Over 130 participants gathered for three days at Knoxville’s First Presbyterian Church to “Claim a New Day [as] Partners in Creating A New Congo.” Special guests from the DRC, Pastor Isaac Kalonji, President of the CPK and Dr. Serge Makolo Director of IMCK, focused on “Healing the Wounds of War while Laying the Foundation for Peace.” Elder Monique Misenga, also an International Peacemaker, spoke of “Empowering Women for Leadership.”
World Mission staff serving in Congo, Larry and Inge Sthreshley, addressed critical public health issues such as Ebola and measles along with advances in developing safe cook stoves and family gardens. Christi Boyd shared messages of hope growing out of the ecumenical Trauma Healing Program, “Healing Hearts.” Jeff Boyd spoke of the challenges within Presbyterian partner churches as they overcome the difficulties of the past and strengthen leadership through dialogue and education. Africa Area Coordinator, Debbie Braaksma brought a strong message of renewed engagement with partner churches as well as the collective congregations and presbyteries that make up the Congo Mission Network.
A special monetary gift from FPC Knoxville enabled the CMN to bring the three guests from Congo as well as leaders from U.S. partner organizations working in Congo. Beth Ann Caspersen from Equal Exchange shared the story of the Congo Coffee Project that benefits not only farmers but also the Panzi Hospital’s program to treat and restore women who are victims of sexual violence.The Enough Project’s Ayman Nagy told of Upstanders in Congo as well as in U.S colleges and communities working to end violence in Congo. Nathaniel Houghton lifted up the theme of “Empowering Youth for Leadership” as he recounted the success of the Congo Leadership Initiative in training young Congolese as entrepreneurs and community leaders.
New this year was a focus on Congolese refugees in the U.S. as Drocella Mugorewera, director of Bridge Refugee Services and herself a former refugee, called for advocacy in response to the U.S. government’s severe limits on refugees being resettled here.
Reports from break-out groups called for greater support for health ministries provided by the IMCK and CPK clinics, for more participation in education through Build Congo Schools and for renewed advocacy for US policies supporting peace and justice in the DRC. Effectiveness in all of the areas calls for the engagement of more congregations of the PCUSA with a special emphasis on younger members – one of the greatest challenges facing the Congo Mission Network in coming years. Members concluded the event by writing letters to be mailed to themselves committing to specific actions in 2020 to support the initiatives of the CMN on behalf of partners in Congo.