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Batwa Communities in the Congo Basin


A letter from Christi and Jeff Boyd, mission co-workers serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Spring 2024

Write to Christi Boyd
Write to Jeff Boyd
Individuals: Give online to E132192 for Christi and Jeff Boyd’s sending and support
Congregations: Give to D500115 for Christi and Jeff Boyd’s sending and support
Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)

“Our forests are not the way they used to be. We can’t find in the forests anymore the food we need. Our women were able to go and pick or gather food, and we would fish and hunt animals. All of that is gone. That makes it very hard for us to continue our way of life, and we have a hard time providing for our families.”

A member of the Presbyterian Church of Kinshasa (CPK) and the vice-president of the deacons in his congregation in Mbandaka, Equateur Province, Papa Pierre Bokono is profoundly concerned with the well-being and survival of his Batwa siblings. As the original inhabitants of the Congo Basin, the Batwa are one of three indigenous people groups that subsist as gatherers and hunters on the flora and fauna of the 1.2 million square miles of primary rainforest that covers much of Central Africa. Prehistoric migrations and expansions of Bantu groups from West Africa have decimated their number with only about 1 million of them remaining. Not only do the Batwa suffer from inequitable relations with their majority Bantu neighbors that are characterized as enslavement, but their survival is also and particularly endangered by the accelerated deforestation due to the unbridled extraction of trees by logging companies. Of recent concern is the government’s auctioning of exploration permits for oil- and gas blocks in the Congo basin and other protected areas. As the guardians of their ancestral forests, which are considered the lungs of Africa and harbor one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, the Batwa’s survival has become an existential question for the entire global community that is grappling with the current climate crisis. Watch Batwa share in this short video below narrated by Pappa Pierre.

Concerned about these humanitarian, environmental and climatic issues, the CPK President, Rev. Isaac Kalonji, invited Jeff and me to join his small CPK delegation of church leaders on their visit to the Equateur Province. To CPK church members there, Rev. Kalonji explained the delegation had come to listen to, learn from and share God’s love with the Batwa communities affiliated with the CPK, and he preached unity in diversity with equality of all before God.  

In our weeklong visit, we traveled to the territories of Bikoro and Ingende where we sat down in eight Batwa churches to speak with members of 13 congregations and visited eight of their schools. A group of youth guided some of us to the expansive peat bogs of Lokolama that the Batwa community protects to prevent any disturbances of the underlying carbon sink. Carbon sinks play a key role in fighting climate change as they absorb a significant portion of carbon dioxide that is emitted by humans to the atmosphere year after year. The vast amounts of carbon that could be released by disturbing the sinks through for example logging activities and industrial agriculture would increase global warming with a disastrous impact on rainfall and subsequently on food production. Our expedition proved a seven-hour strenuous exercise as we had to balance on logs floating in the swampy waters and scan for roots underneath the surface to put down our feet.

As the leader of a Congolese mainline denomination established on the traditional mission pillars of evangelism, education and health care, Rev. Kalonji has been wondering how to organize as a church around these crosscutting social, environmental and climate justice concerns that do not easily fit the structure of traditional church ministries. He asked Jeff and me for our accompaniment in this discernment, and we are thankful for the opportunity to come alongside him, exploring the Congolese context for justice ministries and sharing how our denomination is set up to amplify and channel voices from the margins to the table of decision-makers. As Rev. Kalonji was recently elected the second vice president of the well-established umbrella organization for Protestant Churches in Congo, the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC), we may in turn discover how by working ecumenically, our own denomination can increase its impact. It is a privilege for Jeff and me to engage with Pastor Kalonji in this process, and inspire, equip, and connect Presbyterians in the U.S. to join.

Anyone familiar with our denomination’s Matthew 25 Vision may have gleaned from our experience with the Batwa communities in the Congo Basin several of the Matthew 25 focus areas for PC(USA) congregations and Presbyteries to engage – from eradicating systemic poverty, dismantling structural racism and building vital congregations to addressing the climate crisis. As we journey with the CPK into what could be a new era of witness and service, we are reassured knowing that Christ has gone before us, and it is in His footsteps that we follow.

We want to thank you for your prayers while Jeff and I were awaiting medical clearance for our return to Congo after a prolonged stay in the US. We are grateful for the medical attention both of us received thanks to the health insurance provided by PC(USA) and made possible by contributions from PC(USA) members, congregations and presbyteries to mission co-workers’ sending and support through E132192. Any gifts to this account made in honor of our names recognize the special connection we have with you, for which we give thanks.


Christi and Jeff       

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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