The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to 200 ethnic groups who speak nearly 250 different languages. Its ethnic diversity is matched only by its biological diversity. Rich in culture and natural resources, it’s a beautiful place. Yet, it’s also a country riddled in war, caught up in armed conflict that dates back to the 1960s.
Conflict in the Congo, as with any country, is as complex as it is varied. It ranges from high-level disputes between people groups, to personal disagreements over issues such as land use and resource distribution, to relational discord between community members. At any level, conflict has the ability to disrupt peace within a community and perpetuate cycles of poverty and unrest.
Take Landrine and Neema, for example, two women living in a small village in the DRC. These women were friends and neighbors until a conflict severed their relationship. Neema accused Landrine of having an affair with her husband. The conflict quickly escalated, consuming both of their families and threatening to involve their entire community.
Luckily for these two friends, a Village Peace Committee (VPC) had been established in their community. The women took their disagreement before the committee, received counsel and mediation, and the conflict de-escalated.
Village Peace Committees are part of an ongoing peacebuilding initiative that World Relief has embarked on in partnership with local churches and community leaders in eastern Congo. Each committee is made up of 10 members from various social and ethnic groups in the community. Committee members are trained in conflict mediation and relationship restoration.
World Relief’s peacebuilding activities address community-level conflicts, such as the one between Landrine and Neema, that occur within or between families. These conflicts often involve personal relationships, destruction of property or use of land and other resources. Most critically, VPC mediation interrupts the cycles of revenge that have the potential to escalate to violence or further damage to person or property
In the case of Landrine and Neema, Neema realized that jealousy had caused an untrue story to take root inside her heart. That story lead to a belief that Landrine was sleeping with her husband. That belief led to an accusation, which led to conflict. With the help of the VPC, Neema adjusted her view of the situation by looking critically at the internal narrative she had been writing. This allowed her to see the truth in her relationship with Landrine, and the women were able to find forgiveness and reconciliation with one another.
“We made the decision to forgive each other,” Neema said. “Our husbands…praised the VPC [for helping] us avoid this conflict that could lead to war between two families.”
Today, on the heels of International Day of Peace, we reflect on Neema and Landrine’s experience and are reminded of how much we can learn from the peacebuilding efforts of our brothers and sisters in the Congo.
Peacebuilding works on the assumption that if differences, conflicts and misunderstandings were resolved through a process of introspection and discussion before they escalated, people could live at peace with one another and harmony would reign throughout the community.
There’s no question that our nation is embroiled in conflict at this moment in time. Conflict between political parties as well as the cross-cultural divide happening around issues of immigration have uprooted peace on a national level that has trickled down into our personal lives. Rising levels of violence and the discord we feel when we turn on the news, log in to social media or even sit down to dinner with loved ones can be overwhelming and at times, defeating.
It’s easy to point fingers, to create false narratives and assume the worst of the “other” side. It’s almost natural to take issue with family members who just don’t get it or who we see as less knowledgeable. But as we learned from Neema, communal conflict might be best avoided if we first start with the internal narratives we’ve written, thinking critically about the stories we tell ourselves and being willing to discuss them with others whose views may differ from our own.
Peacebuilding efforts, whether in the Congo or in the U.S, have to start with a mindset change and a desire to live at peace with others, even if it means refraining from our own self-interests.
That’s challenging, isn’t it? To consider that a life of peace requires us to put someone else’s interests, or our community’s interests ahead of our own? It’s far easier to believe we’re right and our ideas are correct. But we would be well-served to remember what Jesus said in Mark 9, that anyone who wants to be first must be last, and a servant of all, and to recall Paul’s words in Phillippians that tell us to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves.
Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. If God is going to grow it in our world, we must first allow him to grow it in us. In other words, if we want a peace-filled world, we must first become peace-filled people.
Rachel Clair serves as a Content Writer at World Relief. With a background in creative writing and children’s ministry, she is passionate about helping people of all ages think creatively and love God with their hearts, souls and minds.