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Among Congo’s hardened rebels: 500-plus baptisms
Charles Braddix, Baptist Press
May 13, 2010
6 MIN READ TIME

Among Congo’s hardened rebels: 500-plus baptisms

Among Congo’s hardened rebels: 500-plus baptisms
Charles Braddix, Baptist Press
May 13, 2010

GOMA, Democratic

Republic of Congo — “We need to clear the room,” a translator announces. Then,

he says quietly, “This woman was raped by rebel soldiers, and she’s never told

anyone before. She’s been too embarrassed and too ashamed to let anyone know.”

Among those sitting on the rickety, handmade benches of Mizeituni Baptist

Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a church member in her 70s. She

uses a wooden staff to support herself. As others go outside, she remains.

The doors close, the windows are shuttered. In the darkness of the rustic

building, the woman’s story slowly unfolds, her face etched in pain at the

memory of what she is about to tell.

“When the soldiers came, many people began to run,” she tells a Christian

journalist, “but I stayed at my house. I was not able to run away … so I hid

under the bed.

“They knocked down the door, dragged me from under the bed, took me into the

bush, tied me up and raped me.”

To date, more than 500 rebel soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been baptized. Many of them share their faith and conduct Bible studies. Kangenga Banganyigabo, center, is now a government military chaplain.

Afterward she returned to her house and said nothing.

“Now I have found that I have a venereal disease. And I am very angry and sad.”

This story is repeated again and again across the eastern part of the

Democratic Republic of Congo. Millions of Congolese are now refugees, having

fled the atrocities committed by both government soldiers and rebel fighters.

Government troops and rebels converge on a village, and the inhabitants are

caught in the middle. Murder, looting and rape are the norm. The innocent

become victims of stray bullets and deliberate atrocities.

These horrors trace back to 1994 and the Rwandan genocide. Estimates vary, but

up to 1 million people were slaughtered over the course of about 100 days.

It pricked the world’s conscience. In the aftermath, however, the horrors have

continued.

Fighting spread into neighboring eastern Congo. In Rwanda, it was quick and

deadly; in the Congo it is a slow burn. The world was shocked about Rwanda. It

knows little about the Congo where an estimated 5.5 million people have died

during the past 16 years.

It is the deadliest conflict since World War II.

“The war in Rwanda and the Congo has caused great stress on us,” says Athanace

Habimana, pastor of Hekima Baptist Church in Goma. “But because we had a

compassionate heart, we wanted to get out among the people. This included the

rebels.”

Habimana is head of the Baptist Union of East Congo. The union consists of 90

churches with 12,000 members. Together with International Mission Board

missionary Rusty Pugh, he developed a strategy to reach the rebels.

He went into their camps and witnessed to them.

“Later … we did

training with seven pastors using (Bible) storying,” Pugh recounts. The pastors

went into the camps for two weeks at a time, sharing Christ through a series of

Bible stories that explain man’s separation from God because of sin and the

salvation offered in Jesus Christ.

Congolese pastor Pascal Ndiho coordinates this dangerous ministry. “Without the

permission of the commanders, we are not allowed to go and reach the rebel

soldiers,” Ndiho says. “We must identify ourselves as servants of God and that

we are there to share the wonderful news of Jesus Christ.

“We show them the advantages of being in Christ.”

Their efforts have been striking.

“They have started small groups among the rebels,” Pugh reports, “and because

the rebels are always moving, new groups have been formed by the rebels that

were trained by the Goma pastors … so the groups are multiplying.”

To date, more than 500 rebels have been baptized.

Eight of these men gather in a small compound to tell their stories. At first

their tales are sketchy, almost rehearsed.

Members of Mizeituni Baptist Church, about 30 miles from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, gather to share their stories of being subject to stray bullets and deliberate atrocities committed by both rebel and government forces.

“I did bad things,” one says. A second echoes the same line.

They are quiet, then they begin to open up.

One nervously fidgets with his automatic weapon. “I murdered people and I raped

women,” he says, “… and I enjoyed it.”

“I have even killed children,” another says.

Their faces bear evidence to the seriousness of what they have done. Their

piercing gazes instill fear.

“I really didn’t think about what I was doing,”

one says. “I was just doing what I thought I should do….”

The eight soldiers accepted Christ through the efforts of Habimana, Ndiho and

the other pastors.

Their faces soften when they talk about the change in their

lives.

“We try not to think about what we did — to remember — but it is hard,” one

confesses. “We know that we have hurt many people and have a lot of sin. But it

is very different now.”

“The difference is that before I did not know God,” another says. “What I did,

I did for me. Now I know that I committed so many sins, and I feel very guilty.

But the pastor said that God can forgive me … now I know I can be forgiven

because of Jesus.

“It was the happiest day of my life.”

The elderly woman who was raped by other soldiers in her village 30 miles from

where the eight former rebels sit still struggles with what happened to her.

God might be able to forgive them, “but they are still very bad men,” she says.

“If I was able to meet them, I could forgive them,” she continues, “but they

should be put in jail for what they did to me.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Braddix wrote this story on behalf of the International

Mission Board.)