Churches respond to child soldier needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

By October 31, 2003

Congo–Kinshasa (MNN)–The civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo stole the country’s innocence.

Rebel soldiers, on frequent village raids, kidnapped boys as young as eight, and pressed them into military service. The girls were often taken to help with cooking duties, and often face brutal savagery.

This generation has grown up, under the influence of drugs, alcohol and violence, without the benefit of schooling, home or faith.

Now that the transitional government seems to be enforcing the tentative peace, there is a whole new problem developing with the child soldiers. The question human rights agencies pose is ‘What now?’

Rehabilitating a child soldier is a difficult process. It often involves instilling values at an older age, and forms a perplexing challenge to ministries and churches. Africa Inland Mission’s Carolyn Cummings explains why. “Many of these child soldiers are coming to church, are participating in the choir, and yet, then they leave church and go and roam around the town in gangs, terrorizing people. So, they need to be able to confront these child soldiers who are in church, and help them to realize that what they’re doing is wrong.”

AIM’s crisis coordinator in Congo is also equipping the churches to meet psychological needs that must be met. Cummings says, “She actually had a child psychologist come and do seminars with chruch leaders on how they could counsel the young people.”

A change in atmosphere is best complimented by a change of routine and behavior. Cummings explains that their minisitry is introducing the hope of Christ along with other programs. “The church is trying to start up training programs for them, get them back into school, get them doing service projects, so that they actually have something to do instead of just roaming the streets.”

Congo has no money, adding complications to these efforts. Many schools were destroyed, and of the surviving ones, staff are overwhelmed by the number of children. AIM put up temporary buildings and additions to provide ministry space. Cummings asks believers to pray for church leaders “for wisdom in how to council these young people, and so many people who have been severely traumatized.”

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