By Tafadzwa Mudambanuki and Heather Hahn
KOLWEZI, Democratic Republic of Congo (UMNS) — The Rev. Gabriel Unda Yemba of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, has been elected a United Methodist bishop by delegates of the Congo Central Conference.
When he realized he was about to be elected, “I felt a huge responsibility landing on my shoulders,” he said through an interpreter.
“Indeed, it is a huge responsibility to assume the episcopal office. Because of my election I have become a good or bad father of my episcopal area depending on how people judge me.”
Unda, 61, will lead the new East Congo Episcopal Area in the Democratic Republic of Congo where The United Methodist Church is growing rapidly. The recently completed General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, approved the new episcopal area, and Congo Central Conference delegates chose its name.
The area will encompass the Maniema Province and the Kivu region. It borders Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the Central African Republic. It will be based in the city of Kindu, the capital of Maniema Province.
He knows it will be a challenging appointment. The area has impassable roads, and his only reliable mode of transportation will be an airplane.
“I see people travelling with loads on their heads and shoulders across the episcopal area, and these are the people I have been elected to serve,” he said.
“My plan is to reconnoiter the entire episcopal area and ascertain the needs of the various ministries of the church and then find ways of creating an effective delivery system for the development of East Congo.”
Unda was elected Aug. 22 on the fourth ballot with 227 votes of the 263 clergy and laity delegates from the three nations that form the Congo Central Conference — Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Tanzania.
A consecration service for the new bishop is scheduled to be at 2 p.m. local time Aug. 23.
In the Congo Central Conference, a bishop is elected to a four-year term. With re-election after four years, a bishop is elected “for life” and serves until retirement.
Unda, whose mother died when he was 8 months old, was raised by missionaries and his extended family. Ordained in 1971, he has served as a pastor and a chaplain of United Methodist schools, sometimes facing the threat of violence to do his ministry. He lost his wife, Omba Charlotte Unda, on Feb. 1, 2007, to malaria.
He is an outgoing board member of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. He knows five languages — Swahili, Lingala, French, Otetela and some English. He is no relation to Bishop David Kekumba Yemba, who leads the Central Congo Episcopal Area.
As in the United States, local United Methodist churches around the global are organized into increasingly larger groups: numerous districts, dozens of annual conferences and many central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe.
With Unda’s consecration, four active bishops will lead 14 annual (regional) conferences that form the Congo Central Conference.
“My prayer is to see the children of God unite and build the Kingdom of God in East Congo,” Unda Yemba said. “It is my sincere hope that by the grace of God, to see this episcopal area develop from its ashes to a livable and peaceable area.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the Church” and to “lead all persons entrusted to their oversight in worship, in the celebration of the sacraments, and in their mission of witness and service in the world.” Bishops also are to be “prophetic voices and courageous leaders in the cause of justice for all people.”