Mennonites in the Democratic Republic of Congo are relieved that their country successfully held national elections this year after decades of corrupt dictatorship and two recent wars - writes Tim Shenk.
Like many Congolese, Congo's roughly 200,000 Mennonites hope the elections will begin a new era for their country, according to Pascal Kulungu, a Mennonite Brethren lay leader in the capital, Kinshasa.
Congo's elections were held under a 2002 peace agreement that installed Joseph Kabila as the interim president. The elections were accompanied by fears of widespread violence between supporters of Kabila and supporters of his main rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba.
While there were several violent episodes during the course of the elections, Bemba eventually conceded defeat and the elections concluded relatively peacefully.
"This is giving more strength and hope to the Congolese people, in seeing the way we have accepted the president," Kulungu says.
Congolese Mennonite churches welcomed the elections and encouraged their members to vote and run for office.
A total of 40 Congolese Mennonites ran for parliament, and three were elected in a crowded field of more than 9,000 candidates, Kulungu says. He was one of the Mennonite candidates who was not elected.
"This is the first time Mennonites have tried to be in the government," he says. "We are satisfied to see that we have at least three people representing us."
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) helped organize Congolese and international election observers on election days in July and October. MCC also helped Congolese churches prepare their communities for the elections by organizing public meetings to explain the voting process.
Kulungu sees an acute need for reconciliation in Congo because of recent wars that turned neighbors and communities against each other. He says churches have a role to play in this process by teaching about nonviolent ways to resolve differences and find healing.
"That is the challenge we have now - how people will reconcile with themselves, with their neighbours and with the country," Kulungu says.
The historic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo culminated in the 6 December 2006 inauguration of Joseph Kabila as the country's first democratically elected president in more than 40 years.
Tim Shenk writes for Mennonite Central Committee, a North American development, aid and advocacy agency in the peace church tradition.