Four from Memphis Conference traveled to Kindu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in July to participate in 'Congo Women Arise' initiative


Photos, top to bottom, show team members gathered at the Mama Lynn Center construction entrance, gathered at the Mama Lynn Center construction site and wearing gowns given to them by East Congo United Methodist Church leadership. (Photos by Melissa Wheatley)

By Rev. Neelley Hicks

We are more than we were before, yet a piece of us was left behind.

Eight people from the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences (Nashville Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church) traveled to Kindu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, July 12-26, to participate in Congo Women Arise – the United Methodist Church initiative that combats stigma due to rape in East Congo, Africa.

The team included Rev. Randy Cooper, Rev. Neelley Hicks, Rev. Don Spencer, Erin Bell, Michaela Johnson, Shelby Jacobs Johnston, Kandice Martin, Melissa Wheatley, and Pierre Omadjela, special projects manager – United Methodist Communications.

(Cooper is the pastor of Martin First United Methodist Church in Martin, Tennessee. Bell, Johnson and Johnston are young adults from the Memphis Conference. Read more here.)

We arrived to a great celebration held in the midst of the East Congo Annual Conference. Music, singing and dancing provided a welcome worthy of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. A short walk from the Episcopal offices revealed a beautiful site: the Mama Lynn Center rising up to embody the architectural drawing provided just last year. The Memphis, Tennessee, and California Pacific annual conferences are working together to raise $350,000 to build this women’s center which is named after Lynn McAlilly, wife of Bishop Bill McAlilly. Due to the generosity during annual conference season and an anonymous donor, we have raised more than two thirds of the goal, and now lack just $80,990.36!

(As of June 7, the Memphis Conference Treasurer's Office reported $22,141.75 had been raised by the Memphis Conference for Congo Women Arise / Mama Lynn Center.)

A “No Stigma” workshop was held for four days which included around 50 women leaders and survivors of sexual violence. Team members were given the option to participate in the workshop (sponsored by WiseHeart Foundation, Harper Hill Global and East Congo UMC), lead Vacation Bible School with children from the orphanage, or help with construction at the Center. Omadjela offered English classes with Johnson, Martin and Wheatley assisting. The team brought gifts from Centertown United Methodist Church, Discipleship Ministries, Harper Hill Global, Martin First United Methodist Church and Project 20/20. The gifts were received with much gratitude, and then it was our team’s turn to become the recipient.

Chaco Tunda, whose grandfather welcomed Methodism into the Maniema Province, bestowed new names upon each team member, after we had received United Methodist clothing, and “welcome” plaques with our hand-painted names.

  • Randy: Uwandji Etete (Chief who never grows weary of doing good)
  • Erin: Elangamelu (Bringer of hope)
  • Michaela: Kenemo (One who everyone loves)
  • Shelby: Oyaka (Girl who sings)
  • Neelley: Mama Ngandji (Love)
  • Don: UWandji (One who gives light)
  • Kandice: Ketshi (Girl who can heal)
  • Melissa: Dikendji (One who makes disciples)
Cooper once described this trip as a “pilgrimage” by us coming together with family in Christ to draw closer to Him and one another. That surely happened. The bright faces of children eager to play with us, women brought into the circle, adults learning new languages, and team members carrying rocks on their heads as their counterparts there do, all signify a basic human need to love and be loved – to understand and be understood. A piece of us was left behind, yet we are still so much more than before. Isn’t that the way love works?

Donate to the construction of the Mama Lynn Center, by going to