Saturday, June 24, 2006

"Christians should not run from trouble"

A great story in Christianity Today of faith in action and under seige in Congo ... what can the American church do to help these dear brothers and sisters?

Hope in the Heart of Darkness


With 3.9 million dead and 40,000 raped, Christians work for renewal and healing in Congo's killing fields.

Joseph Lusi, a Glasgow-trained, Congolese orthopedic surgeon who's built like George Foreman and as articulate as Muhammad Ali, habitually starts his day with prayer. But the morning of October 30, 1996, was different. He was dodging bullets and sheltering from incoming mortar shells.

At dawn, rebels had launched a stealth attack on Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near Rwanda. The fighters had filtered through the border overnight. By daybreak, they were drilling the town with machine gun fire and pounding it with explosives.

Lusi was then director of a Baptist mission hospital, which was located near a military base. The hospital was engulfed in fierce fighting. Staff and able-bodied patients scampered. So did Lusi. A bathroom looked safe. He locked himself in.

The bbc knows no manners. A British journalist called Lusi's satellite phone. The surgeon became a live radio broadcaster, narrating what he saw and heard to a worldwide audience. While on he was on the air, a bomb exploded in the hospital compound.

"I will go and see," Lusi said.


In London, Lusi's sister-in-law was tuned in when he went incommunicado. Alarmed by the steady silence, she called Lusi's wife, Gwendolyn, then in Nairobi.

Gwendolyn immediately hit the road. In three days, she found herself stuck at the DRC border. Locals slipped into war-ravaged Goma to scout for her husband.

An indelible image is stamped on her mind: She saw Lusi in a blood-bathed white doctor's gown walking across the border toward her. He had been fixing limbs all weekend—possibly the only surgeon on duty in the city.

How had he survived? When the fighting got ferocious, he and a remnant staff of five hid in the ceiling. The slender ones, who could slide into the roof, had planned to pull Lusi up. But he was too heavy. So the staff jumped down, placed a stool on top of a table, and pushed him through. Gwendolyn chuckles when telling the story.

"Christians should not run from trouble," says Lusi, now director of HEAL Africa, an indigenous ministry that operates a 156-bed hospital, trains medical professionals, and offers HIV-prevention services and holistic AIDS care.

"We should be where God wants us to be."

... and ...

Word spreads quickly in Nyabiondo. Local pastors hear that Christianity Today is talking to indigenous church leaders. Nineteen show up.

An impromptu group interview takes place in a classroom. The pastors file in with their weather-beaten, threadbare clothing and string-strapped footwear. Churches are tiny, they report. The biggest congregation meets in the only church building left standing and draws 100 people. It used to have 800 members. Other churches used to have an average of 500 people. Now they are content with 50 or less.

Why this drop in numbers? Many people are dead, they say. Others hide out in the vast surrounding rain forests. Some have lost faith.

"It hurts," says pastor Epafra Muhindu. "They tell us their problems. There is nothing we can do. We are suffering just like they are."

Lack of facilities is another concern. Except for the one building near the school, all other churches have been bombed or burned to the ground. Church services are held in haphazardly built grass-roofed huts. When it rains, people are drenched. So many choose not to go to church.

Music is another lack that is sorely felt. "Congolese love music," explains pastor Levi Nyamanda. "But all our music instruments were looted."

The most basic supplies are lacking. Not one of the 19 pastors in attendance has a complete Bible. Ten have tattered portions. They borrow Scriptures from each other or from church members.

And financial support? The question triggers a chuckle. Due to deep poverty, local giving peaks at US$10 per month. So how do they survive? More laughter.

"Faith," asserts one pastor. Others nod.

Faith is also what keeps these ministers here. On September 8, 1998, pastor Kitsa Lukoo was walking home at 7 p.m. with a few dozen companions. Suddenly, they were surrounded by armed militia, and gunfire erupted. A dead body fell on Lukoo, forcing him to the ground. Blood from the corpse splashed on him. He feigned death until the killers were gone. The next morning, 68 bodies were found. "I was the only survivor," Lukoo says.

Listening to this story, a World Vision staffer bursts into tears, crying out, "Jesus—this is too hard for me." A long silence follows. "Come, let us pray," pastor Nyamanda finally says.

Nyamanda reminds his fellow pastors of God's goodness even in the darkest hour. Remember December 19, 2004. Nyabiondo was surrounded. "They wanted to kill everybody." Then God intervened. A strong fog covered the whole area, allowing residents to escape safely into the hills.

That was not all. People did not starve. "We ate roots, fruits, even caterpillars, and became healthy." There was no outbreak of disease, no snakebites, and no attacks from wild animals. "God took care of his people."