It was with great joy and thanksgiving that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Michigan Region formally renewed our partnership with the Kinshasa District of the Community of Disciples of Christ Congo as a part of the Worship Celebration in Kinshasa in August of 2012. Since then, the Partnership Committees in Kinshasa and Michigan have been looking to develop a means of sharing ideas, establishing regular communication, and exchanging visits.
The Michigan Region made plans in 2013 to have Mr. Delly Bofaka W’akongo of Kinshasa as our guest November 17-25. However, this did not occur because the US Embassy in Kinshasa denied him a travel visa. Not to be deterred, the Women’s Ministry of the region moved ahead with their effort to bring the president of Women’s Ministries in Kinshasa, Ms. Julie Ngondo and Ms. Clementine Bolumbu Bonkono, Vice Chair of the Kinshasa District – Michigan Region Partnership Committee, to the United States to visit the Michigan Region and attend the Quadrennial Assembly in Atlanta. Again, we experienced disappointment and frustration when they were denied a travel visa as well.
I contacted Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office for help in finding out the reason for the denial. Her staff was very cooperative and quickly made an inquiry to the Embassy in Kinshasa. In the reply that came from the Embassy, the reason given for Mrs. Ngondo and Ms. Bonkono being denied was that they were “unable to overcome the presumption of intending immigration.” Senator Stabenow’s staff person suggested that we encourage our guests to apply again and provide as much information as they could to document their strong ties to the Democratic Republic of Congo indicating that there is no “intending immigration.” Dr. Sharon Watkins’ office lent assistance and Rev. Sandra Gourdet, Africa Executive of the Overseas Ministries division, sent a letter of support to the Embassy and facilitated my letter getting to the Embassy in time.
In the subsequent reply to Senator Stabenow from the Embassy, it indicated that Mrs. Ngondo and Ms. Bonkono were again denied a travel visa for the same reason: “unable to overcome the presumption of intending immigration.” It also indicated that two different consular officers, who came to the same conclusion, reviewed their applications.
Frankly, this rings quite hollow as we have guaranteed that our guests always return to their home countries. Nevertheless, we press on and will continue to work diligently to achieve exchange visits between the Kinshasa District and the Michigan Region to strengthen our partnership.
Eugene James, Regional Minister