Building People of Peace in War-Torn Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a war-torn part of the world. Since 1998, violence has killed more than 6 million people and displaced many families from their homes and villages.* More than 200 African ethnic groups occupy the land, which has a long history of conflict. Military groups and opportunists from nine neighboring countries regularly battle for control of the Congo’s rich diamond and mineral reserves, while most of the 70 million people in the Congo live in abject poverty.
Half a world away, Fellowship Missionary Church is discovering a deep connection for God’s work of peace in this nation of vulnerable people. Through the church’s partnership with World Relief Congo, local villagers are being trained how to solve disputes peacefully, empowering them to overcome regional, ethnic, and religious differences.
Why the Congo?
Four Fellowship Missionary Church leaders traveled to Africa’s Great Lakes region in 2006 to learn how they could assist World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. Through prayer, church leaders felt a strong call to serve in eastern Congo. For the next three years, they sent short-term work teams to help Congolese villagers build homes, plant crops, and become self-sustaining.
Joe Johns, the church’s director of missional living, saw personally how conflict destroyed many of the humanitarian efforts in the area. He also began having recurring dreams about the need for peace among his brothers and sisters there. He sent an email to World Relief’s president in 2009, asking whether the organization had a program aimed at ending the persistent violence.
“It was well-timed,” Johns says. “It had been on his mind, but they didn’t have the resources and technical skill to implement it. We didn’t have the skill, either, but we had willing hearts and were eager to put our shoulder to the wheel.”
That’s when the partnership evolved into a common pursuit of an innovative peace-building program in eastern Congo.
How the Peace Effort Works
The effort revolves around 10-person “village peace committees” that World Relief trains to resolve minor civil and criminal disputes before they escalate into large-scale conflicts. Committees include only the most highly respected men and women of each village, both Christian and Muslim, and reflect the community’s tribal and ethnic diversity.
In contrast to the bribery-based system common to the area, committees charge nothing for their services. During a trip to the Congo in 2012, Johns heard several village peace committees report on their progress.
“They were solving problems that would have led to murder,” Johns said. “It was jaw-dropping to see how the little bit of investment that was made into them was making huge returns.”
During the pilot project, the partnership developed 27 village peace committees in one province of eastern Congo. This year, they plan to create 30 additional village peace committees in the province. Eventually, World Relief would like to establish 1,000 committees in five provinces of eastern Congo. That would mean 10,000 people trained to resolve conflict.**
“I don’t know how this story will end,” Johns says. “I’m trusting God for all that. But I do know that our hearts are connected with the church there and we want to see them be a powerful witness for Christ. For so long, the Anti-Kingdom powers have gotten all of the headlines. We want to see that change.”
The Church’s Commitment
Fellowship Missionary Church has raised more than $1 million to support the peace effort. The bulk of it comes from a Christmas Eve offering and an annual half-marathon, which raise thousands of dollars each year. Aside from a travel stipend, none of the money comes from regular church offerings.
Suze Fair, director of expression and communication at Fellowship Missionary Church, says the effort has taken the church leaders’ original vision and disbursed it through the body. As a result, people who normally don’t run will get off the couch in February and start training for the September race, Fair says. While they’re training, participants regularly pray for their brothers and sisters in the Congo.
“Nearly 1,000 people took part in the 2013 race, either as runners, walkers, or prayer team members,” Fair says. “It’s been a pretty spectacular blessing from God. We’re grateful to be a part.”
Learn more about Fellowship Missionary Church’s peace-building efforts: http://www.fmcfw.org/uploads/peacebuilding.pdf
Learn more about World Relief’s mission in the Congo: http://worldrelief.org/standforcongo
* World Relief Congo, accessed January 24, 2014, http://worldrelief.org/standforcongo
** “Building Peace in the Heart of Darkness,” Christianity Today, May 23, 2013, accessed January 24, 2014, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/may-web-only/building-peace-in-heart-of-darkness.html.
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