TSHIKAPA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Four women laughed as they filled a water trough for their pigs — animals that hold the promise of income.
Their laughter stood in contrast to their experiences, just two and three years ago, when they fled their villages in the Kasai region to avoid being killed.
They and thousands of other displaced people brought nothing with them to Tshikapa except memories of beheadings, burned houses and lost family members.
Today, hundreds of displaced children go to school every day instead of hiding from or fleeing the fighting, which created many orphans.
The educational opportunities and pig projects — and maybe some smiles — can be credited to Mennonite churches in the cities of Tshikapa and Kikwit and in the Kabwela area.
In partnership with Mennonite Central Committee and with support from Anabaptist organizations around the world, the churches reached out to minister to the displaced people who flooded their neighborhoods and settled in their church yards. The churches’ first major food distribution was in 2017.
More than 1.4 million people were displaced and about 5,000 killed since political fighting began between the Kasai militia group Kamuina Nsapu and DRC security forces in 2016. The initial conflict incited more violence among ethnic groups in Kasai, drawing out the crisis.
Through MCC’s account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, the churches continued distributing emergency food in 2018-19 to 1,180 displaced families. They also helped pay school fees and provided school supplies for 950 children.
“This response helped to strengthen the church. It brought people to Jesus,” said George Kaputu, an evangelist at Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (Evangelical Mennonite Church. or CEM) in the Kabwela area. “MCC helped to release the compassionate ministry of the church.”
Return is not an option
Although the violence has abated in Kasai now, many displaced people are still trying to find their footing as they rebuild their families, homes, emotional health and income in a new place. Returning to their home villages is not an option for many because their villages were destroyed or are still unsafe.
The churches continue to help displaced people by providing pigs, gardening supplies and garden plots, with the support of MCC. Over time, piglets and farm produce can be sold, helping families become self-sufficient.
Churches also are providing trauma healing workshops, led by lay leaders trained to help workshop participants recognize how trauma has impacted them and to share their experiences with each other in supportive ways. Together, they talk about how to move on with their lives.
“Displaced persons and host communities have been affected by violence either directly or indirectly. Wounds of trauma are deep and wide,” said Mulanda Juma, MCC representative for DRC. “Some people show inability to address their own basic needs without support. Some still remain hopeless. These wounds will take long to heal.”
Finding a connection
Samuel Kimenga was one displaced person who became reconnected to the church because of the kindness of Communauté des Eglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo, or CEFMC) in Kikwit.
Kimenga’s children were happy because they could go to school with the church’s educational support. He and his wife attended the trauma-healing workshops.
“We had left the church,” Kimenga said. “Through this kindness we returned to attend church again.”
Now he is a member of the Kikwit relief committee that coordinates distributions and other support for the most vulnerable displaced people.
Learning to manage large distributions was a growing edge for CEM and CEFMC, as well as Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Church of Congo, or CMCo) in Tshikapa.
But as a result of the MCC trainings of the relief committees, churches have become more confident and skilled in carrying out distributions. New relationships were formed through interaction among the three church groups.
“I am very proud of this partnership between MCC and CEMFC and other Mennonite groups,” said Leontine Matula, a member of the CEMFC relief committee. “I went to observe the response in Tshikapa with CMCo, and I made friends. Then I went to a training in Goma, where I met these friends again.
“Without this partnership, I would have never known about my other Mennonite sisters. This has helped to open up my life to these new friendships.”
The work of the relief committees continues, though food distributions have ended. MCC continues to fund the churches’ educational, trauma and livelihood projects. Health care is an unmet need.
Joining a family
Life is still uncertain for displaced people as they wait for the farming and pig-raising projects to provide a stable income, but compassion is strong.
When Kanku Ngalumulume first came to Tshikapa, the 10-year-old had no one. He said he had run away from his home village of Senge when his parents and his siblings were beheaded.
“I have no hope for any reason,” he told Juma in February of 2018.
A year and half later, Ngalumulume sits in the midst of the Tshiama family — mom, dad and five girls — as they eat together. They’ve brought him into their family.
Organizations supporting these distributions include Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission; Caisse de Secours, the development arm of the French Mennonite Church; International Community of Mennonite Brethren; MB Mission; Mennonite Church Canada Witness; Mennonite Mission Network; Mennonite World Conference; and Swiss Mennonite Conference.