Last week I was at Improka, the CPC printing press, chatting with some of the staff about the songbooks they were producing for us. They told me that Saturday was a holiday in Congo, so the workshop would be closed. I asked what the holiday was. “To celebrate the coming of AFDL into Congo.” was the response, “Do you know AFDL?” I had to admit that I didn’t – political history is not my strong suit. They explained that AFDL was the party/group headed by “Kabila the father” (Laurent Kabila), which overthrew Mobutu’s government in 1997. “Those soldiers beat, killed, and whipped lots of people when they came. It was terrible! A time of real suffering – even here in Kananga.” We had been joking around a few minutes before, so at first I wasn’t sure how serious they were. In French the word they use for holiday, “férié”, sounded to me to connote celebration; so I asked, somewhat facetiously, if the purpose of the “holiday” was to remember the suffering they had experienced. They laughed and seemed to think this idea was tremendously funny. Then Mamu Mbuyi, the Director of Administration for Improka walked into the workshop, and one of the staff added “Even Mamu Mbuyi – they almost killed her! They hunted for her and threatened to kill her. She really suffered!”
I asked Mamu Mbuyi to tell me what had happened. “The soldiers came to have some letters typed and printed at Improka. I saw the letters, and realized that they were orders to kill various people. I was horrified, and realized that as part of the church we couldn’t print such letters. I showed them to the Director (Mukulu Ntumba), and we refused to print them. The soldiers got mad, and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They sent an official summons for me to come to their headquarters, and delivered it with about 10 soldiers.” Those soldiers came three times over a weekend looking for her. When she arrived on Monday morning, Director Ntumba took her to the governor’s office to see how they could get her out of this. Paradoxically, her husband was a district president for the AFDL party, and that is the only reason the soldiers were willing to let her off. They told her directly that if that hadn’t been the case, she would have died.
Later in the day, Pastor Mboyamba stopped by our house. We said we had heard that Saturday was a holiday. “Yes – Liberation Day!” he said. “Liberation Day??” I asked, “I heard that it was a terrible time with a lot of suffering.” “Oh yes. It was!” he quickly responded. “But the government says it is Liberation Day. So, we publicly go with the government line.”
These events are not ancient history. People who are still considered young remember 1997 and some were beaten or whipped when the soldiers came through. It is a sobering reminder of the difficult environment here in Congo and the tenuous security that currently exists in part of the country (and the lack of security that continues to affect the East). Yet, we praise God for the courage and hope that He gives to His people. Mamu Mbuyi is just one example of someone who took a stand against senseless violence. This kind of sacrifice and courage is what is what can help the church and the country to heal and become a place of life rather than a place of suffering.