A collaborative Anabaptist response will soon reach some of the 1.4 million people displaced by armed conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) with food, household items and shelter supplies.
The response, shaped and implemented by Congolese Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren church-based relief committees and coordinated by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), is supported by global and Canada- and U.S.-based Anabaptist organizations.
The crisis began a year ago when a local militia group called Kamuina Nsapu and national security forces clashed over a political appointment. The armed conflict has escalated, and both militia and security forces have targeted civilians with forced conscription, mutilation, rape and mass killings.
“It’s been hell on earth for a lot of our people, not only Mennonite people, but many peace-loving people in the same area that have gotten caught up in this maelstrom,” said Rod Hollinger-Janzen of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM).
Among the displaced in DR Congo are at least 8,000 Mennonites. Many churches are caught in the conflict. “There is no place where this conflict has gone where there are no Mennonite churches,” said Hollinger-Janzen.
Church leaders report that 36 Mennonites have been killed, among the UN-estimated 3,300 deaths since October last year. Church buildings and church schools have been damaged or destroyed.
National and local church leaders in DR Congo are key to the response, which will initially focus around the cities of Tshikapa in Kasai Province and Kikwit in Kwilu Province, where many people have fled. The leaders represent Communauté Mennonite au Congo (CMCo; Mennonite Church of Congo) and Communauté des Églises de Frères Mennonites au Congo (CEFMC; Mennonite Brethren Church of Congo).
A Congolese assessment team visited the Kasai region in July and found a severe lack of food and increasing malnutrition. Families had to leave their fields and animals when they fled the violence, and food that is available for purchase is very expensive.
“Many people are going hungry or eating once a day,” said Mulanda Jimmy Juma, MCC representative in DR Congo.
In addition, families lack basic supplies such as bedding, kitchen tools and cans for carrying water, the assessment team reported.
Organizations are working together to raise funds and awareness of the crisis, which has been largely ignored by Western media. They are International Community of Mennonite Brethren, MB Mission, Mennonite Church Canada Witness, Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite World Conference, in addition to AIMM and MCC.