AKRON, Pa. — In a world where differences and distance often divide people of faith, Mennonite youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are participating in an exchange program to strengthen ties among the country’s three Mennonite conferences.
The exchange program, called Menno-Monde, or Menno-World, allows youth to spend a week or two living with a family, attending church and learning to know youth from a Mennonite conference different from their own.
Developed in 2012, the program is sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and the three Congolese Mennonite conferences: Congo Mennonite Church, Congo Mennonite Brethren Church and Evangelical Mennonite Church.
The conferences send youth to different parts of the country to help establish relationships that reach across borders that historically have divided Congolese Mennonites.
Designed for people age 15 to 25, Menno-Monde has given youth like Gina Molumbe Mongala, 24, the opportunity to explore what it means to be Mennonite in another part of their country.
For Mongala, participating in Menno-Monde was the first time she traveled “into the country” without her family.
“The day I was to leave, I had no appetite all day,” she said.
Mongala is a member of the Peniel congregation of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo. She visited a congregation in Bandundu City, about 150 miles northeast of Kinshasa, her home area.
“At church, one Saturday, I preached to the youth, for the very first time in my life,” she said. “I showed the Sunday school teachers how to use lesson books. Since I am a Sunday school teacher in my own church, I had brought some booklets for the children and for the teachers.”
Menno-Monde, which was developed by MCC Congo’s Advisory Committee, has supported five exchanges so far that involved 13 men, 12 women and 39 total congregations. Exchanges take place during school holidays at Christmas and Easter and during a long break in July and August.
So far exchanges have taken place within Bandundu and Bas-Congo Provinces in western Congo, though Menno-Monde coordinators hope future exchanges will eventually include Mennonite congregations in central and eastern Congo.
Judith Malembu Fumulombi, 25, from the Sanga-Mamba congregation of the Congo Mennonite Church in Kinshasa, worked with the women’s choir and the youth choir at her host church, Mennonite Brethren ETAC congregation in Kikwit. She leads a praise group and directs the youth choir at her home church.
“All my life I will serve my God in the Mennonite church, and I am going to fight for the unity of the church in my congregation in particular and in the Mennonite Church of Congo in general.”
According to Suzanne Lind, an MCC representative in Congo, youth “are eager to think in terms of Mennonite rather than [separate Mennonite] denominational tags.” Lind and her spouse, Tim, are from Three Rivers, Mich.
Menno-Monde coordinator Leya Muloba Buabua hopes the exchange program can promote Anabaptist values and lay a firm foundation for youth to consider participating in one of MCC’s international exchange programs, International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) or Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN), a joint program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference.
According to Mennonite World Conference’s 2012 World Directory, the Congo Mennonite Church has 110,000 members in 798 congregations, the country with the world’s second highest number of Anabaptists; the Congo Mennonite Brethren Church has 101,626 members in 874 congregations; and the Evangelical Mennonite Church has 23,576 members in 96 congregations.
Sheldon C. Good is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.