Congolese survivors finding hope

Photo Story: Mennonite Brethren churches, Anabaptist partners helping Kasai survivors build a new life

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Kinda Mukanda received tools, seeds and land to grow food in Tshikapa, Kasai province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). Mukanda was displaced from her home during the Kasai conflict. MCC photo/Kabamba Lwamba

Earlier this year in the city of Tshikapa, four Congolese women laughed together as they filled a water trough for their pigs—animals that hold the promise of income for them in the year to come. Their jovial moment was captured in a photo.

Their laughter stands in contrast to their experiences, just two and three years ago, when they fled their villages in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) to avoid being killed. They and thousands of other displaced people brought nothing with them to Tshikapa except memories of beheadings, burned houses and lost family members.

From left to right, Kasengele Tshibitshiabu, Ntumba Bitu, Bilonda Kabengele and Mputu Muamalonga fill the water trough for their piggery in Tshikapa. All four women were displaced from their homes during the Kasai conflict. MCC photo/Kabamba Lwamba

Caught on camera in another part of Tshikapa this year were three sixth graders walking home from school in their blue and white uniforms. They were laughing together like one of them had just told a good joke.

These children and hundreds of other displaced children go to school every day now instead of hiding from or fleeing the fighting, which created many orphans.

From left to right, six graders Mayambi Mayambi, Luta Nguadi and Mputu Shayi return home from class in Tshikapa. MCC photo/Kabamba Lwamba

The educational opportunities and pig projects, and maybe some smiles, can be credited to Mennonite, Evangelical Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches in the cities of Tshikapa and Kikwit and in the Kabwela area.

In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and with support from Anabaptist organizations around the world, the churches reached out to minister to the displaced people who flooded their neighborhoods and settled in their church yards. The churches’ first major food distributions were in 2017.

Overall, more than 1.4 million people were displaced and about 5,000 killed since political fighting began between Kasai militia group Kamuina Nsapu and DR Congo security forces in 2016. The initial conflict incited more violence among ethnic groups in Kasai, drawing out the crisis.

Through MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the churches continued distributing emergency food in 2018-2019 to 1,180 displaced families. They also helped pay school fees and provided school supplies for 950 children.

Jean Pierre Mpiana and Yabu Miadi carry a sack of corn flour, oil and beans they received during a distribution by Communaut Evanglique Mennonite (CEM; Evangelical Mennonite Church in Congo), an MCC partner. The distribution in the Kabwela area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) took place on March 23 and 24. They were among 180 households of displaced people who received a three-month supply of food. They were displaced by violence in the Kasai region of DR Congo.

“This response helped to strengthen the church. It brought people to Jesus,” says George Kaputu, an evangelist at the Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (CEM: Evangelical Mennonite Church) in the Kabwela area. “MCC helped to release the compassionate ministry of the church. Because of this response, we are able to observe the compassion of those in the church to respond to the needy.”

Although the violence has abated in Kasai now, many displaced people are still trying to find their footing as they rebuild their families, homes, emotional health and income in a new place. Returning to their home villages is not an option for many because their villages were destroyed or are still unsafe.

Guardian Jean Lutondo feeds the pigs at one of the piggerys that will provide income for people displaced by conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Congolese Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches have provided the tools, seeds and pigs to help displaced families get started farming. In Tshikapa, DR Congo, Communaut Mennonite au Congo (CMCo; Mennonite Church of Congo) is providing pigs to 100 of the most vulnerable families. Once the pigs give birth, the piglets can be sold to buy other food, pay school fees and other bills.

The churches continue to help displaced people this year by providing pigs, gardening supplies and garden plots, with the support of MCC. Over time, piglets and farm produce can be sold, helping families become self-sufficient.

Churches also are providing trauma healing workshops, led by lay leaders who were trained to help workshop participants recognize how trauma has impacted them and to share their experiences with each other in supportive ways. Together, they talk about how to move on with their lives.

“Displaced persons and host communities have been affected by violence either directly or indirectly. Wounds of trauma are deep and wide,” says Mulanda Juma, MCC representative for DR Congo.

“Some people show inability to address their own basic needs without support, some still remain hopeless. These wounds will take long to heal. Therefore, trauma healing response will remain a critical component of recovery both for individuals and communities.”

Kimenga Samuel has become an active part of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Kikwit because of the churchs compassion toward him and his family when they were displaced by violence in their home community. Now Kimenga helps others through his work on the Kikwit relief committee. “When we fled Tshikapa and came to Kikwit with my big family, my wife and my children, we werent sure if we would ever find assistance. Our children hadn’t been in school for a couple years because of the unrest [in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo]. CEFMC [Communaut des Eglises de Frres Mennonites au Congo; Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo] welcomed our children into their school, and we were all very happy. Our children were happy. We had left the church. It had been awhile since we had entered a church to worship. But through this kindness, we returned to attend church again. We have also benefited from the training in trauma healing.” Kimenga Samuel, who serves on the Kikwit relief committee which is made up of church and community members who plan, oversee and implement relief and other work on behalf of supporting churches. MCC photo/Ruth Keidel Clemens

Samuel Kimenga was one displaced person who became reconnected to the church because of the kindness of Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (CEFMC; Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo) in Kikwit.

Kimenga’s children were happy because they could go to school with the church’s educational support. He and his wife attended the trauma healing workshops.

“We had left the church,” Kimenga says. “It had been a while since we had entered a church to worship, but through this kindness we returned to attend church again.”

Now he is a member of the Kikwit relief committee that coordinates distributions and other support for the most vulnerable displaced people.

Learning to manage large distributions was a growing edge for CEM and CEFMC, as well as Communauté Mennonite au Congo (CMCo; Mennonite Church of Congo) in Tshikapa.

Nswanga Mofina, carrying her baby, received rice, flour, oil and salt during a food distribution in Kikwit, Kwilu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), in March 2019. MCC partnered with Communaut des Eglises de Frres Mennonites au Congo (CEFMC; Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo) to provide emergency food aid in Kikwit. People receiving this food assistance have been displaced from the Kasai region due to violence and insecurity.

But as a result of the MCC trainings of the relief committees, churches have become more confident and skilled in carrying out distributions, says Ruth Keidel Clemens, director of programs for MCC U.S. Through interaction among the three church groups, new relationships were formed.

“I am very proud of this partnership between MCC and CEMFC and other Mennonite groups,” says Leontine Matula, member of the CEMFC relief committee. “I went to observe the response in Tshikapa with CMCo and I made friends. Then I went to a training in (the city of) Goma where I met these friends again.

“Without this partnership, I would have never known about my other Mennonites sisters,” she said. “This has helped to open up my life to these new friendships. It pushed me to understand how we can reach out our hands together to help others.”

Members of the local relief committee in Kikwit, Kwilu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), stand with a group of participants in a March 2019 survey on an MCC-supported food assistance project in Kikwit. MCC photo/Kabamba Lwamba Extra information: Members of the local relief committee in Kikwit, Kwilu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), stand with a group of participants in a March 2019 survey on an MCC-supported food assistance project in Kikwit. From right to left, Makasi Kulenga, Kawaya Richard, Mushingeno Judith, Badinengani Nathalie, Mayele Rosette, Kafuti Kathy (member of local relief committee), Matthieu Abwe (MCC DR Congo Program Manager), Ntumba Aime, Mukendi Kato, Samano Kidinda, Cadette Ngongolo and Muhenya (local relief committee member) joined a focus group discussion.

The work of the relief committees continues even though food distributions have now ended. MCC continues to fund the churches’ educational, trauma and livelihood projects. Health care is an unmet need, said Juma.

Life is still uncertain for displaced people as they wait for the farming and pig-raising projects to provide a stable income, but compassion is strong.

When Kanku Ngalumulume first came to Tshikapa, the 10-year-old had no one. He said he had run away from his home village of Senge when his parents and his siblings were beheaded. “I have no hope for any reason,” he told Juma in February of 2018.

Kanku Ngalamulume, wearing a yellow shirt, enjoys a meal with his new family. After arriving in Tshikapa, after seeing his entire family killed, the Tshiama family took him into their family. MCC photo/Kabamba Lwamba  

A year and half later, Ngalumulume is sitting in the midst of the Tshiama family—Mom, Dad and five girls—as they eat together. They’ve brought him into their family. In the picture, he’s squeezed in a chair beside Mama Tshiama and he is smiling, just about on the verge of laughing.

Organizations supporting these distributions 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.

 By MCC staff: Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC U.S. Quotes in this story were collected by Ruth Keidel Clemens, director of programs for MCC U.S., on a 2019 trip to DR Congo.

MCC News Service
Mennonite Central Committee is a global, nonprofit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion for all through relief, development and peace. MCC is committed to relationships with their local partners and churches. As an Anabaptist organization, they strive to make peace a part of everything they do.

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