i am congo
Christians are called upon to tell and retell the story of hope, grace, and change that we see acted out in the scriptures. It is through hearing and responding to this story that our own lives and stories are transformed today. It is through the telling of stories that we learn about the lives and worlds of those who live next door or those who are halfway across the world.
Extreme poverty, famine, war, and disease can seem like overwhelming problems with no hope or solution. But faith can move the largest mountains even in our world today.
These are stories of hope. These are the stories of the people who call the Democratic Republic of Congo home—in their own words.
In eastern Congo, we meet a human rights lawyer who fled a volcanic eruption with just her law book and became an advocate for rape survivors. An artist pulls together a film and music festival every year in a city with few paved roads, let alone a theater. In a national park bigger than Yosemite, a conservationist protects endangered mountain gorillas caught in the middle of decades of conflict.
“I Am Congo”— a series more than a year in the making by the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign—features professional video storytelling on an issue largely ignored by the mainstream media and unknown to many.
The goal is simple: to introduce more people to the Congo and empower them with solutions to help end the conflict there.
Too often, stories from Congo focus on the extremes: either killing, raping, and crushing poverty or “feel-good” stories that ignore the chaos. These extremes not only fail to capture the full picture of Congo; it leads many to turn away.
“I am Congo” tells the full story of the Congo and its juxtapositions: natural beauty collides with decay; humanity struggles against a constant drumbeat of war; brave community leaders overcome personal tragedies to fight the status quo of corruption and conflict.
I Am Congo – Faith Leads to Hope, is intended to highlight the work that God is already doing in a war-torn region of the world and raise awareness among Christians to the conditions and struggles of God’s children around the world.
“There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture.” — German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
In Goma, the epicenter of Congo mayhem, where corruption and poverty thrive, Fidel Bafilemba embodies the courage to challenge the norm of his home country.
“That’s me—the disorder of this country, but also the hope for a better future. A hope for an educated people. That’s me. Fidel Bafilemba, activist.”
Working for peace in his hometown has been a journey of transformation—Fidel is a militia member turned peace activist. In the midst of chaos, Fidel manifests hope—a hope for a better future where he, his family, and his community can make self-determined decisions for prosperity and reconciliation.
His struggle is to bring to fruition God’s “kingdom come,” even amid the mayhem of his environment, “for the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.” (1 Cor. 4:20).
When others see destruction, poverty, and war, Fidel envisions the future of his people. It is a future of a Congo lush with natural resources and beauty that benefits, rather than destroys, communities. That’s why Fidel refuses to accept impunity and injustice, and seeks to empower others to question and ask, “why?”
“Why don’t we have roads? Why don’t we have education? Why don’t we have, why don’t we have?”
“Peace for humanity is not only the absence of war, or the end of violence ... For us Christians, peace is based on a fundamental new relationship between mankind and God. That is why Christ said he brought peace, ‘not as the world gives.’ He brought a different peace.” – Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, known as Don Samuel, a champion of the poor and of the indigenous people in southern Mexico
Eastern Congo is home to some of the world’s most stunning scenery—and some of its most brutal and unimaginable violence. The relationship between these two symbols of the region is a close one.
Part of the call of Christian peacemakers is not only to make peace between people a reality, but also to bring peace between people and the planet. In his work, conservationist Dominique Bikaba recognizes that peace between people and peace with our environment are closely intertwined, and he is seeking to bring about both.
Armed groups are waging war in eastern Congo, taking no heed of the grave impact that the conflict is having on the environment around them. The resources of the region are being exploited, to the detriment of future generations. This disregard for the communities of the region is a modern-day salting of the land. It’s a practice well known to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, in which armies would spread salt on the land of their adversaries so that nothing would grow there (see Judges 9:45).
The conflict in Congo is being waged on local communities—but Dominique is a problem-solver. He is seeking creative ways to conserve these communities while conserving the environment they inhabit, fostering the inherent relationship between the two. He is “bringing the forest to the community.”
“The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.” — Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh
How do you combat violence, institutionalized rape, a corrupt government, and years of injustice? With more violence, better weapons, or more strategic strikes?
For Petna Ndaliko, you do it through art. In spite of attempts by the Congolese government and militia groups to silence them, Petna created a stage for local youth to express themselves. They sing about oppression, about corruption, and about the people’s ability to overcome.
Art heals. It unites a community. And it can ignite a spark for change. Film can inspire rape survivors to find their voices and tell their stories. From a grassroots level, music moves people to action.
Petna calls himself a small light from which a huge fire starts growing. For many Christians, this echoes Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Petna’s hope is for the flame to spread through the youth of Congo, to carry the message of hope forward to future generations, finding creative ways to combat injustice.
“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933-45
“If we just sat with crossed arms, what would happen then?” is the question Denise, a Congolese civil rights attorney, asks us.
She has seen the destruction of her home through natural disaster and the pain of thousands of Congolese women who are raped every year. Still, she is faithful with the calling that she has been given—working to prosecute the cases she can to help rape survivors seek justice and find the hope to continue on.
Denise knows that to make peace, it is necessary to restrain and often punish the evil that humans do to one another.
“The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and that the state has the legitimate role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes,” writes Jim Wallis in a July 2011 Sojourners’ column, “The Things That Make For Peace.”
But Denise’s work does not focus just on the punishment of those who commit rape but on the restoration of the survivors.
“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” – Etty Hillesum, Dutch diarist who died at Auschwitz
The social fabric that wove together Amani’s moral values and passion for peace is the target of rebel groups that destabilize and destroy communities. Amani grew up playing football and attending school and church in an area that has been chronically unstable for the past 16 years.
Despite the threat, Amani learned within his local structures the power of community in overcoming insecurity—the hub for gaining moral and intellectual values “to make every effort to come together and live as a community.”
Congo is still suffering from the overspill of the Rwandan genocide, the aftermath of which took the lives of both of Amani’s parents. Rebel groups roam the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo and seek to unravel the very social fabric of Amani’s community.
Taking heart from the moral lessons he gained from playing football with his school and through his education, Amani decided to overcome the insecurity caused but he rebels by bringing people together by providing a peace market—a community nucleus for women, children, and men to gather in a safe, empowered, and peaceful environment to care for one another.