Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. – Luke 6:27
Whether or not the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago has actually caused the instability in eastern Congo today, it certainly has been a strong contributing factor.
In the mid-90s, Rwandan Hutu soldiers blamed for the genocide of thousands of Tutus fled into eastern Congo with their families. These soldiers have formed militias that control parts of the countryside and the resources there. In response, Congolese have formed similar groups. Today, dozens of armed groups patrol various sections of eastern Congo and the government is not able to provide protection for the communities who are caught in the middle.
MCC is working with the Church of Christ in Congo, or Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC), an association of Protestant churches, through a Peace and Reconciliation Repatriation Project (PPR) that helps these Hutu soldiers lay down their weapons and return to their native Rwanda with their families.
These wars between rival armed groups have caused all sorts of problems for the people, Bulambo Lembelembe, the director of PPR, told me. Many people have died, women have been raped and the environment pillaged. He says that one result is that, even though the land itself is rich, the people here are poor.
Many military efforts in response to the violence in the region have failed. But PPR has begun a new kind of effort that doesn’t involve guns, tanks or helicopters.
The militia groups and their families have become a part of the communities where they are located. PPR has appointed people who serve as animators, or community organizers, throughout eastern Congo who reach out to community leaders, combatants and refugees alike. Each animator works with the pastors in the community. When the militarized groups begin training in a particular area, community leaders are notified and a united front can often discourage violence from occurring.
ECC leaders tell me they believe they are called to be peacemakers. Lembelembe says that MCC workers have courageously stood with them, taking risks and accompanying them, helping convince the Rwandan militia groups that it is safe enough to return to their native Rwanda.
To date, more than 1,500 former soldiers have returned to Rwanda with their families and other civilians, a total of more than 20,000 people. The churches have made this work possible, Lembelembe told me. He says the armed groups trust PPR and so does the government. They still have a lot of work to do because almost 200,000 Rwandans, including 4,000 combatants and their families remain in eastern Congo.
Lembelembe says that every person is created in God’s image. He believes that the church is called to live out the social Gospel “because Christ teaches us to love everyone, even our enemies.”
Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S. He returned from a trip in eastern Congo, Burundi and Kenya in early May.