Earlier this year in Tshikapa, DR Congo, four Congolese women laughed together as they filled a water trough for their pigs – animals that hold the promise of income for them in the year to come.
Their laughter stands in contrast to their experiences, just two and three years ago, when they fled their villages in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) to avoid being killed. They and thousands of other displaced people brought nothing with them except memories of beheadings, burned houses and lost family members.
In another part of Tshikapa, sixth graders Mayambi Mayambi, Luta Nguadi and Mputu Shayi walked home from school in their blue and white uniforms. Hundreds of displaced children go to school every day now instead of hiding from or fleeing warring Kasai fighters, who created many orphans in their rampages.
The educational opportunities and pig projects, and maybe some smiles, can be credited to Mennonite, Evangelical Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches in the cities of Tshikapa and Kikwit and in the Kabwela area.
In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and with support from Anabaptist organizations around the world, including Mennonite World Conference, churches reached out to minister to the displaced people who flooded their neighbourhoods and settled in their church yards with an initial food distribution in 2017.
Overall, more than 1.4 million people were displaced and about 5 000 killed since political fighting began between Kasai militia group Kamuina Nsapu and DR Congo security forces in 2016. The initial conflict incited more violence among ethnic groups in Kasai, drawing out the crisis.
Through MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the churches continued distributing emergency food in 2018–2019 to 1 180 displaced families. They also helped pay school fees and provided school supplies for 950 children.
“This response helped to strengthen the church. It brought people to Jesus,” said George Kaputu, an evangelist at the Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (CEM: Evangelical Mennonite Church) in the Kabwela area. “Because of this response, we are able to observe the compassion of those in the church to respond to the needy.”
Although the violence has abated in Kasai now, many displaced people are still trying to rebuild their families, homes, emotional health and income in a new place. For many, their home villages were destroyed or are still unsafe.
The churches continue to help displaced people this year by providing pigs, gardening supplies and garden plots, with the support of MCC.
Churches also are providing trauma healing workshops, led by lay leaders who were trained to help workshop participants recognize how trauma has impacted them and to share their experiences with each other in supportive ways.
“Wounds of trauma are deep and wide,” said Mulanda Juma, MCC representative for DR Congo. “Trauma healing response will remain a critical component of recovery both for individuals and communities.”
Learning to manage large distributions was a growing edge for MWC member churches CEM, Communauté des Eglises des Frères Mennonites du Congo (CEFMC; Mennonite Brethren), and Communauté Mennonite au Congo (CMCo; Mennonite Church of Congo) in Tshikapa.
But through the MCC trainings of the relief committees, churches have become more confident and skilled in carrying out distributions, said Ruth Keidel Clemens, director of programs for MCC U.S. Through interaction among the three church groups, new relationships were formed.
“Without this partnership [between MCC and CEMFC and other Mennonite groups], I would have never known about my other Mennonites sisters,” said Leontine Matula, member of the CEMFC relief committee. “This has helped to open up my life to these new friendships. It pushed me to understand how we can reach out our hands together to help others.”
The work of the relief committees continues even though food distributions have now ended. MCC continues to fund the churches’ educational, trauma and livelihood projects, but health care is still an unmet need, said Mulanda Juma, MCC representative for DR Congo.
Life is still uncertain for displaced people as they wait for the farming and pig-raising projects to provide a stable income, but compassion is strong.
Organizations supporting these distributions include Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission; Caisse de Secours; International Community of Mennonite Brethren; Multiply (MB Mission); Mennonite Church Canada Witness; Mennonite Mission Network; and Konferenz der Mennoniten der Schweiz (Alttäufer)/Conférence Mennonite Suisse (Anabaptiste).
—An MWC news release by Linda Espenshade, news coordinator for MCC U.S. Quotes in this story were collected by Ruth Keidel Clemens, director of programs for MCC U.S., on a 2019 trip to DR Congo.