AKRON, Pennsylvania (AIMM/MCC/Mennonite Mission Network) – Displaced people who recently received food and shelter supplies distributed by Mennonite churches in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have seen unimaginable horrors.
Innoncente Ngandu Tshalu's husband was murdered by the local militia. Majilu Mulembo's house was burned down by another armed group. Monique Meta was forced to leave behind everything she owns to run with nine children.
About 1.4 million people from the Kasai region in south-central Congo fled ethnic and political violence that erupted in August 2016 between a local militia group, Kamuina Nsapu, and national security forces. Five thousand Mennonites are among those forced from their homes.
Tshalu, Mulembo and Meta, and many other displaced people, found safety near the town of Tshikapa, Kasai Province. They have been staying with strangers, in churches, and anywhere else they can.
On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the Mennonite Church of Congo (Communauté Mennonite au Congo, or CMCo) distributed one month's supply of flour, beans, oil, salt and sugar to 280 displaced households staying in Tshikapa. The church's local relief committee also provided soap and tarps, which serve as shelter from the rain or privacy within cramped, temporary living conditions.
"Many people don't have shelter, and some of them lost their fields. There are real dire situations, and many have lost everything they own," said Fidele Kyanza, who, on behalf of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), helped coordinate the distribution.
The week before, on Nov. 20, Kyanza also worked with Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo (Communauté des Églises de Frères Mennonites au Congo, or CEFMC) to distribute the same supplies to 180 displaced families in the city of Kikwit in Kwilu Province. Food supplies were based on an average seven-member family.
Both distributions were coordinated in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee and supported by numerous Mennonite organizations around the world.
Zacharie Mputu Lukadi, a CMCo elder and member of the local relief committee, said the distribution not only helps save lives, but also it gives people hope. "People trust the church to help them."
MCC, on behalf of the combined Mennonite agencies, and the Congolese Mennonite churches have been working on a response plan for several months. Security and logistical challenges along the way delayed the response until now.
Nevertheless, MCC's representative in DR Congo, Mulanda Jimmy Juma, says the assistance came at a crucial time and met needs that weren't being addressed by other organizations.
"Most displaced people are in very dire situations," he said. "Very few organizations are providing assistance, despite the high level of need. In the name of Christ, Anabaptist groups want to help meet the needs of these vulnerable people who are suffering because of the crisis in Kasai."
Kyanza says emergency food assistance also promotes peace between displaced people and host communities because there's less competition for limited resources. Displaced families can share with their hosts.
"Many times, a very poor family is receiving another very poor family into their home. When you give support and aid to those families, you give harmony and peace," he said.
Majilu Mulembo says she will share the food that she and her seven children received with their host family. The distribution means that her children will have porridge and she will be able to eat three times a day instead of having a little food once or twice a day, said Mulembo, who is pregnant.
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.
Mennonite Mission Network has received gifts totaling $77,661 from 147 donors for this relief project as of November 30, 2017. The urgent needs will continue, so additional gifts are encouraged. To contribute online, text CONGOFUND to 71777 or visit the donation page.