Guest Post by Stephan Bauman
One of the reasons so many people give up on Congo is because its problems are chronic.
The following note from Charles Franzen poignantly depicts the urgency of the situation against the backdrop of everyday life — moms and dads and sisters and brothers, just like you and me, working and cooking and cleaning and hoping for a better future:
Yesterday was an epic day in the history of United Nations peacekeeping in the DRC as it was the first time that UN-authorized troops engaged the M23 rebels in actual battlefield armed exchanges. This was in response to the artillery shelling of the city during the latter part of the afternoon which resulted in the deaths of several people and several dozen injuries. This morning, Friday, the UN troops together with the FARDC in support attacked positions of the M23 in Munigi which is only about 3 miles north of town. Those of our staff living in that part of town reported heavy exchanges of artillery and machine gun fire throughout the early morning as well as artillery response by the UN against M23 positions in the hills overlooking the airport and the city to the north. Despite later reports of shells falling on the town later in the day, we heard nothing in our office area and so it appears that there is enough confusion and uncertainty among those responsible to halt additional firing of shells into the center of the city. In order to be safe and to allow people to get home in good time (with motorcycle taxis reluctant to operate after nightfall) the office was closed at 3pm. Traders in the main shopping area were seen closing their shops early and stockpiling goods in their warehouses in anticipation of additional trouble. Helicopter gunships of the UN have been utilized heavily against rebel positions throughout the day and this may have had some effect in pushing infantry and artillery back from their redoubts established post-Goma takeover in early December last year.
It is very quiet now in Goma with cooking fires burning and pots simmering with porridge and relish. Despite yet another uncertain time unfolding, people go about their daily tasks washing children and cleaning clothes while the kids play football under the street lamps. There is such incredible perseverance and hope reflected in these routine activities, but we have to remember that this has been a regular occurrence for the residents of this city for many years.
Many people ask – when, oh when, will this end? And often they turn their weary eyes to the FARDC and UN as they have done so often in the past. Perhaps this is the herald of a new day. Who can say? Who dares to say? — Charles Franzen, World Relief Country Director in Goma.
Belinda and I recently visited Goma. Our staff at World Relief are physically weary but strong in faith. They inspire me. As for giving up on Congo, most people I meet shake their heads and whisper “Congo” with a sigh. Many say it’s crazy to believe peace is possible anytime soon. People politely smile at the notion of prayer changing a nation.
Yet I find a counter narrative of hope against the dominant one of despair. But it comes at a great cost.
I recently met a Pastor who told me about a man whose wife was “stolen” by a rebel militia. The man looked for his wife and mother of his children for months, but he could not find her. After six months he met with the Pastor who married him and his wife. “My wife is dead” he feared, “What should I do?” The Pastor released him from his marriage. Some months later, the man took another wife.
But after nine months of captivity in the bush, serving as a slave to the rebel army, the man’s first wife was miraculously released. She came home to her husband and children.
The man appealed to the newly formed Village Peace Committee near Goma. “What should I do?” he said. “I don’t want to dishonor God or my new wife, but I want to be married to the mother of my children.”
The Village Peace Committee met with the Pastor and each wife, and counseled their extended families. After a season of prayer, the second wife asked to honorably step out of the marriage. In time, the Village Peace Committee helped her find another husband. The Pastor married the new couple and also re-married the man to his original wife.
After hearing this story, I asked the Village Peace Committee leader, “What would have happened had there been no Village Peace Committee?” He said, the wife who was held captive would have blamed the Pastor for marrying her husband when he didn’t “find her grave.” He said, “the courts would have eaten all their belongings,” meaning, they would have bribed the families for the little, if any, justice they would provide. And he said the families of the two wives would have settled into an enmity with the likelihood for life-long revenge.
Instead, there is peace. The Pastor is honored. Two women are happily married, one receiving help for her time in captivity. The extended families even worship together.
Just one flicker of hope tucked between torrents of suffering.
I hope you never give up on the Congo.