The fragile nation of DR Congo* has many needs – and many opportunities to show the love of Christ in practical ways. CMS missionaries David and Prue Boyd and Graham and Wendy Toulmin share how they are working to care for a struggling people.
The rivers, plains and rainforests of a large country in the centre of Africa are home to the most biodiverse group of animals on the continent. But this idyllic landscape, along with the people of this nation, has fallen victim to violence and wars that still scar the country, physically and socially.
Thirty years ago, this country was called the Republic of Zaire. In 1985, CMS sent a team to Zaire, and for 10 years the team worked hard to provide a strong Biblical foundation for the struggling Anglican Church. But following a massive influx of Rwandan and Burundian refugees in 1994, and as a result of ongoing corruption, civil wars broke out. Since then the country has seen almost constant strife and conflict. Tens of thousands of people have died each year due to conflict-related factors, and the CMS team was forced to leave the country in the mid-90s as it became too unsafe to stay.
Now Zaire is named the Democratic Republic of Congo. But despite its claim to democracy, DR Congo is ranked as the eighth most fragile state in the world*, meaning it is extremely vulnerable to conflict or collapse. Corruption is widespread and violence continues.
In recent years, however, CMS has taken the opportunity to once again have a presence in this struggling nation. In the midst of political and economic fragility, there are many opportunities to show Christ’s love in practical ways. God has opened doors for CMS workers to return to DR Congo, to help rebuild a failing health system, support the Congolese Church, and display his care to the suffering and struggling.
Graham & Wendy: Bright smiles
In 1988, Graham Toulmin opened his first Dental Clinic in DR Congo. One or two Congolese nurses would work with Graham to treat and provide fillings, extractions, dentures and broken jaws. While not formally trained, these nurses continued to provide dental services through two Congo wars, even when the Toulmins were forced to leave the country in 1991.
Graham and his wife Wendy returned to DR Congo in 2015, and since then they have been involved in training dentists in a more formal capacity.
As Graham and Wendy share, “There are needs everywhere. Amongst the adult population, especially the elderly, people do not come for treatment until the problem is chronic. Six to ten years ago, children had few dental problems. That has changed with the advent of cheap sugary snacks, and tooth decay has risen alarmingly.”
Working in partnership with the Anglican Church of DR Congo, Graham and Wendy’s goal is to place trained Congolese dentists in each diocese. These dentists will then develop their own vision for how dental services can be delivered to communities and villages in their region at reasonable cost to patients, while providing enough income to sustain the work.
By investing in training and handing over to Congolese dentists, Graham and Wendy are seeking to slowly make an impact in the lives of people who have suffered greatly without proper dental care. They share, “We work in a Christian diocese which is heavily stocked with pastors and evangelists, all of whom understand their culture and know languages far better than we ever will. They do the work of overt preaching and witnessing. Our clinic supports this work by daily demonstrating the gospel in practical ways: helping the poor, the widows, the disadvantaged, the blind – making life more bearable and extending life for the local population. It is the gospel in action.”
David & Prue: Open ears
Further south in Bukavu, David and Prue Boyd are also working within the Anglican Church to strengthen resources in this struggling nation. They first served as missionaries here from 1985 to 1996, and returned again in 2013.
David is involved in theological education and training to support and nurture church leadership in DR Congo. Prue helps hearing-impaired people at their town’s general hospital and at a centre for the handicapped, Heri Kwetu. She advises doctors, parents and teachers about how to interact with the deaf, and how to include them in family, school and community life. She is also training workers at each centre to help with this work.
This ministry can be a challenge. Prue is one of only two audiologists in the whole of DR Congo, serving a population of 75 million. David and Prue also reflect, “We both often feel that we are not making many inroads in our respective ministries. Corruption and dishonesty, authoritarianism, inadequate education, incompetence and lack of resources make us feel that we are swimming against powerful currents.”
However, despite the challenges, David and Prue are encouraged by progress being made as Congolese people learn how to practically work with the hearing impaired. They are also excited about the potential of this work to display Christ: “Ministering to others in this way points to Jesus’ love and care for all people … particularly in the context of a Christian institution that has been set up to engage in this ministry. Where possible and appropriate, it can lead to conversations about a patient’s need for a new relationship with God that will go beyond this earthly life and this earthly body. We hope that our various ministries serve to increase, even in some tiny way, the influence of the gospel in the nation of DR Congo.”
* DR Congo is ranked eighth in the Fragile States Index 2016 by the Fund for Peace, a non-profit research organisation – fsi.fundforpeace.org.
Ministry in places like DR Congo can be frustrating and exhausting. Write to the Boyds or Toulmins to encourage them, or contact your church’s link missionary to urge them to persevere despite the challenges. For contact details, visit cms.org.au/missionary.