Out of Africa

Not long ago, two men came into Colonial Hall looking for someone whose name they didn’t know. They wanted to offer thanks for a gift that was merely an act of kindness (and recycling) on Moravian’s part but that meant a great deal to them.

They were Pascal Kulungu, an administrator at the International Christian University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Murray Nickel, an American physician on its advisory board. They were on a month-long trip around the United States to raise funds and awareness for their institution.

The person they wanted to thank, it turned out, was Ron Helmuth, director of CIT, who had helped them three years ago by donating 26 computers that otherwise would have gone to the scrap heap.

Ron has a friend who owns a software company called Fairfield Language Technologies in Harrisonburg, Va. The friend, John Fairfield, wanted to set up a computer network for the university. But to do that, he needed some computers. So instead of junking the outdated equipment, Ron sent it to Africa.

“We wanted to tell him they are being used well,” Kulungu said.

Founded by Mennonite missionaries, the university offers degrees in medicine, economics, and theology to about 300 students. Because of political and economic instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was called Zaire from 1960 until 1997, the staff often waits months to be paid.

“If you want to get a sense of how desperate the money situation is, here’s what they told me,” Ron said. “Their payroll is based on income per month received by the university. When I saw them in May, no one had been paid since March, and that month they had received a 40 percent paycheck.”

By coincidence, Andrew A. Kyomo ’75 was on campus about a week later. He had come back to receive an honorary doctorate of divinity and to see his grandnephew, Tuntufye Mwenisongole ’02, graduate from the Seminary.

Kyomo teaches pastoral theology at Makumira University College, Tumaini University, Tanzania, one of the largest theological seminaries in Africa. Asked about the problems of the church in the fast-changing Third World, Kyomo said: “The economy of our country affects our work.”

In contrast to Congo, Tanzania did not emerge from a war, and it has been at peace with its neighbors. “For that we thank God,” Kyomo said. “What is bothering us is the poverty.”

For example: the Tanzanian government tries to support all its institutions of higher education. But when funds won’t stretch that far, its four public universities come before private schools such as Tumaini. For students dependent on government stipends, “they get less money for what they are doing.”

Many of his pastoral theology students are not working toward ordination; they want to get out into the field and put their training to work. Without money, “they will not be able to travel so much.”

Cars are at a premium in Tanzania; most people take rickety buses, whose routes take them from village to village along rutted back roads. “Sometimes [the students] have no money for the bus fares,” Kyomo said. “It isn’t easy for our students to combine theory and practice.”

Missionaries of many denominations helped establish a network of schools, which are now the responsibility of Tanzania’s own churches. But international market prices are low for the cash crops on which Tanzanian farmers base their income: coffee, maize, sisal, cotton, tea. “Up in the rural areas, parents cannot afford to pay school fees.”

Bus fares and book fees: on such does the work of the church depend.

“The church should be expected to make a difference, but it is facing a lot of problems that are hindering it,” Kyomo said. “It has been equipping people with theology, but that’s not enough. It should be equipping people with different expertise. Sometimes we have this mentality that other fields of work are not as good as theology, that our work is more holier than the secular ones.

“But the call of God is so wide. An engineer who is committed to his work is called to God. People from the outside should know that the church needs help in a wider range.”

July 16, 2002

Child's Play
Mary Beth Spirk, women's basketball coach, is putting in 400 hours of community service as Bethlehem YMCA summer sports camp director. It's a requirement of her master's degree at US Sports Academy.
Poster Boy
John McDermott retires as VP/Planning and Research.
All That Jazz
Moravian's first summer youth jazz camp.
Anniversary Waltz
5/10/15-year milestones of Moravian staff.
Out of Africa
Two African visitors to campus -- an administrator from the International Christian University at Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, and a minister from Tanzania -- provide insights on current problems on the continent.
Faculty/staff/student achievements, new arrivals, an obituary.