Trading bullets for Bibles

Congolese MB Church is reaching out to militia groups

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As a result of donations from Garry Prieb's network and an endowment at MB Foundation, Jacques Pilipili (blue suit), the coordinator of the Mennonite Brethren Church in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo, distributed Bibles to members of the child militia in the Kivu Province in late July, encouraging them to lay down their arms. Photo: Jacques Pilipili

When Garry Prieb received a letter expressing an urgent request for Bibles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), he knew just what to do. A retired Multiply employee who grew up in DRC, Prieb mentioned the request—which came from Jacques Pilipili, the coordinator of the Mennonite Brethren Church in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo—in his July prayer letter. In an area torn by conflict, Pilipili sought to encourage members of the child militia to lay down their arms and pick up Bibles instead.

Upon receiving word of this request, donors sprang into action, mobilizing a network of connections Prieb has made over the years through involvement in MB mission work, pastoral ministry and work for other MB and inter-Mennonite agencies and universities.

As a result of these donations and an endowment at MB Foundation, Prieb sent $10,000 to the MB Church of Congo to purchase Bibles, including 90 Bibles for members of the child militia in Kivu, as part of his continuing ministry in DRC.

Childhood friends partner in ministry

Prieb’s investment in DRC stems from his childhood. The son of then-MBMS missionaries Arnold and Rose Prieb, he moved with his parents to DRC at age 1, where he grew up at the Kafumba Mission Station.

A graduate of Fresno Pacific University (FPU) and MBBS, now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, Prieb has lived and worked in DRC, the United States and Canada, including teaching and translation work in DRC, pastoral ministry in British Columbia and Fresno, Calif., serving as CEO of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission in Elkhart, Ind., serving on staff at both Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and FPU, and, most-recently, working half-time for Multiply by fundraising and making trips to Africa.

Although Prieb, who resides in Fresno, Calif., and attends Prodigal Church, retired from Multiply in March 2020, his involvement in DRC continues.

“People still wanted to give, and people in Congo were still wanting to ask me for help,” Prieb says. “I just didn’t know how exactly to go about it.”

So Prieb began working with a childhood friend from DRC, Nzash Lumeya, who grew up in Kafumba and now lives in Fresno and runs the 501(c)3 Lumeya International Ministries (LIM), to continue funding ministry in DRC. Today, most donations Prieb receives go through LIM.

Jacques Pilipili, right, has distributed 90 Bibles to members of the child militia in hopes of ending the violence in DR Congo.

These donations, together with funds from the Arnold and Rose Prieb endowment established at MB Foundation for work in DRC, have allowed Prieb’s ministry, including Bible distribution, to continue.

Laying down guns

While much of DRC is more peaceful than in the past, conflict continues in the Kivu Province, where some 140 militia groups clash over minerals, territory and revenge.

“There’s still rebel activity going on in and around Bukavu,” Prieb says. “The rest of the country is quiet.”

In Kivu, Pilipili and Mennonite Brethren are focusing on reaching two militia groups, where many militia members are children between the ages of 12 and 16. About 1.1 million people have lost their lives as a result of recent conflict, Prieb says.

When the Congolese government began to crack down on violence in the last year, Pilipili saw an opportunity to encourage members of the militia to exchange their guns for Bibles.

In an email to Prieb, Pilipili said, “We are reaching two groups for Christ. I have the confidence and the trust of two militia groups that I can come in (and) encourage them about the Gospel.”

Pilipili meets with child militia members in Uvira south of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, to help youth reintegrate into society and also to establish new MB churches in the area.

With the $10,000, the MB Church in DRC allotted $2,500 each for Bible distribution among the four language groups in which Mennonite Brethren work: Lingala, Kituba, Tshiluba and Swahili.

While some of the Bibles were yet to be distributed at the time of this writing, with the $2,500 allotted for the Swahili language, Pilipili purchased 190 Bibles, giving 100 to Mennonite Brethren whose homes had been destroyed by the May 2021 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, and 90 to members of the child militia.

“These young guys, even though their lives were misdirected, they’ve been touched by the peace of Christ,” Prieb says. “That’s what I’m always thinking of. Who is the next generation that can teach them about Jesus to change their ways so that they stay in their tribal groups and reintegrate socially?”

In an email about the project, Fidele and Leah Renée Lumeya, consultants with the conflict, trauma and restorative justice education program in DRC, spoke about Pilipili’s faithfulness. Fidele is a brother of Nzash Lumeya.

“It has been through the faith and dedication of Pastor Jacques that these people have seen a Bible and heard the messages of love in their own language for the first time,” the Lumeyas write. “That the words may penetrate the hearts of the listeners and end the violence, especially toward those most vulnerable, is always his hope.”

Pilipili is encouraging child militia members to attend Bible school, and Prieb has offered to fund five scholarships for future pastoral training in Bukavu.

“We’re trying to reach them for Christ, sensitize them, bring them back into their tribes so they can become responsible citizens,” Prieb says. “We are providing some funding so that they can go to school and become more knowledgeable about the Bible, and hopefully, some of them will become pastors of the church there.”

Church planting and other involvements
Garry Prieb (right) visited Jacques Pilipili, the coordinator of the Mennonite Brethren Church in North and South Kivu in eastern Congo, on a trip to DRC in August 2021. During his visit, Prieb spoke at the dedication of the new 500-seat Yolo-Sud MB Church building in Kinshasa. Prieb visited five church plants while in DRC.

Prieb’s involvement in DRC goes beyond Bible distribution.

Before his father died, Prieb asked what the most pressing need in DRC was.

“I said, ‘Dad, what could I continue on and do in your stead?’” Prieb says. “He said, ‘Leadership training in Congo is the most important need.’ I took that to heart, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Prieb’s efforts are funded in large part by the Arnold and Rose Prieb Endowment, established at MB Foundation in July 2020 in his parents’ honor after the foundation received an estate gift from a doctor friend of Garry’s with a passion for ministry in Africa.

According to MB Foundation president and CEO Jon C. Wiebe, an endowment established by a legacy gift at death provides a gift that keeps on giving. MB Foundation has and continues to play several roles in managing the endowment, including serving as advisor, facilitator, administrator and conduit. MB Foundation first helped the donor understand their charitable giving options and implement them to meet the donor’s objectives, then worked with the estate administrator for more than three years to ensure the donor’s charitable objectives were carried out properly.

“Now our role is to be the administrator and conduit for the funds,” Wiebe says. “An endowment needs professional fund management to ensure the funds are properly invested and managed for the greatest kingdom impact. As conduit, we work with the fund advisor (Garry) to send the payout to the appropriate charitable beneficiary(ies).”

Each year, MB Foundation distributes a payout of about 4 percent to LIM for ministry in DRC.

Prieb meets monthly with Nzash Lumeya to pray about the money coming in, and every quarter, LIM sends money to the MB Church in Congo to fund scholarships for Mennonite Brethren theological students, church buildings, property for new church plants (some churches are being evicted when they cannot pay the rent), seminars and even pandemic-related health tips.

“Nzash and I always sit down with the leadership in Congo and say, ‘What are your needs? What do you want to do?’” Prieb says. “So it’s not us pushing or driving it. We want them to be the drivers. They say, ‘We need to plant more churches’, and so then we got involved in church planting and evangelism.”

The Mennonite Brethren Church in Congo, Communauté des Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo, was started about 100 years ago and has 86,000 members. The Kivu Province has 36 MB churches—including 34 in the south near Bukavu and two in the north near Goma—with 2,360 members. In 2020, funds from the endowment helped Congolese Mennonite Brethren plant 44 new MB churches, and Prieb would like to see even more planted in 2022.

“There’s a whole network of people behind me,” Prieb says. “It’s God behind us that is doing this work.”

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