WINNIPEG, Man. — If they weren’t studying together at Canadian Mennonite University, Theo Muthumwa and Shadrack Mutabazi would be adversaries.
The pastors are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They survived ethnic violence and traumatic civil war in their homeland, years of exile elsewhere in the region and arriving in Canada as immigrants. Both study Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies, or PACTS, at CMU.
While they have much in common, Muthumwa is part of the Bantu majority from the eastern Congo, while Mutabazi is from the Banyamulenge minority. The differing peoples have a history of mistrust and war.
Today, the two are working toward peace and reconciliation between their peoples.
Their paths first crossed during an introductory PACTS course at CMU. Through periodic classroom discussions, their ethnic identities were revealed to each other. They shared more stories with every in-class encounter, becoming close friends in the process.
“We are now telling [our] stories,” Muthumwa said. “If we didn’t talk, we would finish at CMU and I would think [Mutabazi] is my enemy.”
Mutabazi added: “We believe that leaders are servants of God who can be ambassadors of reconciliation to bring people together . . . and yet some of our colleagues are preaching the gospel of division.”
Muthumwa said the two have a mission to promote peace and reconciliation because the Bible instructs them to do so in Matthew 9.
“It’s also the mission of CMU,” he said. “It has shaped us.”
Both came to CMU to study theology, but they found PACTS inspiring.
“Banyamulenge in eastern Congo have a reputation of being people who bring trouble,” said Muthumwa, who is a Bantu. He has faced persecution, attempted murder and exile for denouncing Congolese marginalization of the Banyamulenge and for vocally renouncing his own people’s violence and hatred toward them.
As a Banyamulenge, Mutabazi has lost loved ones to horrific violence. After fleeing war-torn eastern Congo, he lived in exile in Rwanda for 10 years and in Uganda for five.
“I lost both my parents in the war,” he said. “We have wounds in our hearts because of the war.”
After arriving in Canada as immigrants in the late 2000s, both felt unable to speak about their past and who they are, even as they read about events and saw images of their homeland.
“So many Canadians don’t know our struggle,” Muthumwa said.
As ministers, both have planted churches while in Congo, while in exile and now in Canada.
In Winnipeg, Mutabazi started Shalom Christian Outreach, and Muthumwa founded Philadelphia Miracle. Both serve Africans, immigrants and Canadian citizens.
They believe that telling their story is crucial to finding unity and forgiveness. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Mutabazi recalled the time he stopped attending classes for a week after hearing a lecturer’s stories of ethnic genocide, which triggered his own memories of violence and left him in shock.
“These are deep, deep wounds,” Mutabazi said.
He believes facing the future requires understanding the past.
“CMU is helping us to speak of where we have come from, where we are now — digging for knowledge and learning — and planning now for our future to go and meet survivors and help bring them together for reconciliation,” he said.
Bringing unity to their people is a difficult process, but Mutabazi and Muthumwa have watched young people create space through music.
Mutabazi’s children joined other Congolese congregations to form a band that now plays at Congolese church services and events across the city, bringing together communities that otherwise have little contact.
In Congo, “people are using the youth for fighting. Let us use our youth and our leaders to have a dialogue,” Mutabazi said.