Baptists in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), are urging the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) to assist people displaced by the conflict in the African country.
The rebel military group, March 23 Movement (M23), 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.
“I can confirm that the town is under the control of rebels,” Mike Musafiri, director of development and relief ministry for the Community of Baptist Churches in Eastern Congo, said, on the morning of Nov. 20.
Musafiri told the BWA that “the humanitarian situation is pitiful.” Many residents of Goma, including persons living in displacement camps, have crossed the border into Rwanda seeking a safe haven.
Musafiri said people were unable to go to church on Nov. 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 Nov. 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 camp, which housed some 16,000 displaced families, had been emptied as its residents were told to leave.
Ndihokubwimana said that on Nov.18, a female resident of the camp, 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 Ndihokubwimana, fled the camp in panic. Many families were divided in the process. Pascal’s informant said she was separated from three of her eight children.
A number of Baptist churches served as shelters for residents and camp residents, including Hekima Baptist Church, which housed as many as 150 persons.
Many were from the Kanyaruchinya camp as well as residents from areas in and around Goma such as Kibati, Kanyandja and Munigi.
Ndihokubwimana said 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 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 World War II.
The DRC has the second largest Baptist membership in Africa, with more than 2.1 million members in 15 BWA member organizations.
This news release first appeared at the Baptist World Alliance website.