About 2 weeks ago, we spontaneously took a break from Kananga for 2 days and ‘escaped’ to Tshikaji. This village, 15 km south of Kananga, is the site of the CPC’s primary hospital in the Kasai region. A hydro-electric dam provides constant power and running water for the hospital and the connected institutions, and therefore it provides some welcome comforts for us! We arrived in Tshikaji mid-day on Monday, needing some time alone and refreshment, and discovered that the village of Tshikaji was in a state of shock and devastation. A storm, which perhaps was a tornado, whipped through the village on Sunday evening, August 29. In just a few minutes, more than 130 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Six churches were also destroyed, and 2 schools received significant damage. Two young children were killed and more than 30 people received injuries that will take months to heal. More than 700 people are left homeless.
The storm seems to have jumped around—some houses were destroyed but their neighbors were left untouched. Tornadoes are highly unusual in the Kasai region, but it does seem that is the best description of this storm. The CPC church in the village was a solid stone structure with a metal roof that was built in 1982. The roof was completely blown off and the pillars broken, but a mud-brick house nearby remained intact. The metal roof of one family we know was blown more than 50 meters from his house. Most houses in the village are made of adobe-mud bricks and have thatched roofs. Because of the vulnerability of their homes and the severity of the wind, several people had taken refuge in the church. When the roof fell, the broken pillar hit a 9-month old child in the head and killed him. In the midst of grieving and trying to recover from the destruction of their homes, it is a further blow to the community to not have a church to gather and worship in.
The Lubi II church in Tshikaji. The roof has completely fallen.
Last week we walked through the village of Tshikaji with some pastors from the region. The degree of devastation was appalling—so many roofs have been blown off and houses destroyed. In many cases, people continue to sleep in their homes in unsafe conditions. Tshikaji is a region of subsistence agriculture, and most residents survive just by meeting daily needs—they do not have a cushion of resources to deal with disasters of this magnitude. To compound the challenge, this storm came just at the beginning of rainy season, when farmers are planting their fields and children return to school. This storm destroyed the seeds that many people were preparing to plant. Those left without roofs on their homes have to deal with frequent rains, which makes them vulnerable to sickness. Many children have been unable to return to school because their belongings were destroyed and all of the family resources are tied up in daily survival needs. We grieved to see the destruction in an area of such vulnerability.
Mama Kanku, a member of the IMCK Presbyterian Church in Tshikaji.
Her house completely crumpled to the ground, but the small kitchen-house
beside it remained intact. The structure made of palm-fronds in the background is
their latrine, which perhaps demonstrates the economic vulnerability of the community.
This adobe-brick house completed crumpled (foreground). Mama Tshiela Mulumba and her husband had
just stepped outside the house when it fell. They attend the Lubi II CPC church in
Tshikaji, and are among the ‘destitute poor’ that are given assistance by the church.
The church leadership of the CPC recognizes the impact of this destruction on an already vulnerable community. They are looking for ways to respond to the urgent needs in this community and encourage the church in Tshikaji. A plan has been created to provide support for the most urgent needs of food security, school support, and shelter. Financial assistance has been applied for from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and we are praying for others who will contribute to the rebuilding efforts.
If you would like to contribute towards the rebuilding of the church or of responding to other urgent needs in the community, you can do so through the Evangelism Department of the CPC, and note in the comments/instructions box that it is for “Tshikaji”. You can donate through PC(USA) at this site: Evangelism Department. Please pray for protection and provision for the people of this community as they seek to rebuild their lives!