TSHIKAPA, Democratic Republic of Congo — More than 200 teachers have received training in Evangelization Through Literacy initiated by female leaders of three Mennonite denominations.
The new teachers are already teaching more than 1,500 adults to read and write.
Many of the 61 participants in an August teacher training in Tshikapa came from regions where, until recently, war raged among insurgents, government troops, militias and tribal groups.
Among them was Homer Kasanda-Bende, a pastor who serves in a village 12 miles from the Angola border. In a break from the intensive weeklong training, he told his story.
“I was captured by the Kamwina Nsapu,” he said, naming an insurgent group. “They held a gun to my head. I was sure I was going to die, like so many others. One of them said to me, ‘I hear you are a pastor. Is that right?’
“I said it was true. Then he said, ‘If you are a pastor, pray to your God, and he will make you vanish.’ But I told him, ‘The glory of God is not magic. It is within me.’ ”
The leader of the insurgents decided to let him go and told his followers, “If you shoot this man, he will die, but things will not go well for us.”
The pastor was eager to take his new teaching skills home to people whose lives had been disrupted by the violence.
“We had 10 [Mennonite] congregations in the region,” he said. “Now we have only seven. Many people fled to Angola during the war, and they are just now coming back. Many older people had never learned to read and write, and the young people had to drop out of school.”
Many of the Tshikapa trainees, including eight newly ordained women, are pastors and educators who were quick to grasp the adult-education principles prescribed by the Literacy International instruction methods, under Congolese instructor Timothée Sila.
Adolphine Tshiama, president of the women of the Mennonite Church of Congo and herself a former teacher and principal, helped drill the trainees in the rigorous method until late in the evening. These sessions were followed by prayer and singing.
As a result, more than a third of the participants finished the final exam with distinction. At the top of the class was one of the ordained women, Marie-Louise Ntumba, 65, a graduate of Kalonda Bible Institute. Workshop leaders were especially pleased that the trainees who excelled, such as Kasanda-Bende, came from remote parts of the region.
Meanwhile, graduation ceremonies are being held for the newly literate students of volunteer teachers who have formed classes in the past year and a half in other parts of the country.
Among them is Kizela, a woman in Kikwit who suffered paralysis from polio as a toddler and never went to school. In August, Kizela wrote a letter in Kikongo thanking those responsible for her new skill, which allows her to read the Bible. She compared herself to a blind person seeing for the first time.
Another proud new writer, a widow named Anselme, sent pages of neat homework along with Mennonite Brethren leader Marie Fumana to show her skills.
Love and Bible lessons
The texts incorporate Bible lessons. Teachers are encouraged to express love and support for their students, as well as their own testimonies. Many students are already members of the congregations where classes are held, but neighbors are also being drawn to the churches.
A typical report, from Pastor Consolette Mulonzo of the Mount Sinai congregation in Kinshasa, lists 45 students, 35 of whom have completed 57 lessons in six months and are ready to take the competency exam. One has joined the church.
New teachers in rural regions and cities report overwhelming demand for their services. While the first round of teacher trainings has been completed, with the support of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, project leaders in Congo request prayer as they meet soon to consider next steps to address the needs.
Support for the project may be directed to AIMM, designated “Congo literacy.”