Norwich Christian helps restoration in Congo
From February to July Eldred Willey from Norwich served on an international relief team for Samaritan's Purse in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His main role was to lead a team of Congolese Christians supplying essential goods to communities pillaged by rebels. He describes below their last intervention, in a jungle village called Epulu.
Come buy without money
By Eldred Willey
The old chief sat in his mud-walled office, wearing round-rimmed spectacles and red ladies shoes. He shuffled damp papers across his desk, shakily marking them with a little seal in a forlorn gesture of authority. He was the most broken-down leader I have ever met.
The chief presided over the once-beautiful village of Epulu, at the centre of the Okapi Reserve in north-east Congo. Its wildlife enclosure used to draw crowds of tourists, with its stunning forested setting, and the wide reach of river forming rapids. That was before the Mai Mai raided a year ago and destroyed everything.
When Samaritan’s Purse arrived the village was literally demoralized: it had been drained of its morals. The young women were now serving as prostitutes to the passing lorry drivers. The Pygmies who used collect forest food for the animal enclosure sat helplessly beside overgrown fields, their tools stolen by the raiders. The only wealthy villagers now were those who were illegally mining gold or poaching elephants.
Into this setting Samaritan’s Purse came with the vision of a fair – a celebration where people could purchase clothes, bedding and tools with coupons they were given. The very concept was a picture of salvation: a free gift to buy back what had been stolen. “All you who are thirsty come to the water. Come buy without money” (Isaiah 55:1). The elderly, the crippled, and the blind would take first place in the queue.
Our spokesman Jimmy began explaining the plan to groups of men and women in the village, and he talked freely about the love of Jesus Christ which had compelled Samaritan’s Purse to come here. By its example the team began to reawaken a compassion for needy neighbours, which had fallen into a slumber after the trauma of the Mai Mai attack.
At the fair, once-idle men walked out with hoes and machetes, pausing to thank the Samaritan’s Purse staff. Some people as they left shared household goods with those who had not been able to register. The chief of Epulu came, and marshaled his volunteers with a metal staff, which he carried like a symbol of restored authority. He was a transformed man.
Many of the villagers had previously been sleeping on piles of leaves on a dirt floor. One woman told the team in tears that her family had never slept on mattresses, but she had bought three at the fair and now everyone was sleeping on foam. We heard of several cases of estranged husbands and wives coming together to decide how to spend their coupons, and so finding healing for their relationship.
The team itself often ate in a restaurant constructed from Samaritan’s Purse tarps, which had been donated during a previous visit. The owner’s daughter Florence greeted us, but there was always a sad expression in her smile. When the Mai Mai had raided, they dragged her into the bush where she had spent six harrowing months as a sex slave. Now she was too frightened of men to get into a vehicle and go to hospital for the treatment she needed.
Slowly over the weeks we built trust, and before we left we invited Florence to the base for an evening meal. She sat relaxed at our table, one woman at the centre of a group of animated men. This was just one damaged person who was beginning to find healing though the hope which is in Jesus Christ.
Samaritan's Purse currently have 2013-14 team opportunities in various countries in Africa and Central Asia.
Click here for more details
People interested in hearing more about Samaritan's Purse and the opportunities to work with them can contact Regional Manager Alan Cutting. Alan will be speaking at:
Aylsham Parish Church (15 Sept)
The Well Christian Centre, Ashill (13 October)
Witard Road Baptist Church Norwich (20 October tbc)
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