By Don Tucker
In 1994, the world was staggered by reports of more than 1
million Tutsis killed in the midst of civil war in Rwanda. Yet the massacre
presently taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo is unimaginably
During 10 years of civil war, 4 million to 6 million people have
died. Most of the dead were civilians, victims of starvation and disease. As
war decimates their homeland, people have no opportunity to grow crops. Lack of
infrastructure within the nation translates into an almost total void of
Surrounded by such human tragedy, believers in Congo are
holding on to their hope in Christ. As a result, the Holy Spirit is guiding and
empowering them to live out the gospel in one of the world’s darkest corners.
Latest wave of
After the latest hopes for a lasting resolution faded,
violence in Congo has increased exponentially, forcing more than 250,000 people
to flee their homes. Many have sought refuge in the forests, living without
shelter and foraging for food. No one is excluded from the violence and
brutality. Women are raped by rebels; children are kidnapped and forced to
fight; war widows and orphans are left with no place to go. Refugee camps are
overflowing with internally displaced people.
Missionaries Todd and Amy Churchill have sought to maintain
communication with Assemblies of God pastors in the nation’s Kivu region, one
of the hardest-hit areas. They learned that some 344 AG people from the
interior, including 131 children, are living as war refugees in camps,
surviving under makeshift shelters in substandard conditions.
According to missionary Pat Hurst, more than 250,000
refugees live in six camps overseen by the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR). These are the same camps where multitudes of Hutus and Tutsis
fled during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. A few thousand refugees made their way to
unofficial camps or live with host families on the outskirts of Goma, one of
the main cities in the Kivu area. More than 13,000 other displaced people fled
Hurst, along with AGWM Communications photographer Gaylon
Wampler, went to some of the camps to evaluate the conditions. They report that
most of the major international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are present
in Goma and are doing all they can to help. People in the camps seem to be
receiving at least limited food and medical help. Unlike the 1994 crisis in
Rwanda, the situation in Congo has developed slowly, placing NGOs in a better
position to offer help.
AG World Missions has given funds to missionary personnel to
purchase food for the camps where AG believers and pastors are being cared for.
Even so, the process of acquiring sufficient food is complicated by suspicions
of corruption and bureaucratic red tape. And although people are getting
limited food, it often is not enough to satisfy hunger.
Life still survives in the jungles
Within this seemingly hopeless scene of tragedy and death,
God is at work. I saw evidence of this firsthand during a recent visit I made
to Isiro. Near this city in 1964, missionary Jay Tucker was martyred by rebel
Traveling with several nationals, I made my way through the
jungle toward the Bomokande River where Tucker’s body was discarded. The area
was lush and green, and I expected to see many animals. When I saw none, I
“We ate them all to survive,” my guides told me.
Though I saw no animals, I was amazed by what I did see. We
never traveled longer than 15 minutes until we passed by a sign announcing an
Assemblies of God church. At each location a simple grass-roofed enclosure,
some large enough for up to 500 people, gave silent testimony to a church that
had survived the war and continues in ministry today.
In the most primitive of circumstances, far removed from the
politics of their nation, pastors and believers are doing the work of the
ministry with the few resources they have. Often, their gospel proclamation is
the only Christian influence in their communities.
Even as the turmoil continues, God is raising up additional
messengers. In the village of Andudu, located in the heart of the conflict, an
AG Bible school draws students to prepare for ministry. During one wave of
violence, news reached the school concerning rebels who were approaching a
crossroads not far from the campus.
The students and faculty fled deep into the forest, where
they lived for several months. Although they were displaced, they never stopped
their studies. They worked in two groups, with one group studying while the
other searched for food.
Soon after the students returned to the Bible school, the AG
general superintendent, Reuben Nongoyo, came riding up to the campus on a
bicycle. Unaware that the school had been vacant for months, he had come for
the year-end grad-uation ceremony. School officials decided to give the
students their final exams to determine if any qualified for graduation. Even
after spending a large part of the school year in the forest, the students were
found to be current in all their studies. The graduation was held on schedule,
a testimony to God’s faithfulness and the depth of determination among
Resilience in the midst of despair
No one can predict when political stability will return to
Congo. But when that day comes — and even now in the current situation
— the body of Christ must be prepared to meet the needs of a physically
and spiritually hungry population.
In the area where the fighting is most intense, hundreds of
Assemblies of God churches, representing thousands of believers, have the
opportunity to become effective resources for community renewal. AG pastors and
believers living in refugee camps in Rwanda and Uganda are partnering with
directors of the camps and using whatever help they can offer to supply basic
necessities for the people.
Pastors at some of the camps are holding worship and prayer
meetings in makeshift shelters or in the open air. Church leaders from Goma
make regular visits to the camps to offer prayer and encouragement.
When the refugees eventually return to their homes, they
must begin again with what little they can bring with them. Their homes have
been burned, their villages razed, their churches destroyed. People will need
specialized ministry because of the trauma they have endured. Children will
need educational resources, and those left orphaned will need care and
nurturing. The Assemblies of God is committed to helping people replant their
fields and rebuild their homes, churches and lives.
One fact must be understood: Believers in Congo do not live
in defeat. I have never met people whose surroundings were more hopeless or
whose lives and churches teetered closer to the brink of utter destruction. Yet
they are not in despair. Bible schools function, churches open their doors to
hurting families, and believers pray and support each other. The most resilient
people I’ve met in 34 years of ministry in Africa are those living deep in the
forests of northeastern Congo. They press on, looking past the darkness to the
day when they can return to their communities in peace. Until then they are
preparing to reach out in restoration — the kind that only committed
followers of Christ can provide.
DON TUCKER is director of Africa Harvest Ministries for the
AGWM Africa region.
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