BY LINDA STRYKER
In early November, Destiny, a beautiful Congolese woman, proudly showed her newborn baby to her neighbors at the makeshift camp for displaced people at the Free Methodist Church and school grounds in Goma, the capital of North Kivu Province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The doctors who took care of Destiny said it was a miracle that both she and her infant were still alive. It had been a very complicated pregnancy that ended with a C-section.
Near the end of July 2012 heavy fighting broke out between government forces and the M23 rebels near her family’s village 17 miles north of Goma. Nearly all the members of the three Free Methodist churches in the Kibumba (Kee-BOOM-bah) area fled to a UN camp at the edge of Goma. When conditions there became extremely difficult and dangerous, about 1,000 left the camp and sought help from church leaders at the Free Methodist church property*. As the situation worsened, the numbers continued to increase until Destiny and 2,249 other people were now trying to survive on the grounds. It was not easy. Not far from two active volcanoes, all of Goma is on a lava bed. So besides dealing with the struggles of being uprooted for so many months, the natural environment itself is hostile. Assistance from their church family in the U.S. and Canada and their deep trust in God kept them alive and encouraged. Even so, they constantly sought ways to earn a bit of money to buy food, mainly through carrying heavy loads on their backs for others.
Although Destiny’s family knew there were major risks involved, it seemed there might be enough peace to return to their home in Kibumba. In addition, they had received reports of vast looting in their village. If they did not return soon there would be nothing left for them to return to. Destiny, her husband, their three children, and others headed back home, hoping for the best. To their great dismay, heavy fighting broke out the very next morning for the first time in nearly three months. They fled across the nearby border into neighboring Rwanda. Big trucks were there, ready to carry refugees further into Rwanda. Not wanting to get farther away from their home country, they returned to Goma and the Free Methodist camp they had left just a couple of days earlier. This time they arrived with absolutely nothing but themselves and their hope in God. In the midst of all the confusion and panic of fleeing again and again, Destiny’s family lost everything they had managed to save up until that point—some clothes (including those for the new baby), a few cooking pots, protection from the heavy rains – everything!
Things continued to go from bad to worse. As difficult as life had been there during the previous months, it was nothing compared to what it was now. Just as they arrived, the city of Goma was taken over by the M23 rebels. No water, no electricity, no food, no shelter, no safety. They had no choice but to find their way back to Kibumba as soon as possible. Even though everything from their gardens had been harvested by the various armed groups camped there over the past months, maybe there was something left. And they still had hope in the One who had seen them through every problem so far, the only One they could truly count on.
Although it was hard to imagine it could get even worse, it did. Just as they arrived back home, their village was taken over by another rebel group – the FDLR from Rwanda. Their use of Kibumba as a base to attack villages in Rwanda was short lived, however. M23 rebels soon regained control of the area and have made it their main base since they withdrew from Goma and other areas south and west of them.
Fleeing is currently not an option for Destiny’s family and others in the village. One of the villagers described their situation, “We are in the mouth of a lion.”
* This property has been a place of refuge in the past. In 2008 another rebel group took over this same village for a time and many found shelter at this church and school grounds.
A Closer Look at the FMC in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the North Kivu Conference
Dateline December 3, 2012
- The FMC of the Democratic Republic of Congo has a total of 151,695 members (2012) in nine Annual Conferences.
- The North Kivu Conference has 3,470 adult members. An additional 4,362 children are regular attenders, giving a total of 7,832.
- Eight districts make up the North Kivu Conference with a total of 51 parishes. Three of the districts are in the area of conflict: the city of Goma (with 3 parishes), Rural Goma (with 4) and Masisi (with 14).
- Sixteen primary and secondary schools are located in the North Kivu Conference, six of which are in and around Goma. The desks in some schools have been burned for firewood by displaced people; the offices of others have been looted.
- At Shasha, 21 miles southwest of Goma, displaced people entered the FMC and took the benches to use for firewood. This church has 200 members.
- The number of injured and killed Free Methodists is still unknown, except that one man from Karambi died from a gunshot wound. He left behind a widow and two young children. At least three women from one congregation were known to be raped last week. The members and pastors of two congregations in the Rutshuru area can’t be reached by phone. Many others from other parishes are internally displaced. Others have fled to Uganda and Rwanda.