Serving the underserved in Congo

Guest commentary by Shannon Jung

What would it take to build a hospital in the heart of Africa?  Nothing less than God’s grace and continuing providence!

And yet this is what God hath wrought in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

IMCK Good Shepherd Hospital in Tshikaji (All photos provided by author and Bob Irish)

The Insitut Medical Chretien du Kasai (IMCK) is a Presbyterian-founded Christian medical institute in the Kasai province in the middle of the DRC.

When William Sheppard, an African American Presbyterian, steamed up the Congo River in 1890, he had no idea of what he was to start. This mission of the PCUS was to grow into a Congolese Presbyterian Church and subsequently into a beacon of hope for the young republic.

WIlliam Sheppard

In 2021, the IMCK is considered the best regional hospital in the Kasai provinces.  The institute comprises a 160-bed reference/teaching hospital; schools for nursing, hospital administration and laboratory technology; a nutrition center; and rural health programs.  The IMCK also includes a center for continuing medical education, which offers classes in current medical practices to doctors throughout the country.  In the neighboring metropolis of Kananga, an outpatient clinic includes a women’s health center, a pharmacy and vision and dental services.

Grace, indeed.  Through many hardships and struggles IMCK has continued.   As Psalm 55:22 puts it, “Cast your burdens on the Lord, and he will sustain you.”

To be sure, the American Presbyterian Congo Mission had to overcome the racism it mirrored from the U.S. experience. IMCK had to work through the white supremacy of its legacy.

Serge Makolo Kazadi

A source of great pride, therefore, is the fact that all education, administration, medical and maintenance departments are now led by excellent Congolese personnel, whereas formerly many of the key positions at IMCK were filled by American missionary personnel.  The shared vision of mission partnership held by both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Congo Church has been realized.  An example of the great leadership found at IMCK is Serge Makolo Kazadi.   “Dr. Serge” is the director of IMCK and is known for the positive, Christian attitude he brings to his job.  Facing the many challenges of keeping IMCK on track and successful, Dr. Serge says, “Just because things are difficult does not mean they’re impossible.”

Refugees with military escort, fleeing Kasai conflict

As one can imagine, the work of IMCK has not been trouble-free.  The environment in which the institute functions is filled with challenges: political instability, economic weakness, civil strife, pandemics and infrastructure problems.  For example, the civil conflicts of 2016-2018 meant that many internally displaced persons were moving through the Kasai provinces, placing huge burdens on the medical capacity of IMCK.  Patients often do not have money to pay the nominal cost of treatment, but the hospital provides care for all. They show the compassion commended by Matthew 25: I was sick and you looked after me.

Currently, Congo is one of four African countries identified as having a significant COVID-19 surge, when statistics indicate that only about 1% of the population in Africa has been vaccinated for COVID-19.  IMCK has an oxygen concentrator, making it one of the places patients with COVID-19 complications will seek help, and the staff has been ramping up their treatment protocols.

A professor at IMCK demonstrates lab technique.

Fortunately, there continue to be sources of support.  The PC(USA) provides Extra Commitment Opportunities for congregations and members.  The Medical Benevolence Foundation performs fundraising to support the Good Shepherd Hospital in Tshikaji.

The Friends of IMCK (an organization of people with a heart for IMCK) provides support by raising awareness and promoting fundraising activities. A number of individual congregations and presbyteries have responded to the Friends’ vision in support of IMCK.

Patient of Good Shepherd Hospital after recovery.

Recently, the Friends reached the initial milestone of raising one million dollars for an endowment fund.  The group had decided from its inception that an endowment was the preferred way to provide financial support for IMCK’s operations with the local IMCK management team making decisions for the best use of these funds.

The Friends of IMCK is committed to raising a second million dollars for the endowment, which presently provides $44,000 annually in interest.  The president of the organization, Barbara Rule Sugue, states: “We are delighted to make this announcement. So many people have seen the need for medical care following the example of Jesus the Healer.”

To enable others to join this important work, the Friends have announced the beginning of an ambassador program.  They will offer a brief Zoom education on the facilities, work and theology of IMCK for all who wish to be part of the effort to support medical care in the Kasai.  These ambassadors would then be able to extend these opportunities knowledgeably to their local congregation or community.

SHANNON JUNG is a son of J.B. and Fran Jung who served, respectively, as founder of the dental school at IMCK and as educator in the DRC. He is a member of Peace River Presbytery in Florida, and taught at several seminaries, including the University of Dubuque.