Bishop Michael visits the Congo with Archbishop
15th November 2019
Combining his role as an epidemiologist with experience in Africa with the role of a Christian leader, Bishop Michael accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the invitation of Anglican Bishops there. The DRC is affected by Ebola and the Church has a role in helping their society to recover.
Archbishop Justin and Bishop Michael were there to take part in a training workshop for Church and community leaders. They took materials prepared in the UK and were greatly supported by briefing from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine about which Bishop Michael said: “Everything went extremely well, due in no small part to the outstanding briefing we received from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which enabled us to be so much sure-footed in everything we did, helping us confidently and usefully to engage with all the different people we met.”
“We could not help but be overwhelmingly struck by the understanding that in many ways, Ebola is but a symptom of the situation that exists in Kivu of violence, instability, conflict, corruption, poverty, malnutrition and disease.”
In this situation, the contribution of churches is made in three main ways. Firstly churches are the principal providers of medical care in Congo. Through hospitals, health centres and medical staff they offer active care, support and treatment of people affected by Ebola. Secondly the churches and their leaders are embedded in local communities, trusted and respected by them. This enables them to communicate, with authority and integrity, information about Ebola that needs to be acted on by everyone for the infection to be controlled. Thirdly, and most importantly, they are able to speak to the hearts and minds of the people they serve, having the ability to address the issues of fear, confusion, suspicion and concern that Ebola evokes. It is only when these issues are addressed that work to bring the current outbreak to an end can succeed.
Bishop Michael continued: “The training workshop was opened by the Archbishop with the Provincial Minister of Health and ran for three days. We trained about 60 people, from different parts of Congo and from different denominations of the church plus also representatives of different faiths, in the faith-based materials. There was a terrific energy in all that took place with the participants showing real enthusiasm to make a difference. Off their own bat, the participants arranged for all taking part in the workshop to visit the Ebola Treatment Centre in Goma and to meet the medical staff there. Even though there were no patients present, this helped people develop a sense of the power of being eye-witnesses of the great work that treatment centres are doing and of the place that faith leaders can play in dispelling fear and rumour. The faith leaders made some very ambitious plans for rolling out the training after the workshop – how feasible these will be remains to be seen but no one could doubt the reach that churches and other faiths can have to reach the population.”
“The presence of the Archbishop enabled us to have two excellent meetings with members of the UN family, DfID and NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontiers. At the meetings we learnt a great deal and were also able to press the case for increased involvement in the community engagement that’s needed finally to bring the outbreak to an end. As well as meeting these stakeholders, the Archbishop and I met with the Governor of Kivu Province to talk about the work.”
“The Archbishop spent an excellent day visiting Beni and Butembo – going to treatment centres, meeting staff and meeting survivors. This part of the visit was well covered by the Sunday Times team –their report came out on 27th October.”
“Reconciliation is very much one of the Archbishop’s global priorities and we shall be thinking in the coming months about how churches can be involved more in peace-building in Kivu both to bring the outbreak to an end and in preparedness should it ever return. I’m hoping that engagement with health issues such as malaria and school health may be an important ’token of trust’ in this work.”