Sunday morning, Dec. 4, soldiers grabbed a Mennonite pastor as he stepped from his house at the headquarters of the Mennonite Church of Congo in Tshikapa, Democratic Republic of Congo.
The pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons, is a member of Congo Leadership Coaching Network, a training program and mentoring network for Mennonite pastors.
The pastor was told to say goodbye to his wife and children, then marched to a sand mound, presumably to be shot. But no shot was fired, and the pastor was freed later that day.
Charles Buller, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission’s international staff person, works closely with this pastor and received a phone call that day in which the pastor described his ordeal and release.
Buller said it seemed the soldiers mistook the pastor for someone else. When they realized he was a man of God, they let him go.
“However, they made it clear that if he so much as set a toe outside his house again, he would be shot on sight,” Buller said.
Although Congo is experiencing conflict resulting from the postponement of national elections, the fighting in Tshikapa seems to be due to two local chiefs vying for power. One chief has the backing of national security forces. The other has formed a militia of mostly child soldiers. Sources vary on how many died in fighting in Tshikapa that weekend, ranging from 20-30 people.
According to Congo’s constitution, Dec. 19 is the date that President Joseph Kabila is scheduled to cede power, as he has served the maximum two terms in office. However, elections have not yet been held, due to what Kabila’s government says are logistical problems. The Kabila regime proposes to hold elections in April 2018.
Some opposition leaders are demanding that Kabila step down, though a successor is not yet in place, and are threatening widespread unrest if a government transition does not occur.
Buller said relative calm returned to Tshikapa by Dec. 7. He also reported the National Episcopal Conference of Congo was making a last-minute effort to bring the presiding national government and opposition parties into face-to-face talks to avert a possible bloodbath on Dec. 19.
“What is hopeful here is that the church is stepping into the gap to call for an alternative to violence,” Buller said. “Our Congolese sisters and brothers are praying diligently for a miracle and divine intervention. Let’s join them.”
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