Methodists End 10-Day Africa Conference

United Methodist leaders from throughout Africa ended a ten-day conference at the Mindolo Ecumenical Center in Kitwe, Zambia earlier this week.

The July 8-19 conference, Shaping the Future with Hope, Healing and Deliverance, brought together both clergy and lay leaders from 19 of the 20 United Methodist annual conferences on the continent. Sponsored by the Special Program on Substance Abuse and Related Violence, (SPSARV) of the General Board of Global Ministries, the gathering offered an opportunity for networking among the annual conferences.

“This conference has been very beneficial because all the issues we discussed here are part of the situation we are living,” said Rev. Benoit Mahamudi Ngereza, district superintendent in Kindu in the East Congo Conference.

During the conference, those with active ministries in the areas of alcohol and drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, counseling, drug-related violence and trauma healing shared their experiences and the resources they’ve developed. Delegates said afterwards that they were going home with a renewed sense of hope and with ideas and tools that they feel will help them to nurture even more effective substance abuse ministries in their annual conferences.

“I’m working with women who have experienced rape and these women have been infected with numerous sexually transmitted diseases,” said Rev. Mwayuma Ayenda, the women’s ministry coordinator in the annual conference. “If a woman admits she has been raped, her family will reject her and if she is married, her husband will throw her out into the street. This conference has given some ideas of how to help these women, especially concerning HIV/AIDS.”

Linda Bales, a staff member of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), noted that the annual conferences are doing a lot of work to address issues of drugs and HIV/AIDS, poverty and violence – much of it with very sparse resources. The challenges confronting annual conferences in the Democratic Republic of Congo are similar to those confronting churches in Angola, Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Since GBCS is an agency that collaborates with and supports the work of SPSARV, Bales said stories like those from East Congo are very persuasive ammunition for its advocacy efforts.

“I had a number of conversations with some young women about the possibility of doing some joint training around HIV/AIDS, sexuality and domestic violence,” said Bales. “But the greater benefits to being part of this conference are the stories I’m taking back that will open people’s eyes even more to the issues here in Africa.”

Before leaving the conference, delegates laid out the action plans they’d developed that they’ll take back home to their leadership and churches. Many chose to focus on awareness, education and counseling, with a particular emphasis on youth and young adults. Others planned to tackle HIV/AIDS prevention and interventions to support persons living with AIDS.

According to the General Bard of Global Ministries, a key outcome of the conference was the formation of a United Methodist African Task Force on Substance Abuse and Related Violence. Rev. Vienna Mutezo from the Zimbabwe Area was elected to chair the task force. She will be supported in this work by a team that includes Monga Joseph Ilunga of South West Katanga as vice chair, Mrs. Beatrice Fofanah of Sierra Leone as treasurer and Mr. João Manuel da Graça of West Angola as secretary.

The task force will serve as the administrative arm of the substance abuse prevention work that has been launched in Africa. Its mandate is to equip, support and document the ongoing work of the various annual conferences.