They live deep in the equatorial forest, far from passable roads, between the great rivers, below the villages and the great trees. They are still subject to apartheid—marginalization and oppression—and they are deprived of land rights, forgotten even by Christians. They have been called Pygmies, but their real name is Batwa.
For the Bantu (majority people group in Democratic Republic of Congo), ancestral tradition teaches that a Pygmy (or Motwa, in Batwa parlance) is not a person but a thing, a good, a slave, even though he or she appears like a human being. This is why their Bantu neighbors make the Batwa work for no payment and forbid them from going to school or hospital among the general populace. The Batwa may not eat or drink with the Bantus, nor walk side by side with them.
In certain churches within the region, the Batwa are not admitted to membership. The Batwa may not sit on the same bench as the Bantu worshippers, nor greet them with a handshake; their place is at the back of the church. They are not allowed to preach, perform baptisms or marriages for the Bantu.
But since I have begun visiting them in the course of my evangelism work of church planting in the Kiri, Bikoro and Mbandaka regions (Matthew 28:16–20), I’ve discovered that the Batwa are a beautiful people. They are very different from my own people, but they are wonderful, created in the image of God and gifted with many under appreciated human qualities.
Despite the challenges of access posed by their rustic living conditions, remote location and geographical inaccessibility, the Batwa need the holistic salvation of Jesus Christ. We have no argument—theological, racial, cultural, social or geographical—before God to not teach them to become disciples of Christ.
And so, the Conférence des Eglises des Frères Mennonites en RD Congo (CEFMC – Congolese MB Church) began an evangelism work among the Batwa in 1998, the fruits of which are encouraging despite numerous social challenges: they have a different approach to nudity, are mostly illiterate, lack title to their land and experience severe discrimination and objectification by the majority peoples of DRC.
By the grace of God, despite our financial and material challenges, this missionary work counts 34 local churches today among the Batwa, with 2,475 baptized members, six primary schools supported by offerings in the CEFMC to give free schooling to Batwa children and four pastors trained at Bible school. The denomination has also purchased land for the new converts to farm and settle on.
To build a new generation of people—both Batwa and Bantu—saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ, living together and growing in Christian unity, our current vision in CEFMC is to provide scholarships for Batwa and Bantu students to attend our school. We will continue to build schools for Batwa children and to establish a medical clinic for the children and for the women who are often raped and forced to give birth without assistance. We want to foster true, holistic reconciliation between Bantu, Batwa and God.
This requires tireless efforts from every Christian. The people of CEFMC offer prayers, school uniforms and supplies and finances ($4 U.S. per month). Education is a good channel to show true love to these people who have suffered so much. We want to share the gospel and the love that comes from God.
Translated from French by Karla Braun. This essay was first published by the MB Herald, the publication of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.