“You suffered before this happened, you suffer now, and you will suffer later. In this world there is suffering. So we need to learn to live in this way, to put our trust in Jesus.” A Congolese pastor spoke these words while addressing a group assembled to receive food aid, people who had lost everything.
They were fleeing a crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, forced to leave their homes and villages to escape extreme violence. When the crisis hit, the local Congolese church acted swiftly. Canadian Christian Reformed Church members contributed to their ministry, a testimony to the church of Christ working together locally and internationally.
The crisis began in the Ituri province in early February. Attackers burned villages to the ground and killed people by machete and gunfire. Within a month, over 100,000 people were displaced. Many fled to the town of Bunia.
Aid agencies at work in the country had delays in responding, but the local church in Bunia moved quickly with prayer, taking collections and opening their homes to relatives who had fled. As the numbers of refugees continued to grow, land from the hospital was donated for a camp.
John, Marian, and Michelle VanderMeer, members of Zion CRC in Oshawa, Ont., are missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators. They visited the camp with Samuel Reta, pastor of a local congregation of the Evangelical Churches in the Heart of Africa, called CECA-20. They listened to people’s stories, including the story of a woman whose husband was killed and home burned. She fled with six children, sleeping outside for more than a month during the rainy season. In the hospital, the VanderMeers met severely wounded people who were recovering from serious machete injuries.
Burdened by these stories, Marian and John emailed their supporters back home. Ed Hosmar, treasurer at Zion CRC, initiated the congregation’s response; Zion became the receptor of individual donations, transferring the money to Bunia. Donations amounted to close to $20,000 CDN.
Entrusted to Congolese church leaders, this money was used to purchase food and Bibles and to administer trauma care, addressing both physical and spiritual needs. Reta told of one man, Papa Yosufu, whose wife and children had been killed. “I served him food, clothes, and money. I continued to encourage him with the Word of God and prayer. I spoke to him of the love of Jesus,” Reta said.
“People were strengthened by the church of Jesus Christ in Canada sending money and praying for them. That was one way that Jesus showed he was there, walking alongside in their sufferings,” said Marian VanderMeer.
Reta still writes to the VanderMeers, now back in Canada, telling of how the help continues to bless people months into the crisis. In June, Reta wrote, “I am continuing to help the displaced people with food and the Word of God. May God bless you.”
On July 3, he wrote, “For now there is peace in the villages of Djugu. They have stopped killing people like they were before. We are praising God for this. There are still many displaced people in camps because they are afraid of what happened to them. In the villages, they no longer have houses or food. So please continue praying.”
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