The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46: 1 – 2, 7)
Fifteen days ago we sat in the General Secretary’s office on a Thursday afternoon. We were advised by a missionary colleague to inform him of our forthcoming trip to Rwanda. We explained to him that we have many friends in Rwanda whom we were planning to visit during our forthcoming vacation. Dr. Mulumba, the General Secretary, lovingly but directly told us that going to Rwanda at this time was a bad idea. He warned us that to do so would cause ANR, the Congolese security forces, to track us and suspect us of being spies upon our return. Deflated and feeling shell-shocked by his advice, we sat below our apartment on a cement block, wondering what to do. Of course, we could just go to Kenya and not beyond (to Rwanda), but that just felt lackluster and gave no appeal. We toyed with some ideas over the weekend of how to re-present our case to Dr. Mulumba. On Monday we realized that it was a lost cause when Larry Sthreshley, a veteran missionary colleague based in Kinshasa, affirmed Dr. Mulumba’s fears and advised us not to visit Rwanda at this time. He told us that relations between Rwanda and Congo are the worst they have been in ten years. Our decision was made, we would not go.
The next day the city of Goma (1 million people) fell into the hands of the M23 rebels, a group reported by the UN as being supported by Rwanda and Uganda. The next day Larry emailed Dr. Mulumba from Kinshasa, informing him that M23 was threatening to forge alliances with the political opposition and possibly march on Kinshasa. Dr. Mulumba acted quickly, advising Larry to inform a group from Charlotte (NC) to not come to Congo at this time. He also advised us to start our vacation early, catching the Saturday plane for Kinshasa, so that we could leave the country the following week. His concern was that if we waited, Kinshasa might be a mess in a week or two. Three days later we were in Kinshasa, and by late afternoon Monday we found ourselves in Nairobi.
Right now we feel like “Congolese refugees,” though our plight is nothing like the one faced by half a million Congolese in Eastern Congo who have had to flee their homes, now living in internal displacement camps or makeshift living arrangements. I have read accounts of families living in tents, with wet mud as their floor as the rains have begun. I have read about M23 killing randomly and at-will in Goma, causing the population to live in fear. It is the sad, familiar story of Congo. A corrupt government which isn’t able to protect its people finds itself challenged from inside and out. The story of Rwanda and Uganda using proxy militias to enforce their own selfish aims and objectives in the volatile east, with almost no outcry from the international community. A story which may continue with more suffering, more displacement, more killings, more injustice, and more stories of heart-wrenching sadness.
In the midst of this upheaval and tumult, God has given us His peace. He has provided us a place to stay in Nairobi, and we are feeling grateful. We continue to pray for Congo and we hope we can return as planned in early January. Our long-term prayer for Congo is that she would experience lasting peace and good governance. That prayer feels almost like an impossible prayer, as current events seem to sabotage this land once again. We trust that God will work out his plans in the midst of the messiness and utter pain so many are currently experiencing. We, too, are feeling the pangs of being displaced, and we can only trust that God will use this time according to His sovereign plan and purposes.