Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why I Love Congolese Scouts

Our official escorts in Mulongo
It’s no secret that back in high school I had crushes on boy scouts (particularly Eagles and rugby playing scouts). There was just something about hanging out with guys with survival training and chivalry. I listened to so many of their stories about camping adventures at Philmont it was if I’d been there too. How wild and exciting they made it sound! Of course, Mom teased that when they’d all come over to our house it was like watching Wendy and the Lost Boys interact.

I, myself, hadn’t lasted long in our local girl scout program. A couple years of selling cookies and decorating cakes was enough for me, so when we moved I wasn't interested in finding another troop.

It came therefore, as both a surprise and a laugh to me when I moved to Kamina, DR Congo in 2005 and found out that my neighbors and new best buds were active scouts. Weren’t they a bit old to still be scouting?  What exactly was the point of it when everyone there already knew as a matter of daily survival how to live off the grid and Macgyver random objects?  How do you talk about allegiance to God and Country when your government is so broken?  I had much to learn.

I was shocked when I began traveling with the bishop into even more remote communities—ones that had been directly impacted by the war—that there were always scouts there to meet us upon arrival. They not only would help transport the luggage and equipment, they’d form a human line around the visitors and escort them safely to their lodging. They then took shifts guarding the compound 24/7 and would act as runners for supplies. Scouts, it turned out, are the go-to crew for hospitality, crowd control, security, protocol, and important event set-up (sound system, outdoor electrical, etc)—not to mention their other do-gooder projects like assisting widows and orphans or mobilizing community clean-up efforts. I also noticed that the deeper into the war zone we went, the more disciplined the scout troops seemed to be. This was no coincidence.

At first it disturbed me how much these scouts resembled young soldiers as they marched in their lines. Then it hit me: for these young men who knew the face of war and been recruited (often forcibly) by armies and warlords, the decision to join the scouts—the community’s unarmed peacekeeping force—was a bold act requiring the resolve of a patriotic soldier.

The United Methodist Church’s North Katanga Conference alone has 4,807 (as of August 2013) active scouts. They are planning to hold a jamboree next summer in Tenke, DR Congo and have invited scouts from the USA to join them. Dr. Art Collins, president of the National Association of United Methodist Scouters and pastor of Ellettsville First UMC is heading the recruitment and registration for Americans interested in attending or underwriting this event. I encourage you to contact Art for details.    
scouting in Kalemie, DR Congo

Scouts in Tenke, DR Congo welcoming the FPM bike team

Scouts in Kabongo assisted local police with crowd control at annual conference

Scout troop that guarded our guest house 24/7 in Mulongo this summer

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