Moving Forward with Hope in the DRC

EELCO Secretary General Mr Gilbert Ilunga Nkasa Talwa visited the LWF Communion Office in July 2014. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
EELCO Secretary General Mr Gilbert Ilunga Nkasa Talwa visited the LWF Communion Office in July 2014. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Interview with Lutheran Church Secretary General Nkasa Talwa

(LWI) - The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is scheduled to hold municipal elections between October and November 2014, provincial polls in 2015 and presidential elections in 2016. Lutheran church leader Mr Gilbert Ilunga Nkasa Talwa says civil society including churches must do their utmost to encourage citizens to exercise their right to choose political leadership that can build sustainable democratic processes in a context largely marred by poor governance and conflict over the country’s vast mineral resources.

In this interview with Lutheran World Information (LWI), Talwa, Secretary General of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Congo (EELCO), talks about the major issues facing DRC and EELCO, in a “young democracy still struggling with hope to build credible structures and institutions.”

What are the main issues that the Lutheran church is currently working on, and why are they important in the DRC context?

Firstly, let me say that the DRC and the Lutheran church are moving forward with hope despite the obvious internal conflict that has besieged the country especially in the eastern part for nearly two decades. It is unfortunate that conflict, displacement and resettlement have become major preoccupations for millions of civilians in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. However, our current plight is also about our own failure to elect political leaders who can nurture democracy including accountable leadership at all levels. That is why churches including EELCO are currently working with civil society partners and seeking government’s support to conduct meaningful civic education. This will enable eligible citizens participate in choosing local, provincial and national leaders who can move this country forward.

One cannot ignore the complexity of the DRC conflict—outside powers’ using proxy “political” groups and our [Congolese] own failureto manage our resources. However, the vicious cycle of violence to resolve conflict can be ended. I am convinced that by actively engaging CENI (Independent National Electoral Commission), religious communities and civil society can reach communities with the message that “voting and independent choice are democratic rights.” This will take time in a country that only held its first multiparty elections in 2006. Contentious as these might have been, and that questions about credibility were also raised about the 2011 election, the ballot is the only credible process and EELCO will continue to support that. We are a young democracy still struggling with hope to build credible structures and institutions.

For several years now, EELCO has had a leadership crisis that caused division in the church. Are the efforts to resolve the differences bearing fruit?

I started by saying we are moving forward with hope despite our struggles. The leadership crisis in EELCO since 2003 has caused a lot of pain in the parishes, between pastors and among congregation members, indeed 12 dark years. But thanks be to God, and the persistent accompaniment of our brothers and sisters in The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa (LUCCEA) and our partners in Germany, this conflict over church governance and properties is now over.

The two sides recently met again in Lubumbashi, this time under the mediation of a Lutheran Member of Parliament, and we have finally agreed to reconcile and reunify our church. The mutual forgiveness and reconciliation took place and we signed an agreement, committing ourselves to start working together for a bright future of EELCO. Our respective groups were led by the Presiding Bishop René Mwamba Sumaili and Bishop Nkulu Ngitu Yenda from the other side.

We also met with the Provincial Minister of Home Affairs and the Mayor of Lubumbashi, both of who expressed deep appreciation for our reconciliation and encouraged all of us to move forward together. The immediate steps included the 5 September official re-opening of the Cathedral of Epiphany in Lubumbashi, which the government had closed for four months due to the church conflict. This was followed by a public celebration of reconciliation and reunification on 7 September, conducted jointly by Presiding Bishop Sumaili and Bishop Yenda. Similar services were conducted in each of EELCO’s five dioceses.

How is EELCO approaching the Reformation anniversary in 2017?

For EELCO, the Reformation anniversary is an opportunity to re-evaluate the church and its future with respect to the Lutheran doctrine and DRC context. This includes analyzing how we can best use our human and material resources to strengthen our bonds of fellowship for a strong united Lutheran church. We plan to engage clergy, lay members and youth in the process.

EELCO collaborates with other Protestant churches under the ecumenical Church of Christ in Congo and with the Roman Catholic Church. We will reflect together on the church’s role in DRC and globally, and explore areas to strengthen collaboration or initiate new joint activities. While Christianity is the main religion for 80 percent of DRC’s population [over 65 million people], Muslims represent about 10 percent, and there are other religions too. Therefore we need to think together how religious organizations can help consolidate lasting peace in the country.

EELCO has been accompanying the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Burundi, why is this important?

The Congolese Lutheran church is a mission church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and a member of LUCCEA, both of which continue to provide spiritual and other important accompaniment. We accepted LUCCEA’s request to support the emerging church in neighboring Burundi in order to strengthen relations between the Lutheran churches in Burundi, DRC and Rwanda. Together, we can support peace building in Africa’s Great Lakes region, which has experienced serious political leadership crises.

What does it mean for the Congolese church to be part of a worldwide Lutheran communion?

We are proud to be part of the LWF which EELCO joined in 1986. Being part of the global Lutheran family is an assurance of support when we feel isolated and weak. Although we are less than 200,000 Lutherans in DRC, we feel that we are an integral part of the 72 million Lutherans throughout the world. Our joys and struggles in DRC are all the more important, because we are part of this global Lutheran communion.