Congo bishop: Nets, wells saving lives

— A United Methodist bishop from the Democratic Republic of the Congo shared the Gospel at Arkansas’ Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church this week, and thanked the state’s Methodists for providing clean drinking water and mosquito netting to his country’s people.

Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo said lives have been saved because of the generosity of Arkansas Methodists, who have paid for 26 wells to be dug in the northern part of the Republic.Arkansas Methodists also collected more than $200,000 to buy 20,000 nets to protect sleeping Congolese from mosquito-borne malaria.

In an interview, Ntambo praised his fellow MethodistsNkulu Ntanda Ntambofor responding to his people’s needs.

“Our suffering - they respond to it. They feel it,” he said Monday. “When we cry, they hear. Whenwe ask, they give.”

Arkansas Bishop Charles Crutchfield invited Ntambo to speak at the annual meeting. This is the African bishop’s third trip to the state.

“We have a very strong relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Arkansas Methodist spokesman Martha Taylor.

The North Katanga Conference, which Ntambo oversees, is a sister conference to the Arkansas Conference.

Although Arkansans sow financially in Africa, they reap spiritually, Taylor said. “It’s not a one-way street. We have the ability to blessthem in certain ways, but they bless us as well.”

The African nation, formerly known as Zaire, has roughly 71 million people and sits on the equator. Its land area is roughly one-fourth the size of the United States.

Torn repeatedly by civil war since its independence from Belgium in 1960, millions died between 1998 and 2003.

The average Congolese earns less than $1 a day, Ntambo said. The typical man lives to be 53 years old. The typical woman has six children. Roughly one out of every 12 babies dies during the firstyear of life, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.

“When we have children, we don’t know how many of them will live,” Ntambo said. The bishop said eight of his 13 own brothers and sisters died during childhood.

But clean water, made possible by Arkansas Methodists, means less disease, fewer deaths and more hope in village after village, Ntambo said.

The message of the Gospel is also falling on “very good soil,” Ntambo said.

One hundred years ago, there were roughly 200 Methodists in Ntambo’s country. Today, there are hundreds ofthousands.

“The United Methodist Church, back home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a very powerful leading church today,” Ntambo said.

A United Methodist bishop since 1996, Ntambo was elected to his nation’s senate in 2007.

“Congo is over 80 percent Christian, which means themissionaries did a very good job, and we are very thankful for their commitment and dedication,” Ntambo said.

After years of civil war, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is now increasingly peaceful and stable, “a country in which God is in control,” Ntambo said. “Christianity is all we need. It’s all we have today. It has transformed us.”

Religion, Pages 16 on 06/12/2010

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