Pastor Kokole (with missionary Kerstin Weiß) reports on the suffering of refugees in his homeland

Murder gangs, mass rapes, destroyed villages.

B u n i a / S i n s h e i m (tv). "The violence in the regions of Djugu and Ituri has escalated; people are starving, hundreds of thousands need food, water, medicines and a place to stay. We are threatened by famine." I have before me the long-time President of the CECA20 Church (Evangelical Community in Central Africa), Pastor Jean-Pierre Kokole from Bunia. The otherwise quiet, humorous 60-year-old has tears in his eyes, because during his trip to Germany the news from his homeland in Eastern Congo is overwhelming.

 

For eight years until May 2019 Pastor Kokole led the CECA20 Church, almost 2,000 local churches spread over twelve church districts. It includes more than 100 medical facilities, including 13 hospitals, 1,000 kindergartens, primary, secondary and vocational schools, four colleges and universities. It has up to two million worshipers, not an exact figure because ten of the twelve districts are currently affected by fighting and a huge wave of refugees. Particularly bad is the province of Ituri (3.6 million inhabitants). Aid organizations estimate that 800,000 refugees have sought shelter there.

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Project number: “P50409 Emergency Aid Congo”

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Auf oft gefährlichen Wegen bringen Mitarbeiter der Kirche Hilfsgüter ans Ziel
Emergency aid for remote villages

Pastor Kokole relates that murder gangs are operating from the west bank of Lake Albert to Djugu - probably incited by oil companies, also from Europe. The crisis region is the one where the CECA20 Church is most strongly represented, it had 105 parishes there with 147 pastors and assistants. Many refugees belong to Pastor Kokole’s church. What is happening exactly? The corporations suspect there are huge oil deposits in the province and, from Rwanda and Uganda, are deliberately destabilizing it in order to secure the largest possible share of this profitable cake. It is apparently worth it for the clients, even if it means unspeakable suffering for the population. At the moment they are not producing oil, but displacement and genocide.

“They set fire to huts, round up and slaughter all those who do not escape quickly enough into the bush.”

Militias, equipped with state-of-the-art weapons, brutally attack the villages at night. "They set fire to huts, rounding up and slaughtering men, women and children who can’t escape quickly enough into the bush." Words fail him. "These gunmen are driven by the pure desire to kill," Pastor Kokole says. "They chop off people's limbs with machetes while they're still alive, only to cut off their heads at the end." Hatred, senseless suffering, extreme brutality. When Pastor Kokole says "mass rape" I too run out of questions for a moment - the suffering is too horrific ...

The gangs of murderers with their raids, incite local tribes to turn on each other. A whole region is in chaos. Countless people have fled on foot to the outskirts of Bunia. The population of the city and its surrounding area, previously around 650,000, has now grown enormously. At night shots can be heard from the mountains only a few kilometers away, that's how close the fighting has come. Parishes of the CECA20 church have taken in tens of thousands of people in need in a belt around Bunia and are supplying them as best they can with their personal stocks.

An employee of the CECA-20 Church gives comfort from the Bible to refugees.

Those seeking help sleep in churches, schools and with families, but the supply situation is terrible. There is hardly any food and drinking water left. Measles, polio, malaria, respiratory infections and other diseases are rampant, including Ebola and AIDS. People are starving. Yet it is the rainy season; the harvest is ready! The area around Djugu, where most of the people come from, is the granary in the east of the Congo. Bunia is normally supplied with food from here. Now beans, vegetables and rice rot in the fields because the villages are depopulated. So hunger is spreading to the neighbouring areas.

A woman from a refugee camp who was starving decided, "I'm going home to my village to harvest." She was killed.

"We are facing a famine," fears Pastor Kokole. Even the large aid organisations are overwhelmed and no longer distribute food. People are despairing. Pastor Kokole tells of a woman from a refugee camp who was starving: "In my village there is food in abundance - I'm going home now to harvest." She was killed by terrorists, like so many these days. He tells of friends who were killed: a pastor with his daughter; fellow students; a director and several teachers of church schools. "I am deeply saddened when I think about it," he says. "Our people do not die a normal death, the murderers come and dismember their victims alive!" Via WhatsApp he has just learned that a couple he married as pastor has been killed.

Thousands of refugees are again pouring into the city of Bunia
Thousands of refugees are again pouring into the city of Bunia

He is especially touched by the plight of the many women who have been violated. "They dare not tell their husbands what happened. They would leave them immediately." Rape is still a taboo subject. Those affected remain alone with their pain, the subject lies like a shadow over the whole country. Church counsellors try to help. The first thing is always to take the woman to the nearest clinic, because drugs against AIDS only work in the first few days. The second step is that hospital counsellors help them out of their solitude and take care of them competently. Pastor Kokole’s Church trains the counsellors. "And we talk about this topic in our local churches." It is gratifying to see how his church helps despite its precarious situation.

In the refugee camps in Bunia
In the refugee camps in Bunia

The CECA20 has suffered massively from the attacks on the Djugu region. Churches and schools have been burned down, church hospitals have had to be evacuated. Despite this the CECA20 cares for people in need. When they take in refugees, local congregations inform the Mother Church of their needs which then appeals for donations of rice, beans, clothes and exercise books and takes them there - often on dangerous roads. "We help everyone", Pastor Kokole emphasizes, "no matter what tribe or religion".

The Church offers signs of hope in the midst of adversity.

One church has recently taken in 36 pregnant women. Each group in the church - elders, choirs, women and youth - has provided for some of these women. In the midst of need, God gives signs of hope. The problems are driving people into the churches, explains Pastor Kokole. Christianity is growing in the Congo. In one church 800 new believers came to the baptism classes, 300 of them were baptised in one day. "Our pastor no longer knew how to deal with the many people in the baptism classes," he smiles.

It is particularly important to him that children on the run continue to have access to education. His association focuses on teaching refugee children and training new teachers. As soon as a class in one village becomes too large, they are allowed to open a new one. If another classroom is needed, the church provides the expensive corrugated iron roof - the school is built by the villagers.

We must not succumb to the spirit of revenge," Pastor Kokole emphasizes. "We need your prayers!"

The reaction of Pastor Kokole to the question of how he can still believe in the face of so much brutality is interesting. "These things are foretold in the Bible," he tells me. "We know that people will hate each other and love will grow cold." The CECA20 holds fast to Jesus Christ and his love: "We must not surrender ourselves to the spirit of revenge," he emphasizes. They live forgiveness in a situation where this in itself is a miracle. "We need your prayers", Pastor Kokole appeals to Christians in Europe, "And donations for food to feed refugees."

Written by Theo Volland,
Editor, DMG

You can support the CECA20:

As DMG we are grateful for 40 years of partnership with the Church in Congo through our missionaries Toni Stenger, doctor Dr. Jean Marcus and Kerstin Weiß, who is now part of the Church leadership there. We want to enable CECA20 and other partner organisations financially to care for the starving in Congo and to alleviate acute need. Will you help us?

Project number: P50409 Emergency aid Congo