BUILD on the edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo

No offence to the Welsh but “an area the size of Wales” is often used as a convenient measure to grasp. For example, when looking at environmental impacts – whether rates of forest destruction or the scale of ice loss – Wales, at around 20,000 square kms, is a user-friendly unit.

It was interesting, therefore, to walk across the Rusizi River, which separates Rwanda and the D R Congo, and to pass from a country a little larger than Wales, which has eleven Anglican dioceses within it (four of which are in partnership with BUILD), and into a single diocese that is over four times the size of Wales. Bukavu Diocese covers nearly 84,850 square kms of the DRC’s 2.345 million.

Walking into the DRC at that point is to also walk into Bukavu city, a city that has undergone population explosion recently. A city that is still listed as having perhaps 250,000 people now hosts far more. Early in 2014 estimates were of over one million inhabitants, but some now say they are being conservative when suggesting that it contains at least five times that number in its growing and increasingly informal expanse. That in turn is due to the continued and intractable insecurity of North Kivu province, much of which lies within Bukavu Diocese.

It was therefore encouraging if a little daunting to chat with Bishop Sylvestre Bahati and to hear that “for Congo we need a new strategy for such a big country” when it comes to building the leadership capacity of the Church. Bishop Bahati explained why he sees BUILD as an ideal solution in a country with a unique blend of scale, insecurity and transport issues, which mean that traditional forms of training are sub-optimal. The diocese has three local bible schools serving its eleven archdeaconries, 85 parishes, 121 clergy, 235 evangelists, 460 catechists and 97,860 Christians. And there “the priorities are evangelism, church planting and the training of leaders.”

BUILD is at a very early stage. I spent time with our Biblical Studies, Practical Theology and Leadership development student Jean-Pierre Mukambilwa Watuna, the evangelism coordinator for the diocese (pictured above). Jean-Pierre, using local resources, has begun training four different groups with a total of 54 members, which was beyond expectation given the logistics. But due to distances most of the groups are meeting occasionally and he is looking for ways to build on this without losing momentum.

The fifteen lay readers and leaders in his urban parish of Kadutu, Bukavu, meet regularly however. They are “very receptive, learning in Kiswahili and wanting to continue in their teachings – they simply did not know about the ministry and the word of God and how it applies to leadership positions, now they know what is required”. He has also met with a dozen pastors in Nyamilima Archdeaconry near Goma. He shared that they “were full of joy, receptive and asked for more, as they come from troubled and traumatised areas of North Kivu and for them to get together is rare. This has helped them to gather and to pray together”. Finally he has been meeting with fifteen church and departmental leaders in Kabanda Archdeaconry and a dozen others in Chai Parish. And he is looking forward to meeting with the eleven archdeacons to share the vision with them. Pray for him and for Josephat Musseo and Jean Paul Matabaro, young men in the youth and evangelism departments who are keen to come to Uganda for the block training.

North Kivu Diocese itself, northern neighbour of Bukavu, has recently ‘downsized’ with the new Kamango Diocese being carved out of it and its new Bishop Daniel Sabiti was recently consecrated. Canon Stephen Ssenyonjo Kewaza, BUILD Officer for the COU attended and Bishop Sabiti shared with him that, “we are determined to work with BUILD in the enabling of our church leaders in leadership and bible knowledge for an efficient ministry in this new diocese”. Pray for BUILD as it seeks to respond in the eastern DRC, one step at a time.