The Congo - Faith Amidst Tribulation
This week I would like to write to you about a heart-rending situation in the Congo that Zambia pastor Derrick Pringle just wrote to me about. He and his wife, Cherry, live in northern Zambia just a few miles from the long border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). There is little travel and communication with the DRC, as it is a nation in disarray with ungovernable regions, warlords, poverty, starvation, atrocities, genocide and general misery. The DRC is neither democratic nor a republic.
For more than a 150 years, the Congo has had a tragic history of all things miserable.
During the era of Belgian colonization in the late 1800s, it was brutally exploited for natural resources. Much of this was done during the reign of King Leopold II, who ran the huge colony as a private venture. Under his reign, about ten million (with some estimates running as high as 14 million) people died in his extraction of ivory, rubber and other resources. Human rights abuses under his regime contributed significantly to these deaths. Reports of deaths and abuse led to a major international scandal in the early 20th century, and Leopold was ultimately forced by the Belgian government to relinquish control of the colony to the civil administration in 1908. But, since that time, there have been competing factions seeking to be in charge of the government, which has led to further unrest and genocide.
After independence on June 30, 1960, mayhem continued as the Congo continued to be bathed in blood. Competing militias and tribes fought one another for control of sections of the vast country. Independence changed very little of how the general population fared. Warlords actually want conflict to continue, as it provides them with a living. They are supplied arms and aid from foreign powers who have their own reasons to use them as proxies in constant fighting. The high price for this is paid by generations of a poor and battered population.
One of the three Feast of Tabernacles sites in Zambia is in the Copperbelt, very close the border of the DRC. One of our prospective members from the DRC, Sam Kasonga, has come over the past two years to keep the Feast with us. He oversees a group of interested people in the DRC. He is associated with our deacon, Changa Changa, in the Solwezi church lying close to the DRC border. It is pastored by Derrick Pringle. Through Derrick Pringle and Changa Changa, we have provided booklets in French for teaching the DRC group. French is the language of the Congo and there is a great need to provide more in-depth instruction for them.
Derrick Pringle will be arranging this coming Sabbath for Kasonga to visit on the Zambian side to see what more can be done.
|The Church in the DRC. Sam Bwalya is the second male in the back row, left to right
Earlier this month, Sam Bwalya, one of our deacons in the Copperbelt congregation, traveled to the DRC to visit Sam Kasonga and the group of people who are Sabbath-keepers. In his report he reveals little-known conditions in this forsaken land. First, here is what Derrick Pringle wrote:
December 20, 2016
We trust that you all are well and that the Work is continually moving forward. We have had some good rains of late, although our total to date is half that of last year.
I am writing about Sam Kasonga, our prospective member, who has been attending the Feast with us for the last two years. When he can, he attends the Holy Days. He has been asking for a visit for some time but said it would not be safe for me to cross the border. There is political unrest in the Congo, and even Mr. Bwalya nearly did not go.
There has been rioting in the Congo because Mr. Kabila, the President, refuses to step down. A number of people have been killed and the situation is tense. This is the time of the year when the rains are here and crops planted but due to the uncertainty and unrest very little ground is being cultivated. It is a sad state of affairs with no prospect of stability.
At the Feast we arranged a date for Sam Bwalya to visit Sam Kasonga. It was very disturbing to hear of the 80 orphans Kasonga is looking after and giving an elementary form of education. Nshima (cooked ground maize) is very expensive, 50% more than in Zambia. The children get one meal a day, which is a handful of nshima. I have asked the Copperbelt church to collect money to assist them. Border police will not allow us to take meal into the Congo.
Kasonga has requested more frequent visits and funds to extend the school room, building, benches, etc. We will have to see if this can be handled by the French work.
Your comments and advice please.
Derrick then sent me the report from Zambia deacon Sam Bwalya, which follows:
A Visit to the Congo
Date: December 12, 2016
I left my home on the 9th of December 2016 going to the Congo (DRC) and spent a night in Chililabomowe, a border town to Congo.
|This overlay of the DRC over Europe shows it to be 2/3 the size of Western Europe. It's huge with little infrastructure. The red dot represents the approximate location of the DRC group. The other dots are on the Zambian side. The blue dot represents the Solwezi UCG congregation and the green dot the location of the Copperbelt Feast site near Kitwe.
At about 0830 hours, I left for the Congo. The fleet of trucks definitely told me that I'm going to a border. It was terrible in the mini bus I was in. Smuggling of mealiemeal is rampant. At the immigration site, I saw many people busy changing money. Definitely you can see that there is poverty and people are really suffering in that country and the conditions are not stable at all.
Kasongo came to meet me with his friend Stephine Musangu. When I asked to go through the immigration, they told me "No, No. Bwalya, you will simply go with us using the village routes." When we came to Mr. Kasongo's home, where I waited an hour for people to arrive. My greatest desire was to see the people from the church and hear from them and their challenges.
I really wept when the orphans started coming to a church building which Kasonga has constructed, which also serves as a school. They were eighty in number, about 14 are being kept or looked after by Stephine Musangu. At 1400 hours people came and the service was on.
|Sam Kasonga with some of the orphans
Language - they speak Swahili and French, but some do speak Chibemba, my language. They wanted to know about the tithe. I explained this to them. They were extremely happy to see me as one of the servants of the Lord.
Here is a summary of some of the needs:
(1) They want to extend the church building because many people are coming to the church
(2) The floor needs cement so that the floor can become smooth
(3) There are no chairs in the church. People sit on logs and bricks, even pupils use the same bricks and logs. There are only few chairs--about six.
(4) Kasongo has a typewriter but it has no ribbon--a ribbon is needed.
(5) The magazine Beyond Today must be in French. Also the booklets.
(6) There are four in the church who ask for French Bibles.
(7) Reading books are needed for the youngest grades. Most of the children haven't been to school.
(8) Comment: Spiritual work is needed in Congo.
This is deplorable. What surprises me that in the midst of these dreadful conditions they are concerned about expanding their church building, curious about tithing, desirous of making every effort to educate their children, read the Bible and be further instructed through our church literature.
Also, incredible to me is that one of the poorest of all United Church of God congregations in Zambia's Copperbelt is trying to do what they can to help this situation. On top of this, we cannot even bring food into the country and will have to arrange for them to find it in their country where desperation and tensions abound.
While technically this area is French-speaking, the DRC is a vast country which will not be easy to be visited by our French-speaking ministry. It is more than 1500 miles on dangerous road from the Copperbelt to Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC.
Beverly and I plan to visit Zambia's Copperbelt and Solwezi during the upcoming Days of Unleavened Bread. Please pray for people with whom God is working in such harsh and evil environments.
-- Victor Kubik