Baptists in the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are appealing to the Baptist World Alliance® (BWA) to assist persons who are displaced by the conflict in that country.
The rebel military group March 23 Movement (M23), which is based in eastern areas of the DRC, operating mainly in the province of North Kivu, has been advancing on Goma, the provincial capital, over the last several weeks. Baptists in Goma, home to a large Baptist population, informed the BWA that the city is now in rebel hands.
On the morning of November 20, Mike Musafiri, director of Development and Relief Ministry for the Community of Baptist Churches in Eastern Congo, said, “I can confirm that the town is under the control of rebels.” He told the BWA that “the humanitarian situation is pitiful.” Many residents of Goma, including displaced persons living in IDP (Internally Displaced) camps, have crossed the border into Rwanda seeking a safe haven.
Musafiri reported that persons were unable to go to church on Sunday, November 18, because of the intensity of the fighting. “It was not possible to reach the church due to the bombs and gunshots between the rebels and the regular army.” Fighting was intense through November 20, but by the afternoon, “the town is very quiet, no gunshots, no bombs,” Musafiri said. At the time of writing, it was difficult to determine casualties.
Pascal Ndihokubwimana, aid and development director of the Union of Baptist Churches in Congo said that the Kanyaruchinya IDP camp, which housed some 16,000 displaced families, have been emptied as its residents were told to leave. He said that on November 18, a female resident of the camp, which is about 10 kilometers north of Goma, informed him that police and camp administrators told residents on loud speakers to leave the camp as M23 rebel fighters advanced toward Goma. The people, she told him, fled the camp in panic. Many families were divided in the process. Pascal’s informant told him that she was separated from three of her eight children.
A number of Baptist churches served as shelters for residents and IDPs, including Hekima Baptist Church, which housed as many as 150 persons. Many were from the Kanyaruchinya IDP camp as well as residents from areas in and around Goma such as Kibati, Kanyandja and Munigi. Pascal told the BWA that “Hekima church’s compound and sanitary conditions are not designed to lodge such a large number.”
A number of Baptist families are housing displaced persons. Musafiri is housing two such families at his home.
M23 was formed in April this year when several hundred soldiers turned against the armed forces in the DRC, citing poor conditions in the army and the unwillingness of the government of the DRC to implement an agreement signed on March 23, 2009. That agreement, from which the group took its name from the date of the accord, integrated the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) into DRC’s armed forces. The M23 rebels, who are mainly from the CNDP faction in the army, have been active in North Kivu province, fighting government forces and militias supported by the government.
The DRC has been bedeviled by wars and conflicts going back decades. An estimated 5.4 million persons have died as a result of the conflicts, making it the costliest in human lives since the Second World War.
The DRC, the second biggest country in Africa by area, has the second largest Baptist membership in Africa, with more than 2.1 million members in 15 BWA member organizations.
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