A letter from Bob Rice in Congo
Surprised by Joy in Eastern Congo
The volcanic rock all around Goma illustrates the fortunes and ill fortunes of the people of Eastern Congo. Soil around volcanoes is some of the best soil in the world. But the eruption of a volcano spells death, destruction, human misery and fear. Similarly, the mineral wealth in Eastern Congo lies beyond human comprehension, yet the lawlessness and horrific realities that accompany this “wealth” perpetuate instability for the peoples of this beautiful land. Recently Pastor Mboyamba, Pastor Wetu Mbombo of Lubumbashi, and I spent four full days in Bukavu and Goma, the two major hubs of Eastern Congo. When Kristi and I first applied for mission service in Congo, we constantly had to assure friends and family that we would not live and serve in this part of Congo. Yet something in my spirit has been drawn to this place.
We arrived in Bukavu on a sunny day in early June. Pastor Luta Butochima and a few other pastors met us at the airport. They have begun a community of Presbyterian churches and are hopeful to begin a relationship with the Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC), which Kristi and I serve. The following day they shared with us their journey as a community of faith. This journey is marked by joy; it is also marked by tragedy endemic in this region. Pastor Jacques Zairwa glowed as he showed us pictures of the ordination service of all 12 pastors on July 19, 2009. Pastor Luta shared passionately his vision for planting Presbyterian churches and training pastors in Eastern Congo.
Yet we also heard the dark side of their tale. Pastor Elia Kalume “lives like a bird” in Goma. Pastor Enoch lives in Bunakiri where 300 people were killed in a single night. In Ntulamamba residents were slaughtered for refusing to give rebels their only cow. In Kasika 3,000 women were buried alive. Pastor Molo Murowa was taken hostage by the Interhamwe militia in Rutshuru. Whole villages have emptied, fleeing orgies of rape, looting and killing. Perpetrators of this violence were named: AFDL, Mutebusi, Nkunda, Mayi Mayi, and most recently M23. The city centres of Bukavu and Goma are now burgeoning. Inhabitants pay exorbitant rates. They lack money for food despite living in the "breadbasket" of Congo. In Goma huge neighborhoods are built on volcanic rock. In Bukavu women don’t come to church because they lack the necessary clothing. Desperation and “survival mode living” seem the norm in this traumatized land. “We are a people of peace,” says Pastor Luta. “Our suffering comes at the hands of others.” He quickly does the math for us. “In Rwanda 800,000 people were killed in a genocide. In Congo 8 million have died due to war.” His numbers might be a slight exaggeration (but only slight), but they speak the heart cry of the afflicted in Eastern Congo.
In the midst of this doom and gloom God surprised us with joy in Eastern Congo. In Bukavu we worshiped at a small church on a hilltop plateau overlooking gorgeous Lake Kivu. A small boy with a malformed head gave me a thumbs-up gesture as worship began. A youth choir energetically sang about Jesus as their helper in all seasons. Pastor Elia grabbed a shaker and danced with such passion and joy it brought tears to my eyes. The Word proclaimed from Psalm 62 was received with an understanding that God is indeed our rock—our hope comes from Him alone.
Two days later we worshiped in a small white tent in Camp Bulengo, a refugee camp on the outskirts of Goma. It was the day before Pentecost Sunday and the congregation was in prayers. Pastor Joel and others danced with such animated joy that my heart leapt! I was given a shaker and joined him and the others. Here, in one of the darkest places on earth, a joy that can only radiate from the Father of Heavenly Lights broke through the storm clouds of despair and fear. It was a privilege to sing and dance amongst these warriors of faith who face incredible challenges. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” Thomas Merton writes, “We must never overlook the fact that the message of the Bible is above all a message preached to the poor, the burdened, the oppressed, the underprivileged” (Inchausti, 2005). Our Christian faith screams that darkness, fear, disease and death will not have the final word. Jesus has overcome all, and He has left His Spirit that we shall overcome as well.
The question remains regarding CPC's relationship with this newly commissioned and ordained band of Presbyterian churches, pastors and evangelists. They have miraculously sprouted up in a land rich in fertility and long on devastation. CPC's 2014 General Assembly in August will hear a report of our trip from Pastor Mboyamba. They will decide whether or not to pursue a relationship with these churches. Pastor Luta and the others desperately desire to join a larger body that can encourage their efforts. Please pray that God would give our partner wisdom as they consider this opportunity and challenge. Pastor Elia Kalume exhorted us on our final day together, “If God has helped you, then we also need help.” May CPC strongly consider how to stand in solidarity with sisters and brothers in need in Eastern Congo.
This trip to Eastern Congo was made possible by generous gifts given to the Department of Evangelism and Christian Education of the CPC. As always, we give thanks for your prayers and selfless giving. May the Lord bless you this summer with rest, recreation, and rejuvenation!
Bob and Kristi
It is good to know how things are going there, You folks are in our prayers. Don Ritenour
Bob, I felt your joy as I read about your trip to the Eastern Congo! Thanks for sharing. To God be the Glory!! My best wishes to you and Kristi!
Bob and Kristi, Greetings from all your friends at LOPC in California! Your description of the recent trip to Eastern Congo was vivid and reminds us that so many are still suffering there… yet have the inner strength to express joy and hope. May your work there and elsewhere in Congo spread the Word of Hope to those who have none…. and plant many seeds for future success to bring peace and love to Congo. The Congo Mission team at LOPC sends greetings to you both and thanks you for your faithfulness to the message of Christ. We are supporting the ministry of Jesus through the efforts of CongoSwim 2014. To see what is happening, go to CongoSwim.org. May God give you strength to do His work. Blessings, Linda