Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) — The Christmases of 2008 and 2009 both brought terrifying tragedy for believers across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This holiday season, authorities were prepared for a massacre that never came.
"We're thankful to the Lord that the sort of problems that have been taking place in the past, with people being killed and interruptions of Christmas services, did not happen in any of the churches in the area of Congo where Grace Ministries International is working," says Grace Ministries' Dr. Sam Vinton.
According to Voice of America, in just three weeks in 2008, 865 people were killed. In 2009, 300 lives were taken at Christmas. Several humanitarian groups appealed to U.N. forces to avoid similar attacks in 2010. Prayers went up for a peaceful holiday. Clearly, they were heard.
Even more amazing was the confident attitude of the DRC churches before they knew whether or not violence would erupt or remain at bay. Despite international concern surrounding over 1,000 deaths during the Christmas seasons of the last two years, churches in the DRC met on Christmas, unafraid.
"We're thankful to God that Christians in many of these places seemed to go ahead with their services and figure, ‘Well, if anything happens…'" says Vinton. "So far, at least in Congo, we have not had any of the fear that we hear about, for example, in Iraq where services are canceled."
The fearless attitude of the Congolese Christians this year was rewarded by trouble-free services. Vinton says there has been no mention of Christmas-related attacks.
Instead, believers were able to carry out Christmas traditions in glorious peace for the first time in years.
The celebrations looked joyously different from most Western celebrations. "Christmas is not observed so much as a family time in the sense of gifts, and Christmas trees, and those type of things. To them, it has strong religious overtones with music, and preaching, and quoting of memory verses, and each group in the church having some sort of part in the service," explains Vinton.
Some services last weekend reportedly lasted for five hours on Christmas day, and five more the following day. Churches were filled with music, praise, Scripture recitation and preaching–each church member playing a role in the celebration of their Lord incarnate.
Anticipations for attacks went unrequited this year, undoubtedly helping to strengthen and encourage the church in the DRC. Churches were finally able to hold Christmas services without fear or interruption. Praise God for His goodness to the church and for answering prayers for peace.
"I think that this is a time for us to rejoice, and then to offer our prayers and give our aid in any way possible to alleviate some of the sufferings that other Christians are going through," says Vinton.
The peaceful holiday season does not mean that the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) will remain at bay or that Hutu rebels have ceased to attack. Pray, though, that this unexpected calm would encourage the church to be bold about their faith. Pray for safety and wisdom if and when other attacks do take place.