WATERLOO, Ontario (Canadian Mennonite) – Suffering continues in the Kasaï region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the aftermath of an armed conflict that displaced an estimated 1.4 million people, including thousands of Mennonites. The region is the birthplace of the Mennonite Church in Congo, a church that is more than 200,000 strong.
In August, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) reported 36 confirmed deaths of Mennonites in Congo, 12 church schools destroyed or attacked, 16 churches destroyed or attacked, 342 homes destroyed, and thousands displaced.
While the mass killings and razing of villages—perpetrated by so-called rebels, government-backed forces, and ethnically charged militias—have abated, a degree of lawlessness has followed. Age-old tensions between ethnic groups in the region have flared up.
Some displaced people have returned, but many have not. Some have nothing to return to, says Bruce Guenther, MCC's director of disaster response.
In addition to the lingering destruction and trauma, the economic situation in this particularly poor part of one of the poorest countries in Africa has become desperate. In many areas, the conflict has caused people to miss two planting seasons. The value of the national currency has also dropped significantly.
MCC is coordinating an emergency response shaped and implemented by Congolese Mennonite Church organizations and supported by nine Anabaptist organizations in Canada, the United States, France and Switzerland. The response has involved distribution of a month's supply of food, along with tarps and soap to 460 displaced families in Kikwit and Tshikapa. The value of the aid to date is $122,438.
In an MCC release, Fidele Kyanza, who helped coordinate the response, said that, due to a lack of camps for displaced people, many families have taken in people who fled their homes. "Many times, a very poor family is receiving another very poor family into their home," he says. "When you give support and aid to those families, you give harmony and peace."
Mennonite World Conference reported in the summer that Mennonite churches in neighboring Angola had taken in Mennonite and other refugees from the Kasaï region. Pastors in one area of Angola reported more than 3,500 Mennonite refugees, including 290 unaccompanied children, living outside refugee camps, in Mennonite churches, or with church members.
The United Nations reports that only a small percentage of the funds required to address the Kasaï crisis have been secured from the international community.
A North American church worker, who asked not to be named for security reasons, reported that some people, who hoped to attend meetings in Kasaï, could not due to financial constraints or security concerns related to the conflict. Many who did travel from surrounding villages were worried about returning home, as the money they had set aside for travel had been taken from them at the many roadblocks in the region, something that did not happen with this frequency prior to the rebellion.
The church worker also reported an instance in which a soldier duped a poor village woman into selling him a small quantity of charcoal for the equivalent of 25 cents less than the price she had set. When the woman, seven months pregnant, tried to get the charcoal back from the soldier, he shot her in the abdomen. She later died. There was no investigation into the death. The church worker said people feel they have no recourse.
The church worker also said that the people do not look to the government for hope. Rather, when caring people show up, willing to share at some level in the suffering, that is their source of hope. "We all need saving in that sense," he says. "We all need love."
The united Mennonite response continues to encourage donations, which will, in part, determine the extent of subsequent assistance.
Organizations supporting this distribution include Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission; Caisse de Secours, the development arm of the French Mennonite Church; International Community of Mennonite Brethren; MB Mission, Mennonite Church Canada Witness; Mennonite Mission Network; Mennonite World Conference; and Swiss Mennonite Conference.
This article first appeared in Canadian Mennonite magazine.