For over 75 years, we’ve been coming alongside families displaced by violence, poverty and injustice — both in the U.S. and across the world.
By James Misner and Marcel Serubungo In the Democratic Republic of Congo, some say that you can find all of Africa’s problems: weak national leadership, eroding rule of law, HIV/AIDS and protracted tribal conflict. Warring militias use rape as a weapon of war and perpetrate other human rights violations. Children are stolen, forced to become soldiers and used as proxies between fighting groups.
Congolese civilians are caught in the vicious cycles of conflict and disease. Millions have died as a result. Refugees and internally displaced people number into the millions.
But even in the world’s most war-torn regions, the power of Jesus can overcome the horrors of conflict. After years of warfare, the Church in DR Congo is the only social structure standing. It is the only hope of true peace for survivors of violence.
This is the reality of the Church in DR Congo:
- The Church is traumatized. Many people in the Church have been displaced from their homes. They’ve fled as refugees, survived grave atrocities, lost entire crops and ran through the night in search of safety. Our Christian brothers and sisters in DR Congo face the same situations that their greater communities face — they’re not immune from struggle.
- The Church is resilient. Even in the midst of adversity and unspeakable hardship, the church in DR Congo stands strong! Despite ethnic divisions within the nation, the church builds unity and reconciliation. They’ve refused to give up the pursuit of peace. They continue meeting together, praying together and worshiping God together. In some of the worst poverty and injustice on the planet the church gathers to proclaim the greatness of God! We have much to learn from them as they restore their communities.
- The Church is redeeming suffering. None of us can explain precisely why God allows suffering. But we do know that God redeems it — through his hands and feet, the Church. When a woman survives sexual violence, the Church will take her in, provide food and shelter and help her to care for her children. When cultural norms say that husbands should abandon their wives after rape — the Church works to debunk this lie and to reconcile marriages. The Church stands in the gap and speaks out against this injustice — teaching boys and men that women are created in God’s image and are to be respected and treasured.
Wherever there is suffering in DR Congo – the Church is right there, too. And World Relief is there to empower the Church to fulfill its mission: to bring hope to the hopeless and restore justice to the oppressed. As the people of the Church endure suffering, they faithfully follow in the steps of Jesus – bringing healing to their communities as they themselves are healed.
Would you consider making a gift to empower local churches to prevent further gender-based violence and care for women survivors? All donations will be matched by One Day’s Wages. Your gift will be used to provide medical care and trauma counseling for the victims of sexual violence and to raise community awareness about violence against women. Give today at onedayswages.org/worldrelief.
James and Marcel are both members of the church team at World Relief. James serves as the Global Director of Church Partnership. Marcel serves as the Director of Church Mobilization and Peace Building in DR Congo.
In just a few days, many people around the world will ring in the New Year. It’s a time of celebration, a time of hope and generosity. Here are a few of the things we’re celebrating at World Relief…
Peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Though there is still much work to be done for stability and reconciliation to ensue in the DRC, people like Pastor Fabian are paving the way for sustainable peace. Having been kidnapped by rebels himself, he leads his congregation in word and deed as he cares for all people, no matter their tribe or ethnicity.
Friendship for refugees in the US. Remember Michael andAwet? Both originally from Eritrea, they were forced to flee because of violence. Leaving everything familiar, they were resettled as refugees in the United States, where they met and became roommates. World Relief in DuPage-Aurora helped these new friends transition to their new reality in this new environment. Today, Michael and Awet are paying it forward by helping other refugees with transportation in their time of need.
Good local leadershipand forgiveness in Cambodia. Orn Raim is a leader in her community in Cambodia. Trained by World Relief in anti-trafficking and conflict resolution, she’s teaching others in her village what she has learned and seeing deep transformation – violence against women and children has reduced by 90% in her community.
We’ve also welcomed 7,948 refugees out of danger into loving communities in the United States. 147,083 women and men have been equipped to overcome material poverty through Savings for Life groups. 3,100 peacemakers have been trained to resolve conflict at the community level in war-torn areas. And more than 3,000 churches have been mobilized to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed.
Even though we’ve seen incredible progress, there’s much more to do and we can’t do it alone. Will you be a part of this work in 2015 and join us as we continue to celebrate with hope and generosity?
When fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) reached Viviane’s village, she and her children were forced to flee from their home and into a camp with many other internally displaced people . The camp was crowded with others who also sought refuge from the ongoing violence. Unfortunately, without employment or reliable access to food, they all were at greater risk of suffering from food shortage and hunger.
When Viviane was finally able to return to her home, the extreme challenges of everyday living remained. “We came home with no seeds or farming tools and no money to buy these things,” Viviane said. Although she had the desire to provide for her family in a sustainable way, the violence and displacement left Viviane without the means to begin rebuilding her life.
“But God sent World Relief to help our [farmers’ group] by providing Irish potato seeds, vegetable seeds and farming tools,” said Viviane. In farmers’ groups in the DRC, World Relief equips farmers with tools to begin family farms and the necessary training to make their harvests successful. Farmers are trained in crop diversification, resource management and other ways to increase the productivity of their land.
Viviane’s yields have indeed grown as a result of the support she received when she returned home even though devastation from instability and armed conflict are still felt in large areas of eastern DRC. This year alone, she harvested over 1900 pounds of potatoes, more than four times more than last year! A portion of her earnings will go towards her children’s school fees and to buy other supplies for her family. Next year, Viviane plans to rent a larger plot of land so she can grow even more potatoes.
Because of Viviane’s agricultural skills, she and her family have been able to overcome many of the challenges related to hunger and malnutrition. Viviane has also planted a vegetable garden outside of her home that adds essential vitamins and nutrients to her family’s diet. “This is the first time my family is able to eat three meals a day,” Viviane said, “I praise God for this. May our Lord Jesus bless you all who have helped us during this time and for helping us find a solution for feeding our families.”
Throughout the month of October we’re celebrating World Food Day with farmers like Viviane who are empowered to lead their families out of poverty through agricultural training and development. In DRC, World Relief is empowering local churches and farmers to work together and earn a greater income from their crops. By participating in farmers groups, some of the DRC’s most vulnerable are empowered to sustainably support their families and local economies while laying the building blocks for peace in the midst of the destruction of conflict.
In the DR Congo, we want to empower church leaders to bring sustainable transformation to their own communities. We are seeing pastors and church leaders, including women leaders, from different tribes and denominations come together to serve the most vulnerable. Additionally, community-based care groups called Compassion Groups are forming within local Churches to assess and meet the needs of the most vulnerable in their regions.
Lydia Vumilia is a 32 year-old woman who belongs to one of the local Baptist churches in Minova in South Kivu, DR Congo. Four years ago, she lost her husband and is now a widow caring for her six children. When the family needed a new shelter to live in, she couldn’t afford to buy it on her own.
The Compassion Group at her church saw the family’s urgent need and mobilized congregation members from all the local churches for Lydia. They all came together to contribute materials, money and food for the construction project. The next day, members from all the denominations came, starting early in the morning, to build a house for Lydia and her family. Now she is living in the house with her five children (the oldest daughter was recently married).
Through her tears, Lydia explained to our team how since that day, she has believed more and more in God’s Word and promises. Lydia said that she now feels she is a child in God’s family: She has fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters who love her in word and in deed.
Lydia and her children have continued faithfully in their church, serving as singers in the church’s choir. “I will stay faithful to the Lord Jesus until he returns because I cannot leave him,” said Lydia. “He has done lots of good things for me and I rely on him for all of my spiritual and physical needs.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the second largest country in Africa, home to more than 70 million people and over 250 tribes and languages. It shares a border with eight countries, playing an essential role in the economic and social development across the continent. Its unique rainforest and river ecosystems, fertile grounds and high concentration of valuable raw minerals give it nearly unlimited potential. The Democratic Republic of Congo is also home to the largest conflict since World War II. Since 1996, over five million Congolese have died as a result. Others are vulnerable to rebel group activity, extreme poverty, prevalent diseases including malaria and HIV/AIDS, a high infant mortality rate and sexual violence against women and girls ages two to 60.
Where is God in a war-torn country like the DR Congo, where eight out of every ten women is a victim of rape? Psalm 72:14 gives us a promise of his faithfulness in regions like the DR Congo when it says, “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (NIV).
Rutshuru is a town located in the North Kivu province of eastern DRC. Pastor Fabian is from the Pentecostal Church in Kelengera, Rutshuru territory. At 58 years old, he is the father of 7 children and a true hero in his community. He refused to flee when M23 soldiers advanced. He said he could not leave his congregation behind.
(Image: Sean Sheridan)
On July 21, 2013, Fabian was taken by rebel soldiers from his home into the bush, without shoes, proper clothes or the ability to notify his wife. His feet were wounded on lava stone as he followed soldiers into the forest. After walking the entire night, he was brought before the Chief rebel and accused of espionage: he had hosted some Tutsi women who were passing into Rwanda, an act punishable by death according to rebel soldiers.
Fabian explained his role as a Pastor and a follower of Christ meant he had a commitment to all God’s children, regardless of their tribe. Fabian only asked that the soldiers not use machetes but a bullet to kill him, explaining that he was ready to be received in Heaven.
The soldiers held Fabian captive for ten days. Without a shirt, he suffered from the cold and insect bites that caused blood to cover his body. He was given two pieces of uncooked root to eat every day. He was repeatedly interrogated. Child soldiers guarded him by night, informing him that they were eagerly awaiting the command to shoot him. Fabian prayed aloud day and night, refusing to let rebels call his community for a ransom.
On July 31, a rebel leader told Fabian he could be free if he left his possessions, including his money. With only a cell phone and an ID card, Fabian was led blindfolded by child soldiers through the night. Fabian awoke the next morning weak, wounded and traumatized, but he was home. His family, community and church celebrated that God had delivered “Papa Fabien” from the “den of lions.”
Those with hope in Jesus Christ know how the battle ends, for Colossians 1:20 explains that through Jesus Christ all things shall be reconciled to God through the peace established for mankind on the cross. World Relief has been present in the DR Congo since 2002, responding to its Biblical mandate to empower the local Church to bring peace and restoration to torn communities through village peace committees.
In reality, World Relief has stepped into God’s pre-existing, ongoing restorative plan for the most vulnerable. And what an honor it is.
Empower a Hero like Pastor Fabian today.
The world’s poorest have a tremendous capacity and willingness to save and protect assets when financial institutions cannot serve them. They save to meet social obligations, to prepare for emergencies, to start or expand small businesses and to respond to seasonal changes in cash flow. However, the lack of banks in rural areas often leads to high fees and unattainable minimum balance requirements, leaving savings vulnerable to loss and theft.
Since piloting the Savings for Life program in 2008, World Relief has empowered more than 100 thousand participants across six countries through the facilitation of effective and impactful community-based savings and credit groups. After years of testing and expanding, World Relief has developed a program that offers safe and reliable financial services to people who are otherwise excluded from formal banking institutions. Through regular savings and access to appropriately sized loans, group members can meet daily household needs and establish their own income-generating activities.
The Savings for Life program, like other World Relief initiatives, is also one of spiritual transformation. It is integral to the fulfillment of World Relief’s mission to “empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable.” Churches are the point of contact in communities where World Relief is present and pastors work to identify the most vulnerable within those communities. Church volunteers serve as field agents to mobilize and train the savings groups. Finally, World Relief promotes Savings groups because of its commitment to the holistic Gospel of Jesus Christ, a message that leads to transformation in every area of life.
Often, World Relief implements the Savings for Life program alongside other interventions. In Burundi, care group volunteers who bring life-saving health messages to more than 30 thousand mothers every month are invited to participate in Savings for Life groups. In Rwanda, Savings for Life is combined with leadership training so that church and community members can take initiative to meet the needs of vulnerable neighbors with their own resources. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, farmer group members involved in Savings for Life can buy better seeds and fertilizer with their own resources to produce greater yields.
Some of the most vulnerable in Kenya have also benefited from Savings for Life. Compared to other countries in East Africa, Kenya enjoys the largest, most diversified economy (USAID, 2013). Because of its location, the country serves as a place of transport and therefore plays a vital role for much of sub-Saharan Africa. However, decades of unjust governance have stunted economic development. About 60 percent of Kenyans live on US$2 or less per day (USAID, 2013). Kenyans facing poverty often lack access to the most basic financial services. Supplementing the life-impacting work of economic development, Savings for Life groups in Kenya educate members in managing their own savings. As savings accumulate, group members have access to appropriately-sized loans with which they can finance business or personal needs.
In 2011, a women’s group registered with World Relief in Kenya and Fadhili Trust to participate in a village savings and loan association in Ongata Rongai in Kajiado North. Group members save and lend their funds among themselves and also contribute to a social fund to assist with emergencies. When the group began to grow, the women registered with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development to be recognized by other institutions and gain negotiation power for development. Now, they plan to begin using savings to purchase land for various group members. In the last two and a half years, not one of the members has defaulted on a loan or payment. This is the story of just one of several groups operating in seven regions across Kenya.
The groups also provide discipleship for members through regular Bible studies. World Relief believes that God’s restorative plan for mankind includes, among many things, character development with regard to stewardship, personal finance and attitude towards work. The goal is not wealth, but worship – pointing the most vulnerable to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and empowering them to live in a way that brings Him glory.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
By Emily Roenigk, intern with World Relief in Baltimore, shares her new perspective:
Last year, I could have counted on one hand the number of times I had thought about the concept of global justice. I had never looked beyond my own privileges to desire restoration for a world that is broken in ways I may never experience. I was ignorant to this simple truth: desiring justice is inherent to a relationship with Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ desires justice.
In November 2012, Belinda Bauman visited my college small group and shared the heartbreaking stories of women and children who are suffering the unthinkable from an unnoticed war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. To this day, this somber statistic remains with me: Every nine out of ten Congolese women are victims of rape.
In our own lives, my friends and I have experienced pain, loss and even devastation; however, we enjoy the Lord’s gracious blessings of overall spiritual and physical health, education and success. Imagine our sense of inadequacy when Belinda asked us to mourn the pain of these Congolese women. We prayed for shalom, a state of existence for humanity wherein nothing is broken, nothing is missing. For the first time, I prayed for the restoration of a people I have never met and whose pain had no impact on my own life.
I knew that I eventually wanted to use my pending Mass Communications major to “help people,” but I realized then that I was the one who needed help. I need help understanding what is really going on in places that aren’t trending on Twitter, how truly believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God means I am intricately connected to the poor, and how conflicts and injustices wherein I once believed I had no responsibility are worthy of my broken heart.
Over the next couple of months, I followed World Relief’s online updates. Finally, after prayer and consideration, I applied for the International Programs summer internship at World Relief, and to my amazement, I was accepted. I am so fortunate to be learning from the talented staff of World Relief about how we can serve the real needs of the poor while empowering them with dignity and honor. It might take me a lifetime to scratch the surface of what justice really looks like spiritually, relationally, economically, agriculturally, politically and so forth. For now, I’ve learned that at the end of the day, our faith must do something in the way that Jesus’ faith did.
In their book When Helping Hurts, Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert write that it would have been useless for Jesus to merely use words and not actions to declare His Kingdom. We know that Jesus Christ is the Messiah because He not only talks about justice, He does justice. If we are to be the body of Christ, how much more must we?
Emily is a Mass Communications major at Towson University and is interning with World Relief in Baltimore. DRC photos by Christine Anderson