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Addressing COVID-19 misinformation in rural Congo (UM News)

March 1, 2022

Almost 500 North Katanga Conference clergy and lay members met to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ministry and to address misinformation in rural areas.

“COVID-19 in Haut-Lomami province is real,” said Dr. Gary Pascal, a medical doctor at Kamina General Hospital. “The church initiative of bringing together both clergy and laity from the rural setting to learn about preventive measures is a saving process.” 

During the Feb. 2-4 gathering, he shared how at provincial, national and international levels and in academia, experts work hard to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

North Katanga Area Bishop Mande Muyombo encouraged participants to wear masks, use hand sanitizer and respect social distancing. “The role of the church,” he said, “is prayer, outreach, social transformation and impactful advocacy.”

The pandemic forced both clergy and laity to achieve a delicate work balance. A family worship program was organized, strengthening relationships during lockdowns. Home visits were restricted. Instead of collecting offerings during in-person worship, families sent financial gifts in envelopes. The only way to check on church members was by telephone calls.

Dr. Katongola Kayembe Joseph said in rural settings, it is difficult to know whether a person has COVID-19 because of lack of tests and vaccines. 

To avoid large crowds at gatherings, local churches increased the number of worship services — two per day in villages and three in town, according to the Rev. Walassa Bub.

Pascal saluted the United Methodist initiative of inviting church leaders and traditional healers to trust the medical team to advise on preventing COVID-19. 

The Rev. Mulamba Mpanga, University of Kabongo, said he is committed to sharing accurate information. “Traditional healers should work in collaboration with medical teams to save lives in the community,” he said. “A lot of people use herbs to heal themselves, but lack of dosage is another challenge in the community. In the community where I serve, people do not go to a health center. They are used to self-medication.”

The Rev. Bukasa Tshimanga Jean Claude serves an independent church. He expressed thanks to The United Methodist Church for inviting him to attend the COVID-19 training. “I will uplift cultural values of sharing information in a story,” he said, “so that all understand how to prevent COVID-19 in my local congregation.”