Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) — Hopes for a ceasefire with the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo took minutes to die when a spokesman said they would not withdraw from the eastern city of Goma.
In fact, he called the refusal to withdraw "a declaration of war" and promised that combat would be resumed soon.
Highlighting the volatility of the situation, a different rebel group based in Congo–the FDLR–has gotten involved. Jim Snyder, Director of Evangelical Free Church of America's (EFCA) TouchGlobal work, says, "The skirmishes have now begun to seep into Rwanda. It's caused locals to begin fleeing the fighting."
It's a highly politically charged scenario with old enemies accusing one another and more violence underscoring their grim fight. There are a number of things fueling the unrest, explains Snyder. First, "The land there in eastern Congo is rich with mineral wealth, and there are a lot of resources to be had along the eastern border of Congo."
Second, he says, "The predominant military opposition (M23) right now wants to have certain demands met. They requested those almost as many as 10 years ago." Since the Congolese government has done little to recognize the M23 as political as well as a military entity, "they are uprising now, trying to force the issue."
Thousands are fleeing their homes to escape the fighting. The World Food Program provided emergency food to about 81,000 displaced people in and near the city of Goma in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, there are currently over 700,000 people considered refugees along the Rwandan-Congolese border with more coming every day as the violence intensifies. Snyder says, "In eastern Congo, we have people responding to the needs of refugees who are still settled in refugee camps, providing food, tarps, any kind of assistance."
No one knows for sure who is supporting and sustaining the militia violence. Rwanda and Uganda are accused of supporting the offensive fighters, although they vigorously deny it. Snyder goes on to say that the fighting will likely remain unpredictable. President of the Evangelical Free Church of Rwanda, Esron Manigaraba, states that "refugees are now at the homes of anyone who will take them in. Twenty people spent the night in my father's home. This is the same in many places. Bombs were being thrown forcing people to head for safety into Rwanda."
What will stop the fighting? "Until demands are met in a satisfactory way, the only option will be to squelch the opponent. So if they're able to get their way, then fighting will begin to cease," Snyder explains, adding, "I don't see that happening in the near future."
In the midst of all of this, the opportunities to respond to the many displaced through the local church remain viable. On the Congo side of this uprising, EFCA partners remain vigilant and continue to look for opportunities to assist those who are still in refugee camps, assuming this remains their best option for survival.
Snyder says, "Just a couple of weeks ago, we started a Bible project because a number of people that have been sitting in refugee camps had no Bibles: they had left them in homes, or their homes had been burned."
Church leaders in the area asked for help replacing 500 Swahili Bibles to replace those lost to their owners. 500 Bibles go a long way when the hearers know how important the words are. According to the EFCA, people write down verses they receive on Sunday during church and carry them to share with their friends throughout the week.
$18 covers one Swahili Bible and its delivery to the refugees in Eastern Congo. "When we work in a situation, we don't work apart from the local church. We facilitate the local church in being able to respond to a situation," says Snyder. He notes that the aid combined with the Bibles provide opportunity for the local Church to respond. "Pray that people's hearts will be turned, as often they are, to the Creator, to the Almighty One, so that they would be open to spiritual things."
EFCA/Reach Global will continue to partner with those who are on-site to afford them every opportunity possible to share the love of Christ with those who are in need. Check our Featured Links Section to see how you can help with the Bible project and more.