Displaced Congolese fleeing violence face mental health crisis

By September 1, 2020
drc, democratic republic of the congo, dr congo

DR Congo (MNN) — Violence is on the rise in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo between tribes, militia, and other groups. Over one million people across the DRC are newly displaced in the last eight months – one of the worst rates of displacement in the world.

Most recently, attacks by the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) have killed almost 1,000 people in the Ituri region. CODECO draws much of its support from the Lendu ethnic group, while most of the people they attack are ethnic Hema.

The United Nations says CODECO’s acts of violence, mutilation, and murder could constitute crimes against humanity. The militia group has currently agreed to a ceasefire.

John Cadd of MAF visits a refugee camp in Bunia, eastern DRC, in March 2018. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Petersen with MAF)

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) operates out of Nyankunde in eastern DRC and provides aviation services to foster the growth of the Gospel in isolated areas. But they also respond to local needs where they serve.

Ron Wismer, MAF’s program manager in eastern DRC, says the uptick in people fleeing the violence near their homes has impacted the ministry.

“We have increased our passenger loads by about five times. We used to do about 20 passengers a week perhaps one-way, so maybe 40 total. Now we’re up to 200 [passengers] both ways… It’s been greatly increased because people are afraid to take the road.”

MAF operates in two out of the three major Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps in Bunia. What they see there understandably is a mental health crisis. “In those camps, we have been finding people that are traumatized, people that have seen things that we really don’t want to talk about,” Wismer says. “But their houses have been burned. Many of their relatives have been killed or raped. So it’s a difficult situation. But people feel safer there than they do back in their own villages.”

MAF’s chaplain, Pastor Bisoke, supports other pastors in the camps and even hosts Jesus Film showings. He hasn’t been able to show the Jesus Film during the start of COVID-19 shutdowns, but as restrictions have loosened a bit, he can now host film showings again.

MAF, drc, dr congo

(Photo courtesy of Mission Aviation Fellowship)

Wismer says they are also sponsoring counseling-type services in the camps, and it’s a critical need to meet displaced people where they are in their trauma.

“We’ve started a project of paying a male and a female for each camp…and letting them sit and listen to people. No one else that we are aware of is sitting with these folks and talking about their trauma. The folks that we…are sponsoring to do this have some experience and background in trauma counseling – not a great deal, but some. And some were actually refugees themselves.”

By going around the IDP camps and asking if people would like to talk with someone, they are opening the doors for healing, hope, and the Gospel to replace anxiety and addiction.

“We’re finding that in these camps sometimes they can go off and buy alcohol for very, very little money,” Wismer says. “They’re spending their time away doing that and not really working towards helping the family. Some are very helpful. But some, that’s how they respond to trauma and we understand that. So helping our counselors to be able to meet those needs and talk through with these folks what needs to be done, that’s also very helpful.”

MAF, drc

(Photo courtesy of Mission Aviation Fellowship)

Then, to meet physical needs, MAF is also teaching women in the IDP camps how to sew. With this valuable skill set, women can earn a living for themselves and their families. Since the inauguration of that project, MAF has trained over 200 women to sew.

MAF is also looking into leasing land for the refugees to grow food to help provide for their families.

According to Wismer, “There’s arable land around. There’s plenty of rain. People should be able to feed themselves in this part of the world, not a problem. If they can just get out and plant something, it will grow in the ground…. We need to find places where people can feed themselves in a way that they can sustain themselves, and we need to pray that can happen.”

As eastern DRC wades through violence and trauma, please pray for peace over the land. Ask the Lord to bless DRC’s leaders with wisdom as they seek resolution.

Please also pray for the counselors MAF works with, that they would be encouraged as they help others with their trauma.

To support MAF’s ministry in eastern DRC, click here!




Header photo courtesy of MONUSCO Photos via Flickr under Creative Commons: https://rb.gy/sxnyxq

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