BY JUDY ACHESON, CMS MISSION PARTNER IN DR CONGO 1980–2012, WHO CHOSE TO REMAIN DURING A TIME OF INTENSE CONFLICT
Risk: why should we not go to tough places, such as DR Congo, stay alongside those who are facing fierce conflict, be there for them and share the love of Christ?
Praise God I was single, I didn’t have children to protect, I could stay in DR Congo until the church asked me to leave. Someone in the UK asked me how I could believe in God when such awful things were happening. I could believe because God was actively involved. He provided when there were 23 people from the two warring tribes staying together in my house.
He enabled us to feed all these people. For the first time ever, my sweet potato patch produced enormous sweet potatoes! One night we didn’t know what we would eat the following day, only to wake up to our garden covered in button mushrooms – manna from heaven!
God protected some in the most miraculous ways: Barozi’s father was fleeing from the attack on his village by the Lendus and came face to face with a Lendu brandishing a machete. He knew that this was his end and so prayed for the Lord to take him. Even though they “looked” at each other, it was as though this man never “saw” him. Instead he turned away, moving off in a completely different direction. We saw God protect us even when our house was attacked. If God does not leave his children in difficult times, why should we?
What a privilege to be there and what a boost it made to my faith. On one occasion, our Bible study on Isaiah 41:10 (“You will not be afraid, they will not terrify you”) came alive as a few minutes later the house was surrounded by three different militia groups fighting each other. We sheltered in the corridor. The verse from Philippians 4:7 “The peace that passes all understanding…” came into my mind as I realised that I was totally calm and could help the others to stay quiet and wait.
What a great God we have who is present in such situations with his children. After the fighting, the Lendus arrived at our house with machetes and iron bars. God had forewarned me and so I did not cower and the 23 people were protected.
I was called to the Congo when I was just 13 years old – at that time the country was still under Belgian rule but was building up to independence with all the years that followed of bloodshed and horror. For 20 years God prepared me and over the years talked to me about war, rape and insecurity as part of my call, before I finally had the opportunity to put that call into action. As I looked at the history of the Congo, I questioned how the Congolese could take the risk of receiving me as another white person. They had suffered so much from Western involvement over the years. I cried at what white people had done. How would the Congolese react to me?
I arrived in this beautiful country in May 1980 and thought, “Yes, I’ve arrived home.” But it was God saying to me “Don’t look at what man is doing but at what I am doing”, that enabled me to centre my thoughts and have faith that whatever would happen, God would see me through and I would see him in action.
I came to love the Congolese and learnt so much from them. They were well worth taking whatever risk was necessary to live alongside them.
I could be there to listen to people sharing the horrors of what they or their family had gone through. One young man came to tell me what had happened to his brother, who had been tortured and killed in front of his eyes. He told me every detail so graphically that I could even imagine I had witnessed it myself. I heard, soon after, that the young man had died from the shock.
As the provincial youth worker for the Anglican Church in Congo, I enjoyed getting alongside young people, helping them to think biblically for themselves and to live out their lives as Christ would want. I was thrilled to see how, during the war, some of them stayed true to Christ and looked after those from the other tribe:
Deo (from the Hema tribe), Sinza (a Hutu) and Jijika (a Nyali from the forest) ran seminars on reconciliation in Bunia among the displaced people whom they visited. This opened the door for them to move out of Bunia to Dele, five kilometres along the main road, among the Ngiti (southern Lendu). They got to know 22 Ngiti, who then formed a team so that, once trained, they could go deeper into the Ngiti area. So courageous! Deo wrote: “Myself I have learnt to respect everyone and know that he is a creature of God, and that God loved all of us through his Son Jesus Christ. Now me, Deo, as a Christian Hema, what is my position in this situation of tribal war? In Christ we are all one.”
Another time he wrote: “God has shown me that we Hemas and Lendus are like our two hands open in front of him…”
Jijika, our girls’ worker, reached out in love to many girls, first in Bunia and then in the refugee camps in Uganda. They had awful stories to tell but also amazing testimonies of God’s presence.
One girl had been raped and taken as a sex slave and felt that her life was no longer worth living. But one night, while she was resting from carrying a heavy load for her sex master through the forest, a man in white came and told her to follow him. She did this until she crossed the border into Uganda where the man left her. She was free. It was not a dream. She managed to find her way to the camp near Hoima. Here Jijika explained the gospel to her. Once she fully understood what Jesus had done for her on the cross, she surrendered her life to the man in white who had saved her, once in the Congo but now for ever. Isn’t this why God asks us to take risks?
This article features extracts from Judy’s new book, With Outstretched Arms. If you would like to get a copy of Judy’s book, please do get in touch and we will pass your message on to her.