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Long-distance bond - Dallas church helps startup African university Joan G. LaBarr, Nov 9, 2011
PHOTOS COURTESY KAMINA METHODIST UNIVERSITY
The UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) has provided important support for Kamina Methodist University.
By Joan G. La Barr Special Contributor
When Methodist movement founder John Wesley instructed his preachers to use all their time in the work of God, he must have had someone like the Rev. “Guy” Mande Muyombo in mind. Mr. Muyombo is director of the startup Kamina Methodist University in the North Katanga area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a doctoral candidate at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City.
With master’s degrees from both United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe and Saint Paul, Mr. Muyombo’s charge is to build his fledging university into a strong institution that will train emerging Congolese leaders in their own land. He is especially intent on empowering and educating women, with his own wife, Blandine, a fellow graduate of Africa University, as a shining example. Identifying former child soldiers in the Kamina area and guiding them towards reintegrating into the community through university programs are also key goals.
The Cox Chapel congregation of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas has helped fulfill the vision with a $10,000 gift to roof a dormitory that will house 50 men and 50 women students. A safe place to live is particularly important for the women who must still confront strong cultural barriers in their aspirations for higher education.
Cox Chapel mission committee member Bill Overthier became interested in Kamina University when Mr. Muyombo spoke to Highland Park Sunday School classes last February. With the support of Cox Chapel pastor, the Rev. Jeff Hall, the group voted to fund the roof project as part of their “Vision for Christ” charge to be a catalyst for outreach efforts that have the potential to grow and thrive with some significant seed funds.
The relationship between Highland Park and Mr. Muyombo dates back to the days when he was studying for his first master’s degree at the Institute of Peace Leadership and Governance at Africa University. The multi-talented young man was also serving as student director of the Africa University Choir, which toured the Texas area prior to the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth.
Highland Park UMC members Lisa and Mac Tichenor were hosts for some of the choir members, including Mr. Muyombo. As Mrs. Tichenor talked with him, they discovered a deep common bond. Both were mourning beloved children. The Tichenors’ 19-year-old son, Willie, had lost his battle with cancer, and one of the Muyombos’ infant twin daughters had died of malaria.
The families kept up communication as the Muyombo family and their surviving daughter moved to Kansas for his theological studies. While at Saint Paul the couple had another daughter, Christelle, who turns 2 in November.
When Mr. Muyombo returned to his native Congo, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda of the North Katanga Conference handed him the huge challenge of becoming director of the small Methodist school in a remote area that had been devastated by civil wars dating back decades. Many of the region’s children had been captured by rebels and forced to become child soldiers. Many of the women had been raped and brutalized in unimaginable ways. Almost no family had escaped unscathed.
In the midst of the brokenness, the United Methodist Church continued to grow and reach out. The church built an orphanage and developed numerous social programs. Then in 2006 Kamina Methodist University was started with an enrollment of 144 students, only 15 of whom were female. The school began as a satellite of the Methodist University of Katanga, known as Mulungwishi.
The university has now grown to more than 400 students, including 88 women, with schools of information management, theology, psychology and education and more curriculum offerings in the planning stages. Its mission statement is “learning in peace and stability for the transformation of the community.”
Mr. Muyombo has special thanks for the General Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Women who supported 39 women students with scholarships.
The first class of theology, psychology and education graduated last year. The first class in computer science graduated Oct. 15, along with the second class in the other three disciplines.
University leaders are looking forward to opening the new dormitory. “The roofed dorm is a salvation for many students who are struggling to find a place to stay because many come from remote areas and villages outside Kamina and in the whole of North Katanga. This is going to help the female students especially and give them a safe space to live,” Mr. Muyombo says.
The completion of the dorm, indeed any building at the university, is cause for celebration. The rural setting has limited road access to cities where materials can be purchased, compounding the difficulty of all building efforts.
‘Drum of Peace’
Amid the successes, struggles continue. In the last academic year many of the students, especially women, were unable to pay all their tuition and other fees. University leaders decided to let them write their exams in spite of this fact. Current needs include more scholarships, classrooms, chairs and desks, plus computers. Tuition and fees for one student are $400 annually.
Mr. Muyombo is also still working to get funding for a comprehensive child soldier reintegration program. He calls this program “Drum of Peace.” He envisions two month-long sessions annually, each one involving 100 former child soldiers.
During this time, the young people would be hosted and fed at the university’s Kamisamba Training Center. Total cost for one session is estimated at $27,500, with all funds processed through the North Katanga Conference accounts.
“It has become imperative to attend to the former child soldiers as part of several peace building programs that can ensure peace and stability in Kamina in particular and the DR Congo in particular,” he says.