The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Referred to affectionately as the Heart of Africa; rich in resource, culture and beauty. The nation has some of the greatest concentrations of valuable raw minerals in the world, and Eastern Congo, in particular, is fertile and ripe for agricultural development.
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.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is one of the poorest places in the world. In a country where more than 70% of the population live below the national poverty line and war has led to over 5 million deaths, hope can seem lost. But resilient Congolese women, men and children are working for hope. And Eperance Kayitesi is one of them.
A widow living in eastern DR Congo, Eperance is a mother using what she has to prepare for a better future. Since the conflict erupted in the region almost 20 years ago, life has been hard for her family. With no help from relatives, she singlehandedly supports five children in her home, but can’t afford to send them to school.
Joining the Amani (“Peace”) Savings for Life Group in her village has empowered Eperance to fight the overwhelming odds of poverty. This small group of mostly women subsistence farmers meets together regularly to save, give small loans and make sure each member has what they need.
As a savings group member, Eperance took a small loan to purchase potato and bean seeds, which she planted in her small field. Eperance says that God blessed her yield and her family was able to grow nutritional food to eat.
More than just benefitting from the loan, Eperance was also able to save money. She used the savings to buy two goats for the family – generating income as well as providing nutrition for her family. Eperance considers this a miracle, saying, “I was saving only the small amount that I could, but I received so much. My life is improving because of savings, something I didn’t understand in the past. I praise God for this.”
This month, we’ve discovered the incredibly powerful meaning Savings for Life has for women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. And you can be a part of this - stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
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.
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.
Jesse Thornburg, World Relief Volunteer in the DRC, tells the story of DRC's most recent uprising: For eastern DR Congo, this has been a scary and puzzling week. The new leader of the M23 rebels, Sultani Makenga, has for the past month been openly threatening via radio to attack the city of Goma, but no action resulted for weeks on end.
More stressful than "the boy who cries wolf" is the pack of wolves who cry "we will eat you" but stand peacefully by (armed and ready) for weeks on end. Then suddenly, the M23 rebels fulfilled their threats and attacked Goma last Wednesday morning.
They fought with the government and UN troops in the western parts of the city while we listened on the eastern edge. From our office, we heard the gunshots and artillery explosions falling - just like in November, but this time the explosions were much closer and within the city limits, around some of our staff members' homes and an orphan center we support.
As our staff were being sent home, I hastily packed a few bags and drove our 3 American visitors into Rwanda. The visitors took it surprisingly well, especially considering two were new to Africa. The situation had accelerated so fast - that morning I spent the first hour of the workday as usual, thinking it would be just another day.
The fighting continued until the evening, and suddenly it stopped. It appeared the rebels had attacked in anticipation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to Goma the next day. But in a bizarre turn, by the next morning (Thursday, 5/23) both sides had agreed on a ceasefire (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22634535). The UN troops stopped shelling, cleaned their tanks and trucks, then came out in clean uniforms to welcome their esteemed visitor. Mr. Ki-moon came and went as planned. The rebels withdrew outside the city and have remained peacefully there ever since.
I returned to Goma yesterday morning. We pray, listen, and wait, but so far the coast is clear. We don't know if the rebels were making some sort of one-day statement or if they were pressured to leave by the DRC government, but we hope a viable, lasting peace is being formulated now.
In the end, at least 19 people (including several children struck by artillery) were killed last Wednesday with little warning, with 7 days of peace starting the next morning.
My friendquoted a Swahili proverb that perfectly captures the situation: "When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers." Here, as so often in Africa, "big men" play their games for power and wealth, but they usually face no repercussions. It is their citizens, the poor and helpless civilian families, who pay the price. Bwana atusaidie (The Lord help us).
Our fluctuating situation, from violence to tense anticipation to violence, seems to fit with Isaiah's cries in Isaiah 59. The passage is long but when read together, it gives a picture of how many of us feel.
Tunaomba na tunaendelea (We pray and carry on),
Photos by Christine Anderson
Craig Pixley, World Relief Director of Church Engagement, shares how God first grabbed his heart for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Seven years ago, I was sitting in a Nissan-Mercedes dealership having my oil changed. The cover story in the recent Time magazine caught my attention: “Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World’s Deadliest War”. Beautiful waiting room, coffee, cookies, comfy chairs. Free shoe shine. I brought along some work to do as I typically did but saw this cover sitting on the table next to me when I set my coffee down next to it. I reached over to pick it up, truly oblivious to what was happening in the Congo. Yet curious. I began reading the article.
A poignant paragraph from the June 5, 2006 article:
“Is the world willing to see it through? The shame of indifference should be reason enough for action. But without more money from the developed world to help rebuild, without more troops to secure the peace and protect innocent civilians, without a genuine effort by Congo's leaders to work for the country rather than just their part of it and without Congo's neighbors ending their meddlesome ways, Africa's broken heart is unlikely to heal. In 10 years' time, you may be reading another story much like this one. The only difference will be that millions more people will have died.”
Four things happened way out of the ordinary for me once I finished reading. First, as I processed the challenges to fix the Congo I recall thinking,“This is a God-sized problem … this will not be fixed even by well-meaning countries and aid organizations. This problem needs God.” Second, I had tears streaming down my face – right in the Nissan-Mercedes showroom! I held up the magazine in front of my face so nobody could see and brushed away my tears. Then third, I was compelled to briefly pray, “And God, if I can help be part of the solution, I am willing.”
Again, these three things are not ordinary for me. I typically don’t think in the context of “God-sized problems”, I don’t often cry (especially in public for Pete sakes), and I usually don’t offer to God ridiculous propositions to help be part of a solution with those circumstances in the way that I did on that day.
I left that dealership different as I drove back to work. No plans or resolutions or really even any new passions. But something inside of me had shifted.
I said there were four things out of the ordinary for me. Here’s the fourth … Through a series of unlikely events, I applied for a job to an organization called World Relief eight months later or so. I can remember as I read over the list of countries World Relief was actively working in, I saw the DR Congo on the list. Suddenly that word “Congo” on the website drew me back into the Nissan-Mercedes showroom with the Time magazine on my lap. God knew.
Today, Craig Pixley is working as the Director of Church Engagement with World Relief and continues to Stand for the DR Congo. Read more about World Relief and the work of the Congolese church in the DRC.
by Larissa Peters, World Relief Communications Liaison I don’t know about you, but I have an especially good feeling about 2013. I admit, I keep a journal, and on the first of every year, I wonder what will fill its pages. The same is true in managing this blog – what will be the stories, reflections, and prayers that fill this year?
So many things are happening at World Relief, and so many great things we get to be a part of this year as more and more stand for the vulnerable! So I thought I would share 13 of the ones that I’m personally excited about and that others could even join:
In no particular order, here they are:
- Immigration Reform: From publishing the book Welcoming the Stranger in 2009 to speaking at Willow Creek Church and the G92 Summit, Jenny Yang – Vice President of Advocacy & Policy and Matt Soerens – US Church Training Specialist are truly affecting change for the immigration system. We believe this is the year for reform. Want to keep up to date on the issue? Follow Jenny and Matt on twitter at: @JennyYangWR and @MatthewSoerens.
- Peace building in the Congo: Village Peace Committees are changing their communities in the DR Congo. Conflict still abounds, but the grassroots movement of the Church is transforming lives. This is something to be a part of! Follow updates and watch our video.
- Our partnership with Pure Charity: if you haven’t checked this organization out and you shop online or use a credit card (which should cover most of you), click here now. Here is a creative way to raise funds: shop and the stores you shop at will give to your charity of choice. World Relief has a few projects of their own there, and you’ll find Pure Charity at the Justice Conference. I already wish I knew about them earlier – I have to admit I’ve become slightly addicted to online shopping.
- Fighting the battle of slavery: more and more people are taking on the cause of anti-trafficking. Currently, there are 14,500 people trafficked into the US each year (this is a low estimate). But our offices in Spokane, Tampa, High Point (and even internationally in Cambodia) are fighting to prevent that number from going up. Follow World Relief’s efforts on twitter and find out how you can promote awareness through races, workshops, or advocacy.
- Church Partnership: Churches around the US have partnered with World Relief with a commitment of investing in a country or program for 3 to 5 years. Building relationships with the field and giving opportunity for long-term sustainable development, partnership is about wholistic mission. More and more churches are signing on, and we are excited about the changes it is bringing! Want your church to be part of this?
- Catalog of Hope: This year, our Catalog of Hope has a new section: fair trade items that benefit refugees in the US, empower women in Burundi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, and provide a monster for children in the US. A monster? Yes! See what this is all about.
- Stand Together Project: The premise is simple: Empowering women who are heroes in their own communities around the world. Check it out here: www.standtogetherproject.org.
- Savings for Life: A woman in Rwanda had never held a 5000 Franc note (worth $8 USD). For the first time in her life this year, she saved up SIX of them because of her Savings group! How much more exciting can that get? Savings for Life is making credit available to those even the microfinance institutions can’t consider. Watch a video on what Savings group is here: www.savings-revolution.org .
- Reviving and strengthening marriages in India: There is a quiet and unique program in India. One that is saving marriages, helping couples to be faithful to each other, and actually preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Check out the story on India.
- Volunteering with refugees in the US: more and more people are asking, “What can I do?” Our US program with refugees provides tangible volunteering. I can promise you that your 2013 will be incredibly enriched by befriending a refugee and welcoming them into your home and life.
- Volunteering with refugees in Indonesia: you have to check this unique opportunity out: living in Indonesia and ministering to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. You can read about some of the volunteers’ experiences here: www.worldreliefindonesia.com .
12 AND 13
Tis the season for conferences! So I’ll have to just wrap them all up into the last two: Churches and organizations are stepping out and bringing awareness to issues of injustice, educating their communities on how to respond. World Relief is privileged to be a part of these conferences with other Justice advocate hall-of-famers:
- Passion Conference 2013
- Ignite Justice: www.ignitejusticeconference.org
- International Wholistic Missions conference www.wholisticmissions.com
- The Justice Conference: www.thejusticeconference.com
- Mission on Our Doorsteps: www.missiononourdoorsteps.com
My hope is that these 13 (and then some) inspire and encourage you. And may this year be full of all that is more than we can ask or imagine!*
By Allison Schroeder In just a matter of days, World Relief in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will welcome a team of women led by Lynne Hybels. Lynne has been an advocate for the Congo since she traveled there with us in 2010. This time, there will be six women joining Lynne on the trip; three others are traveling in spirit, adding their voices to the journey. I am honored to be one of the three -- you can read more about the "Ten for Congo" team at Lynne's blog: www.lynnehybels.com. Here's an excerpt to give you a taste:
Together, we are calling ourselves Ten for Congo. Our goal is to raise awareness about the DRC. Most Americans are like I was just a few years ago, totally clueless about what’s happening day after day after day in Congo. We women of Ten for Congo want to change that. We want to provide a voice for the voiceless people of the Congo. Actually, we want to shout for Congo! We want to be loudspeakers for Congo! We want to bellow for Congo!
Will you join us?
With your help, our ten voices can become 10 x 10 voices, or 10 x 10 x 10 voices, or 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 voices.
Imagine 10,000 voices bellowing on behalf of Congo!
A pretty awesome vision! I’ve travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo several times in my work with World Relief. Each time I’ve been undone, outraged by the violence and poverty, the cruelty of the circumstances. But I’ve also been inspired by beauty and humbled and encouraged by the perseverance of local churches that are empowered to respond. I've been awed by the simple clarity of Christ’s presence around me as churches come together to build peace and care for those who have been ravaged by war. Each experience has changed me, and I have no doubt that the women who are traveling there next week will be changed as well.
Our prayer, though, is that this trip will do more than change a few women. Our prayer is that it will change thousands of women -- in the U.S. and in Congo. May all those who read about this team's experiences be outraged, inspired, humbled, and moved to speak up -- loudly! -- on behalf of the most vulnerable.
Follow Lynne's blog or go to www.worldrelief.org/lynnehybels to find out more about how you can add your voice to the Ten for Congo team.
Allison Schroeder is World Relief's Church Partnership Director based in Baltimore, Maryland.