Civil wars have plagued Central Africa in recent years. Volcanic eruptions have further threatened both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—formerly known as Zaire—countries whose borders are separated by an unstable mountain range.
In January 2002, a fissure opened in the south flank of Mount Nyiragongo, sending a massive stream of lava toward Goma, the provincial capital city of the DR Congo. Hundreds of thousands of residents fled through the night. Many lost their lives as molten rock swallowed homes, buildings, and entire villages before emptying into nearby Lake Kivu. The city of more than half a million people became a ghost town overnight.
Only some peace exists in Congo because of persistent violent factions. With a long Christian history, the nation looks to pastors for community leadership. Last year, the DRC State Department sent a request to Mark Struck, Th.D.—a Desiring God staff member with a 30-year background in missions. Several Congolese pastors had invited him to provide training for pastors. Struck works to find U.S. churches willing to sponsor translations, connecting them to people groups they have a heart for. In response to the invitation, he planned a week-long theological training conference. Minnesota church pastors and leaders raised funds to provide for 60 DRC pastors’ travel, housing, and food expenses.
Disaster and Danger
When Struck and his companions arrived in Goma, they found the city mostly destroyed. “We drove 10 miles an hour across the dusty city on lava rock instead of roads,” he says. “No vegetation remained, but some rebuilding was evident—with plenty of lava rock used for material.”
In an area of Goma least affected by the 2002 disaster, an ornate white guesthouse came into view. Leaving the gray ash outside the gate, Struck’s team entered the green refuge that would accommodate the DRC pastors representing 30 denominations.
The first night of the conference brought a horrific reminder of dangers still threatening Congo. Struck recalls, “We heard a screaming woman close to the guesthouse, followed by machine gunfire and then silence. In the morning, we gathered for prayer for the city. This was heavy on our minds as the conference began.”
The week yielded spiritual insight for addressing issues these pastors face. They recognized key factors for bringing reconciliation to their communities. Struck enjoyed getting to know them, including “Robert”—who could not take notes fast enough. (This Presbyterian pastor has oversight of 20 other pastors, traveling at his own expense to help them. He’s never had theological training or even one book to assist his study of the Bible.)
Struck says the Congo churches are ahead of us in their unity, a positive by-product of war and natural disaster. “It didn’t matter about our denomination. They just wanted solid preaching. The Baptists have the biggest facility there, but they lend it to other church groups. Circumstances have forced understanding. They have different expressions but the same Christ.” Struck attended several church services while there; he says, “The cross is their rescue. People stood outside packed buildings to listen.”
A Desperate Plea
After multiple exchanges of goodbyes, Struck and his co-workers climbed into vans to leave. Then someone grabbed his belt from behind, yanking him out of the van—Robert, who fell to his knees, pleading: “I can’t let you go. I have nothing to train others.” Struck remembered a half-case of books in the van—left from his visit to Rwanda. The Desiring God books, 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, were in English, but could serve DRC pastors, who typically know enough English to get by. Robert received the books, holding them like a newborn.
Struck departed the conference grounds with two lasting images: expressions of joy as Robert handed out the books to the other pastors, and then, driving away, the sight of blood on the ground.
Moved by the plea for resources, Desiring God International Outreach recently released John Piper’s 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die in Swahili for Rwanda, Kenya, and the DRC. An excellent introduction to theology, the “reasons” serve as springboards for pastors to write their own lessons and sermons.
Mark Struck reiterates the great need in Central Africa for training materials and couriers to deliver them. “We call Amazon for a book,” he says. “They cry out for books and then thank God.”