In the volatile province of North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a father of three has described how Islamist militants carrying guns and machetes almost killed him.
Jean*, who’s recovering in hospital from his injuries, was attacked while walking home from work, when he ran into rebels.
“It was around 6pm. There were many of them. Some had guns, others machetes,” he explained. “They pushed me around for a while before someone forced me into the bush. Two of them slashed me with their machetes. After the second blow, I lay still like a corpse. They watched me bleed for what seemed like a very long time and then left, thinking I was dead. They went to a nearby house and set it on fire, before taking off.”
Jean waited till he couldn’t hear them anymore and then walked to the nearest clinic. He had to keep his hands on the wound to his neck to stop the blood. But when he got there, the compound was locked and no-one was willing to open it. “Eventually the military passed by and noticed that I was wounded and in serious need of help, so they brought me here,” he said.
Jean’s attack comes against the backdrop of violence from Islamist militants from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who continue to wreak havoc against the mostly Christian population of North Kivu province.
Attacks including murder, looting, abduction and rape are carried out on an almost weekly basis. In August, the town of Beni suffered an attack that killed at least 30 civilians, although details were scarce. Human Rights Watch reports that in the last two years nearly 700 civilians have been killed in the town. World Watch Monitor sources also report that at least eight people died as rebels from ADF exchanged fire with government soldiers in Beni overnight on Sunday (9 Oct.).
A World Watch Monitor contact who visited the area a day after Jean’s attack in September described the aftermath:
“As soon as we arrived, the presence of UN soldiers indicated that this is a war zone. Although the army had cleared the roads, the signs of unrest were visible in the form of burnt-out tyres, rocks, concrete blocks and other debris lying next to the road.
“When we arrived at the hotel, we noticed a steady stream of tired and traumatised people making their way out of town. We asked one lady where she was going and she replied, ‘I don’t know, but I want to get as far as possible away from this place.’
“It was very tense and it remained like that the entire time. It looked like the ADF had left, but youths protested at the government’s apparent inability to protect civilians, so the sound of gunfire continued to fill the air and made us wonder when violence would spread.
“At first we weren’t sure if it was wise to continue with our workshop, but finally we decided to go ahead.
“We began late Monday because people came hesitantly. During the training, things remained tense. Every time we heard the sound of gunshots, attendees cowered in their seats or got up to look through the windows.
“We realised that this was [our ministry] for this time. We were teaching about standing strong in the storm, and the storm was right there. We wanted to show that, as God had allowed us to be here at such a time, and that it was good and possible to be courageous.”
The impact of the continuing violence on the local Church has been immense. There is a political aspect to this crisis, but there are is also a religious aspect, as the ADF tries to uproot the Christian population.
But in the meantime, the culture of war has engulfed local communities. People live day by day wondering what will happen to them, wondering whether they will survive. North Kivu is a naturally rich area and the soil is fertile, but people are unable to farm because of the war.
The constant movement of people displaced by violence is proving challenging to those trying to carry out Christian ministry there, but the leaders are dedicated to staying and continuing their work, as hard as it is.
Gracia*, a church leader told World Watch Monitor: “I have no choice, it is my town. If I would run, where would I run to? It is something we experience daily, gunshots left and right. It is our daily life.
“We pray that God will create in our leaders a heart for humanity, a heart of compassion and heart full of mercy, and that He may make them conscious of the evil that is being committed on our territory.”
*Names changed for security reasons