In a news article in Christianity Today, journalist April Burbank reports that World Relief is training community leaders to create peaceful solutions to the violence and unrest in the Congo.
“Amid the clamor and negotiations, it would be easy to overlook one new movement, working to heal eastern Congo: Small groups of Congolese church leaders, including influential local women, are volunteering to solve and prevent conflicts one at a time, without fanfare.
It’s a simple idea. But in a nation where political solutions are often given more attention than community solutions, World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, believes these committees, which require the inclusion of female leaders, could be a key to peace.”
Peace and leadership go together with commitment to presence, and even when World Relief hasn’t been able to work on the ground in the Congo, the committees they’ve formed continued, in the face of harassment, war and escalating conflict.
“The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been beset by violence for decades. The civil war there, which formally ended in 2003, left at least three million people dead. Some experts have called it one of the world’s deadliest conflicts since World War II, and its repercussions are far from over.
“A 16-year-old kid in Congo has never known extended periods of peace in their life. It is just the way it is in eastern Congo,” Murungi said.
World Relief’s program has been tested against a background of negotiations, militia takeovers, and failed peace negotiations on the political and regional stage. Last November, for example, many of World Relief’s development programs in the country were put on hold when the M23 militia took control of Goma, where World Relief’s operations were based. Much of the organization’s staff will evacuate across the border to Rwanda at such times.
But since the village peace committees are run by local Congolese leaders, the takeover last November did not stop the groups from meeting to resolve conflicts in their communities — and the militia even began to bring their own disputes to the committees.
“This was just another blip on the screen for [the committees],” said Charles Franzén, country director for World Relief’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “They’re just seen as people that can be trusted and respected, don’t take money for what they do and are conflict resolution experts, and so everybody needs them.”
The Christian organization World Relief recruits and trains through local churches, strategically working from one of the strongest community support systems in the predominantly Christian Congo.
“The majority of Congo identifies as Christian, so working through local church leaders is a viable strategy, though Muslim leaders and other leaders also serve on the committees.
“Most of them are very strongly evangelical Christian committees,” Franzén said. “I think the church is a very powerful unit as a whole in Congo, and to have the church involved in something as essential as building bridges to peace and solving and resolving conflicts is something that is a witness. But it’s more than that — I think it really proves to the government and to the UN and everybody else how important the church is.”
The committees model and are trained to support respect for diversity and tolerance for difference, in the name of peace.
“Each village committee has to include a cross-section of that village’s tribes as well as religious and denominational diversity. They also must include at least three women, which is especially important given the prevalence of violence against women in Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war….
“As the peace committees are composed [of] respected, equipped and trained people in the villages, they are considered as parents instead of judges,” Serubungo wrote in an e-mail interview. “People do no longer reach out to the police or other government structures, except for sensitive cases, such as rape [and] murder.”
This kind of conflict resolution does not require billions of dollars, like the United Nations’ intervention force. Nor does it attract media attention like peace summits between political leaders. What it does require, according to Franzén, is a long-term commitment to the community.”
Like Chicago’s Interrupters, who lead for peace amidst the violence of that city’s gangs, despair and poverty, these peace committees are made up of local leaders, people from the community bridging conflicts within and across local communities.
World Relief believes this is a vital role of churches and of Christians all over the world, so the trainings connect to the spiritual force of living God’s word, and standing in the truth of peace.
“No matter what happens on a political, international level, there has to be this foundation of peacemaking on the ground,” Hybels said. “I’m not saying this can be solved overnight, but if we believe in the Kingdom of God, how can we not do whatever we can to see the Kingdom of God unfold, even in a place as desperate as the Congo?”