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Faith communities working together to support those impacted by Congo volcano eruptions, earthquakes

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance provides a $10,000 solidarity grant

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo as pictured in 2015. The active lava pit is seen in its normal state. (Photo by Leendert Schreur)

LOUISVILLE — About 450,000 people have been evacuated from the area around the city of Goma in the North Kivu province of Democratic Republic of Congo, where faith groups are working together to provide humanitarian aid for those impacted.

Homes have been destroyed by lava flow and the smell of sulfur hangs heavy in the air.

A Presbyterian Mission Agency mission co-worker, Larry Sthreshley, who serves as country director for IMA World Health, said that IMA’s second-largest office is in Goma and was in the path of the lava. “Fortunately, it stopped before it even reached the airport,” he said. “About 70% of our staff evacuated the city because they lived in high-risk areas of the city. The earthquakes are continuing but are diminishing. IMA is working on how to cover the health care needs of all of the displaced people and those that have lost their houses and belongings.”

Mount Nyiragongo is an active volcano in the nation’s East-Central region, just a few miles from the border with Rwanda. In 1977 about 2,000 people were killed by the impacts of an eruption and in 2002, a large portion of Goma was destroyed. One of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mount Nyiragongo contains a liquid lava pool which gives it a bright orange glow at night, a glow that can be seen from many miles away.

Pastor Isaac Kalonji, President of the Presbyterian Community of Kinshasa, said while immediate help is necessary, the impacts will be ongoing.

“This is a serious and unexpected humanitarian crisis that requires the commitment of all Congolese and solidarity from the international community,” he said. “The consequences are likely to multiply and remain a long time. “

Mission Co-Workers Christi and Jeff Boyd

Mission co-worker Jeff Boyd, who lives and serves in the nation’s capital city, Kinshasa, with his wife and fellow mission co-worker, Christi Boyd, said in conversations with partners that there has been special concern expressed for the society’s most vulnerable people, including pregnant women, the elderly and orphans.

“We heard about people fleeing from Goma to Bukavu, where many from the first wave are hosted with already stressed families, and others end up in displacement camps,” Jeff Boyd said. “Clean water is a necessity in short supply, and cholera and typhoid are very present risks.”

He said that although physically the people of Kinshasa are not being impacted, they most certainly feel a sense of solidarity with those who are.

“Our church here feels a sense of solidarity with their siblings who are in harm’s way,” he said. “The people in DRC have faced decades of difficulties with the war and the atrocities related to it. People here in Kinshasa understand the difficulties of surviving on very little, most recently due to the COVID outbreak.”

Lake Kivu in neighboring Rwanda, as photographed in 2017. (Photo by Mark Crowner)

“There are still people here who remember how the PC(USA) intervened in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, with the influx of Rwandan refugees into East Congo and how important that support was for the Congolese church to help provide for them,” said Christi Boyd.

The couple said this is an excellent opportunity to live out the Matthew 25 call to care for the least of these.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is processing a $10,000 solidarity grant in response to the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo and subsequent earthquakes. They are working with the Congo Mission Network and Presbyterian World Mission to discuss the best ways to support the global partner’s response.

Gifts to support this response can be made here.

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