return in 2012 to participate in the events planned to celebrate 100 years of relationships between North American Mennonites and Congolese. “We want you to be with us not only when we are experiencing difficulties, but also on occasions of joy and celebration” Birakara said.
- Tim Lind, MWC Congo