Communities of Mission Practice in the Congo
By Jeff Boyd, Regional Liaison for Central Africa
Dear family, friends and supporters,
Back in 2007, I joined three members of First Presbyterian Church, Evanston, Illinois, when they traveled to Congo. We stopped at many Presbyterian primary and secondary schools and later facilitated a process through which Congolese educators and church leaders set their priorities to improve education in their schools: safe and durable infrastructures; textbooks for all teachers; in-service development for teachers and administrators; transportation for school supervisors; and better access to quality education for girls. Numerous visits have ensued to follow up on progress, review plans and share experiences.
This pioneer effort reinforces the endeavors of other Presbyterian groups accompanying our Congolese partners in their educational ministries. Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, has helped pay for a PC(USA) mission worker serving the education program of the Presbyterian Community in Congo. By supporting the educational ministries of its Nganza and Tshibaji counterparts, the Alabama Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley contributes to the priorities of the denomination as a whole. Presbyterian Women has awarded Birthday and Thank Offering grants to the educational programs of both Congolese partner churches.
Individual Presbyterians are also undertaking initiatives that range from fund-raising activities such as crocheting necklaces, organizing church fairs, and submitting proposals to Rotary Clubs, to advocacy, calling on the U.S. government to invest more in Congo’s education sector and to bolster the Congo peace process.
Education has historically been a vital Presbyterian ministry in Congo. Today Presbyterians from Kentucky, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia join those above to realize the educational goals of our Congolese partners. They belong to the Congo Education Excellence group (CEE), an important mission support network.
The CEE meets regularly by a conference call that also includes the World Mission Africa office, mission personnel and, logistics permitting, Presbyterian educators in Congo. Exchange visits help broaden perspectives while enlightening partners on donor standards for planning, accounting, evaluating and reporting as they seek to broaden their support base to face the daunting challenge of educating 207,000 students in more than 800 Presbyterian schools.
“Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership” is the title of PC(USA)’s 2003 mission policy statement. The Congo Education Excellence group exemplifies a contemporary model of how our connectional domestic church does international mission through internal and external partnerships.
And yet in recent years church mission activities have proliferated apart from denominational efforts. Presbyterian World Mission recognized potential in this changing landscape to engage Presbyterians to support our traditional mission partners and their programs.
“Communities of mission practice” such as the Congo Education Excellence group were introduced as a way to unleash that potential. World Mission considers a partnership to be a community of mission practice when each of three partner entities is represented: World Mission, a global PC(USA) partner, and Presbyterian constituents in the United States (like congregations, presbyteries, mission networks, validated and other constituent mission support groups), who all bring their passion and particular gifts into their partnership. Through communities of mission practice, Presbyterians do mission collectively!
All Presbyterian mission efforts in Congo converge into the Congo Mission Network, a large pool of U.S. Presbyterians who are involved with PC(USA) mission partners, be it in health, education, evangelism, or development. Recognizing the importance of education ministries in Congo, the October 2011 Congo Mission Network meeting centered on education.
Another example that illustrates communities of mission practice is the collaborative effort around the Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai (IMCK). The Medical Benevolence Foundation, Myers Park Presbyterian Church, World Mission, and the Mennonite and Presbyterian communities in the Congo have all demonstrated steadfast commitment to IMCK’s health ministry. The circle is even larger, with scholarships for nursing students from New Castle Presbytery as well as Presbyterians writing newsletters, praying for the work, and financially supporting it.
At times health professionals share their expertise during a single mission trip, but American administrative skills do not automatically take root when transplanted to Africa. Rather, relationships need long-term dedication to weather different understandings and priorities. This is why, accompanied by mission personnel, Myers Park Presbyterian Church has already sent multiple teams with expertise in managing human and financial resources to better comprehend the Institution’s difficulties and to explore, with leadership from IMCK, the churches, and World Mission, effective approaches to face the challenges. Meanwhile, the Medical Benevolence Foundation is refurbishing the hydroelectric dam that provides water and electricity to the hospital and nursing schools.
This is how Presbyterian constituents, World Mission and our Congolese partners form communities of mission practice focused on education and health in the Congo. The “community” is diverse, and unity does not mean there is always agreement. Disparity in affluence and expertise can easily distort a relationship into one of dominance and dependency. That is why, as Presbyterian mission practitioners, we are bound by common principles of mutuality and respect as outlined in the 2003 policy statement.
Grace and peace,
Jeff and Christi
The Congo Mission Network is among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.
- Download this article as a pdf
- Subscribe to Presbyterian World email newsletter and Mission Crossroads magazine. Sign up →