The World Council of Churches (WCC) is mourning the passing away of Hendrew Lusey-Gekawaku on 13 October 2020. He was a registered nurse, public health practitioner and ecumenist who contributed enormously to ecumenical and interfaith HIV and AIDS responses. Born in 1966, he was a member of the Communauté Évangélique du Kwango in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His commitment and passion to health and justice promoting churches and theological institutions has been hailed by his former colleagues, church leaders and members of WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA) International Reference Group.
In a pastoral letter of condolence, WCC interim general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca mourned the loss of Lusey-Gekawaku as a charismatic leader, health professional, lay theologian, and revolutionary servant of God, profoundly compassionate and empathetic to people's needs.
“He inspired and accompanied innumerable lives, from remote villages, and congregations to universities, across the world,” wrote Sauca. “His crystal clear voice, conveying the brutal realities of human suffering in the face of HIV and violence, will continue to shine light in our lives.”
In his message of condolence, Rev. Godson Lawson-Kpavuvu, chair of group and former general secretary of the Methodist Church of Togo wrote: "Hendrew was for me a man of immense dedication to service, driven by immeasurable generosity and openness to others. Indeed, we will no longer hear Hendrew's voice in our meetings; a crystal clear voice, a voice sometimes ironic to convey difficult realities of human suffering in the face of HIV.”
Lusey-Gekawaku was recruited as the Central Africa (French-speaking countries) regional coordinator for the EHAIA, a position he held until February 2019 when he left due to illness.
WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri remembers Lusey-Gekawaku “as a very helpful colleague. As regional coordinator for Central Africa he worked under very challenging circumstances but always found a way to work effectively. I remember him most for his helpful nature displayed when we were organizing WCC Pilgrim Team Visit of Women of Faith to the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2017-2018. By that time, he was already sick but not known to most of us. He went beyond the call of duty to make sure that the arrangements for the meeting went well. I also remember him as a researcher. He was committed to support his work with youth on HIV with academic researched papers of high quality. He sent me copies of his published articles. This is the rich legacy he has left us with. May his soul rest in peace. May the Holy Spirit console his family.”
Lusey-Gekawaku was also a PhD candidate at the Division of Epidemiology and Global Health, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden where he contributed published articles on masculinities in the context of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance coordinator Dr Manoj Kurian reminisces: “Hendrew will always remain a dear brother to me. Hendrew became part of our heroic journey with WCC-EHAIA, from its genesis, and adventure from 2002, equipping and accompanying churches and communities to face and overcome HIV. As a registered nurse and trained in public health, he was deeply compassionate and empathetic to people’s needs. He was a great teacher, profoundly knowledgeable and had a thirst for learning which he continued pursuing very successfully in reputed centres of learning to the end of his life. Even as a very humble and soft-spoken person, he could address the most challenging issues, be it violence or human sexuality, in a very open, yet communicative and non-threatening manner, without compromising on evidence, or ethical and moral standards. Hendrew achieved much for people and churches, but as the journey ahead is arduous with many challenges to surmount, Hendrew's loss will be felt for years.”
Kurian concluded, “The untimely and early death of our brother, a health worker, dedicating his life to the service of people, was contributed to by the inadequate health systems and services in his region of residence. His demise reminds of the unjustifiable inequity in the health care services that are available in most of the world today. May God help us to acknowledge this and bring about sustained transformation.”
Rev. Rostand Ella Essono from the Evangelical Church of Gabon writes, “Hendrew Lusey's work in Gabon was very visible in the early 2000s just after the validation of the plan of action. His work on deconstructing hegemonic masculinity has been very crucial. Helping young people to become actors in transforming women's conditions, made a great impact. He had a great time with us. He gave everything he had for the fight in Central Africa, especially in Gabon.”
In a lengthy eulogy by his close friend and co-worker Père Jean Kazadi Katumbay, a Catholic priest, educator and a former member of WCC-EHAIA International Reference Group describes Hendrew as “a leader of the troops, theorist and man of action, who had great analytical and situational ability skills. In great discretion and circumspection, he moved the ecclesiastical lines without making a name for himself. For example, through his mediation, the cardinal Etsou, the Catholic archbishop of Kinshasa at the time, was able to celebrate a marriage between a Protestant and a Catholic, whose godfather (Hendrew Lusey) was a Protestant. Through his methodical work, he was a provocateur of the Cultural and Religious Revolution. He knew how to target opinion leaders who could reverse institutional trends.”
He will remain for me an icon of the Cultural Revolution and intelligent resistance. An enlightened man inhabited by the ambition to export his personal convictions and those of the World Council of Churches.”
For Prof. Musa Dube, former WCC-EHAIA theology consultant, “Indeed, we are grateful for the time we had with him and for all that he gave to us, Africa and the world. I believe the seeds of his labour will continue to grow on Mother Earth.”
According to Prof. Ezra Chitando, WCC-EHAIA theology consultant and Southern Africa regional coordinator, “Hendrew is fondly remembered for his passionate commitment to health promotion within churches in general, and constructive men's engagement in particular. His doctoral studies and publications have set the standard in analysing and appreciating the role of boys and men in responding to HIV within faith communities. The ecumenical movement has lost a visionary who could generate laughter, even as he addressed serious matters.”
Ayoko Bahun-Wilson WCC-EHAIA West Africa regional coordinator who has worked with Lusey-Gekawaku, the longest since May 2003 writes: “A man of faith, of prayer, a man of action, jovial, a man with an easy smile, very joking and above all a hard worker! It is difficult for me to accept the death of a loved one with whom I have shared so much, moments of joy and celebration in difficult times. Hendrew, a man who loved his work, a professional that we all appreciate, always concerned with the interest and well-being of others to the point of forgetting himself. I also remember your voice Hendrew where you said to me, ‘Ayoko, we have to register for doctoral studies, we can do it and we have all the means to reach our goal.’ I didn't have the courage to follow you but you were reckless and you started it and the disease did not allow you to finish it.”
Joël Bamanisa, a long time administrative assistant and accountant in Central Africa WCC-EHAIA regional office acknowledges the difficulty of accepting “the death of someone so dear to us.”
Isis Kangudie, WCC-EHAIA Central Africa regional coordinator recalls when they met in 2010 in Yaoundé, Cameroon. “Hendrew, an intelligent and tactful person, had a lot of humor and humanity, he was diligent and patient. He is a good listener and serving person and always organized and prepared. He taught me how to value work, not money. He taught me to strive always to achieve my goals. Every time we saw each other he always gave me advice. When he knew I was ready to give up, he looked for me and encouraged me. He helped me to work on my self-esteem and my femininity. He was my coach in every area of my life.”
Dr Fulata Mbano Moyo, a former WCC staff says, “I knew him as my EHAIA colleague until I worked with him in the positive/transformative masculinities and femininities process. That time he was working on his PhD on a similar subject. He shared his story and insights with a dash of humor. We wrestled together on questions of patriarchal privileging and disadvantaging and the impact on sexual and gender based violence…but always our pain, anger and sometimes tears were accompanied by a big and deep laughter and sometimes laughing at ourselves for being so naive or opportunistic as to be coopted by such a system of discrimination that tended to reduce those not fitting the ‘perfect categorization’ as less human. I carry those 'laughing at ourselves' moments and insights into resisting and ending such a system. Fare ye well, Hendrew, in your Creator’s loving presence! You were meant to be the goodness that this world desperately needs!”
Lusey-Gekawaku was meticulous in his duties and enjoyed being in the company of clergy and theologians and never shied away from pointing out when he felt WCC-EHAIA “train” was off the rails, confides Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator and team leader of WCC-EHAIA since April 2007. “In his activity reports, Hendrew insisted that it was impossible to end HIV new infections and to maintain people living with HIV on treatment and healthy if we do not vigorously and persistently address violence in all its forms. He equally ensured biblical and theological reflections were at the centre of all HIV interventions in Central Africa. Among his major contributions are two WCC publications: Modèles de Prédications et de Méditations Bibliques dans le Contexte du VIH/SIDA en Afrique (2003) and Féminités et Masculiniiés: Guide sur perceptions, significations et répercussions en milieux Congolais RDC à I’ ère du VIH et SIDA (2019)”.
The funeral service will take place in Brussels on 23 October.