“Jambo! My name is Thorben…” and in like manner did each theology student from Wuppertal introduce themselves to the cheers of about 1000 gathered Christians during the Sunday morning worship service held in the Baptist church of Virunga in the city of Goma, DRC. This was the first time that such a group of students had visited the region. Thorben was one of the participants of an intercultural study program carried out by the Institute for Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies (IITIS) from the Protestant University of Wuppertal/Bethel (KiHo) in cooperation with the United Evangelical Mission (UEM).
During 24 February to 11 March 2014, a total of 10 students from Evangelical Church in the Rhineland (EKiR), the Evangelical Church of Westphalia (EKvW), and the Church of Hanover, had the opportunity to experience the many challenges confronting the people and churches within the “failed state” region of eastern Congo. The first module of an envisioned multi-year study program, supported from the ecumenical department of the EKiR and the EKvW, along with the KiHo Foundation and the Friends Association of the KiHo, aims to “introduce future pastors to the issues of intercultural ecumenism while they are still studying,” explains Prof. Dr. Henning Wrogemann, Chair of Mission and Religious Studies and Ecumenical (MRÖ) at the KiHo Wuppertal / Bethel and initiator of the program. “These first-hand experiences,” he continues, “are just as important as scientific preparation and evaluation within the normal course of study.”
To prepare for the trip, the students participated in a course offered at the KiHo on the DRC, its political and religious history, during the 2013/2014 winter semester. This was co-taught by Prof Wrogemann, Dr. Claudia Währisch-Oblau of the UEM, Dr. John Flett (MRÖ), and Professor Andrea Bieler, Chair of Practical Theology at KiHo Wuppertal/Bethel.
A further key person was Kambale Kahongya, native of Goma and long serving Baptist minister with the Baptist Church in Central Africa (CBCA), currently pursuing his doctorate under the supervision of Prof. Wrogemann in the field of Mission and the Science of Religion. He is also a fellow of the UEM and will return to Goma to take up a senior position at the Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs (ULPGL). Pastor Kahongya is known throughout Goma and arranged all the contacts, translated, and helped the students interpret what they were seeing, hearing, and feeling.
The trip itself included visits to different prayer, worship and healing services in different Revivalist, Pentecostal, and mission churches, as well as African Initiated Churches, such as the Kimbanguists. There were also visits to one of the main refugee camps, to hospitals and orphanages, and with the President of the CBCA. All of this impressed upon the group the diversity of the Christian witness in deed and in word, and the massive and ongoing challenges which have resulted from 30 years of war, the Hutus/Tutsis genocide in Rwanda and Burundi, the regular occurrence of torture and mass rape, and the effects of HIV/AIDS and widespread corruption.
All participants of the study program returned with a diverse set of lens through which they might interpret their further studies and ministries. During the summer semester 2014, the KiHo Wuppertal / Bethel will offer a MRÖ seminar on Intercultural understanding (intercultural hermeneutics) will be offered at the KiHo Wuppertal / Bethel. This will provide an opportunity to reflect further on these events before, in the winter semester 2014/2015, preparing for the academic program of 2015 where a similar trip is planed for Indonesia, with a special focus on the theme of Christian-Islamic.
Image 2: Street scene, Bukavu, East-Kongo
Image 3: Healing und exorcism in a Revival Church in Goma
Image 4: After the Revival church service
Image 5: Sharing of experiences and follow-up of daily impressions
Image 6: In the worship service of the Baptist church in Virunga, Goma
Image 7: Greeting of the theological students from ULPGL, Goma
Image 8: Traditional dancing at the “student’s ball”