More than 5,000 Congolese Mennonites in hiding
Mennonite Mission Network story with Christian Leader files
Mennonite church members report increasing violence in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Central Kasaï Province, where Michael J. Sharp, a 34-year-old former Mennonite Central Committee worker, died on a United Nations’ peacebuilding mission last month. Church leaders from the three Mennonite groups in DR Congo also ask for continued prayer for an end to the violence.
In an April 2 phone call, Joly Birakara, vice president of the largest Mennonite denomination in Congo, Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church of Congo), requested prayer for an end to the atrocities that have driven members of 30 congregations, approximately 4,000 people, into hiding in the forest. This denomination has brought at least six ethnic groups together into one church body.
Jean-Felix Cimbalanga, president of Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (Evangelical Mennonite Church), also reports that about 1,000 people from eight congregations of the denomination that he leads have gone into hiding to escape violence.
Mvwala Katshinga, conference evangelist for Communauté des Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo (Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo, CEFMC), reports that the Mennonite Brethren churches “are fine.” CEFMC is a large, French-speaking national church with 101,000 members in 449 churches.
“The political temperature is getting hot,” Katshinga said in an April 12 email to David Wiebe, International Community of Mennonite Brethren executive director. “It can burn at any moment.”
While the majority of the MB congregations in Congo are west of the provinces where the violence is currently the worse, Katshinga goes on to say, “We really need prayers. Since talks failed and politicians are ready to fight by any way, each Monday there are demonstrations and strikes and we (can't) go out. Kinshasa (the country’s capital) is targeted by all the political parties. God shalom is our hope.”
MB Mission reports that their contacts in DR Congo have indicated that the strike and road blocks are making travel in some cities very challenging. This has lead to two previously planned trips of North Americans this April and May to be delayed until there is more stability and services available.
While the causes of conflict are complex, a major factor is President Joseph Kabila’s obstruction of last year’s elections. Kabila picked up presidential responsibilities in 2001 after his father, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, was assassinated. Joseph Kabila was then elected as president in 2006 and re-elected in 2011, completing the maximum term allowed by Congo’s constitution.
War has been a constant throughout Joseph Kabila’s time in power, though until recently, the violence was mostly contained in the eastern part of the country. Now, the fighting has erupted in Central Kasaï Province and spread into five of the nation’s 26 provinces involving approximately 70 paramilitary groups.
The spark that ignited the atrocities in Central Kasaï occurred last August when Kabila’s soldiers killed Kamuina Nsapu, a local chief. This provoked a general uprising that doesn’t seem to have a central leader and has triggered latent tensions between ethnic groups. Many of the factions are recruiting child soldiers to fight with machetes and home-made guns against the modern weapons used by government forces.
“Many Congolese families are experiencing grief similar to ours as we mourn MJ’s [Michael J. Sharp’s] death,” said Rod Hollinger-Janzen, executive coordinator of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission.
Charles Buller, also with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, is currently in Congo encouraging church leaders in Kinshasa. He was scheduled to lead Congo Leadership Coaching Network seminars in Central Kasaï Province that were canceled due to the unrest.
“While there is deep frustration over the political and economic crisis, people are praying for a way [of] peace and order,” Buller wrote in an April 6 email. “The church has the opportunity to be a prophetic voice of justice and a calming presence of Christ’s peace in the midst of a devolving situation. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with our Congolese sisters and brothers to this end.”
Mennonite Mission Network is an agency of Mennonite Church USA. Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission is an evangelical Anabaptist ministry of African, North American and European members.
Photo: In spite of the tension present in their daily lives, the fervent and lively worship of the Congolese representatives at the recent International Community of Mennonite Brethren global consultation in Thailand was a powerful testimony to their faith. Photo credit: John Irvin for ICOMB.