In a world where differences and distance often divide people of faith, Mennonite youth in the Democratic Republic of Congo are participating in an exchange program to strengthen ties among the country’s three Mennonite conferences.
The exchange program, called Menno-Monde (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. 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 aged 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 Molumbe Mongala, a member of the Peniel congregation of the Mennonite Brethren conference, participating in Menno-Monde was the first time she travelled “into the country” without her family. “The day I was to leave, I had no appetite all day,” she says. She visited a congregation in Bandundu City, about 240 kilometres northeast of Kinshasa, her home area.
“At church one Saturday, I preached to the youth for the very first time in my life,” she says. “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.”
Judith Malembu Fumulombi, 25, from the Sanga-Mamba congregation of the Mennonite Communion of Congo in Kinshasa, the capital city, worked with the women’s choir and the youth choir at her host church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Kikwit. She leads a praise group and directs the youth choir at her home church.
Menno-Monde, which was developed by Mennonite Central Committee Congo’s advisory committee, has supported five exchanges so far that involved 13 men, 12 women and 39 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 in western Congo, but Menno-Monde coordinators hope future exchanges will eventually include Mennonite congregations in the central and eastern parts of the country.
According to Suzanne Lind, an MCC representative in Congo, youth “are eager to think in terms of Mennonite, rather than [separate Mennonite] denominational tags.”
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 MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP) or the Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN!), a joint program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference.