“Mission Friends.” That’s what my ancestors in what’s now the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) originally called themselves, and it’s a winsome phrase I’ve always enjoyed. It reflects our foundational understanding that Christians are called “to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ – evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and seeking justice for the oppressed” (to quote part of the ECC’s current vision statement) but to do so in fellowship with each other. So just as early Covenanters partnered together to accomplish work that was beyond the capacity of any one individual or congregation, today I’d like to invite my readers — whether they’re in the ECC or not — to become “Mission Friends” with us in a new partnership that seeks to minister to and equip over seven million people in one of the poorest, most war-torn countries in the world: the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
First, some history:
The ECC was originally formed by pietistic Swedish Lutheran immigrants who, rather than uniting with more confessional Swedish Lutheran immigrants to form a new American synod, decided to form a “Mission Covenant” in 1885. From the beginning, one of the chief reasons for its existence was to pool resources in support of missionary projects too large for any single congregation. Early Covenant missionaries headed to Alaska and China, but perhaps the most important field for our denomination has been the region around the Ubangi River in the Equateur Province of what’s now the Democratic Republic of Congo (known as Zaire from 1971-1997).
Preceded by our cousins in the Swedish Mission Covenant, the American Covenant arrived in what was still the Belgian Congo in 1937, invited to partner with the existing mission of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church. Among the Covenanters to serve in the Congo was the medical missionary Paul Carlson, who was arrested, tortured, and then shot by Simba rebels in 1964. (His death was the cover story in both Time and Life magazines.) His widow, Lois, wrote of his mission and martyrdom the following year in Monganga Paul (available fully online).
By mid-century, an indigenous Congolese church had taken root, thanks to pioneering pastors like Doko Kambeke (“Talking with Doko,” according to the Covenant missionary Sigurd Westberg, “was like sitting at the feet of the apostle Paul”) and lay leaders like the educator and evangelist Enoch Sakofio Way. (Any francophone readers can learn more about Doko and Sakofio at the online Dictionary of African Christian Biography; neither entry has yet been translated into English.) The Communauté Evangelique de l’Ubangi-Mombasa (CEUM) now has well over 200,000 members (larger than the ECC in North America) and 1600 congregations (almost twice as many as the ECC). The CEUM administers five hospitals and ninety-three clinics, a school system serving upwards of 80,000 children and youth, and micro-enterprise projects.
After a thirteen-year interruption because of the internecine conflict that began in 1996-97, Covenant missionaries returned to DR Congo in 2010 (currently seven long-term and four short-term), and the ECC works with the CEUM, Opportunity International, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and other participants in the Paul Carlson Partnership to address poverty in Central Africa through health care, economic development, and education.
Then, starting this year, the Covenant Church entered a unique partnership with CEUM and World Vision (which itself has a long history in the Congo) that will, in the words of ECC president Gary Walter,
result in community-identified initiatives around clean water, nutrition, education, health, and micro-enterprise that will benefit everyone, while multiplying Congolese leadership for replicating these efforts.
Called Covenant Kids Congo, this program aims to take advantage of the return of relative stability to the Equateur Province (population: approximately 7.5 million) in order to address, at a grass roots level, some of the severe problems afflicting the country.
In the 2011 United Nations Human Development Index, DR Congo ranks 187th out of 187 countries thanks to a life expectancy of 48 years, a per capita gross national income of $280, and adults 25 or older averaging only 3.5 years of schooling. The country is also in the bottom eight globally for acute malnutrition. Three out of four Congolese do not have reliable access to clean water. And more than 80,000 of the country’s young children die of malaria every year.
Covenant Kids Congo focuses on five areas: (learn more from this brochure, quoted below)
Water: Drilling new wells, piping water from springs, and protecting existing sources in order to provide water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering crops and livestock.
- Health & Hygiene: pre- and neo-natal care, vaccinations, HIV-AIDS awareness, training for parents and health care workers, and supplies for clinics.
- Food & Agriculture: providing seeds, tools, and training in agriculture and animal husbandry, plus better storage for periods of drought.
- Education & Literacy: programs for parents, literacy training for children and adults, building schools, and training teachers — with a particular focus on helping girls to attend school.
- Economic Development: micro-loans and business training.
Click on the Covenant Kids Congo link to learn more (or the graphic on the righthand side of this blog). If you’d like to contribute, you can donate through the ECC website — or sponsor a child in the Equateur Province for $40 per month via World Vision.