Inside a War: New Ministry Partner in the Congo

If you were passing by two people having a conversation and overheard them say something about the “world’s deadliest war”- to where would you think they were referring? Would it be- Iraq? How about Darfur? In both cases, you would be incorrect.

The UN’s International Rescue Committee has stated that “the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has cost more lives than any other since World War II” (www.irinnews.org). This conflict has received minimal coverage in the world press as it has ravaged a nation that lies in the heart of Africa. Fighting continues today despite a peace agreement that was signed in January 2008 and the deployment of UN peacekeepers.

More than two years ago, a Congolese pastor struck up a conversation with Ed Hirshman, Harvesters’ Director, at the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya. The pastor, Athanase Habimana, spoke of the great need and opportunity in his home area of Goma, North Kivu district of eastern Congo. The Guest House is a popular place for Christian conferences and teams, so it is not unusual to cross paths with such people. Likewise, Harvesters is often approached by ministries seeking a partnership with someone in the US.

It is not often that meetings, such as the one between Ed and Habimana, amount to anything. However, in October 2007 a group from Harvesters, Ed Hirshman, Jonathan Lancaster and J. Lucarelli, traveled to Goma, Congo to visit with and survey the ministry led by Athanasi Habimana, The Union of Baptist Churches of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What the group saw was both eye-opening and encouraging. The level of poverty was quickly evident, as was the graciousness of the people. The encouragement came when the group saw the incredible work taking place through the efforts of Habimana and the Baptist Union and how little they had in the way of financial resources.

Started in 1989 with 1 church and a group of 15 believers, the Union has evolved into a network of 81 churches, more than 6,000 believers, a Christian school educating more than 1,000 students, a small Bible school that trains pastors and a small orphanage of about 35 children. Much of the ministry takes place in and around the city of Goma, located only a few kilometers from the border of Rwanda.

The stated mission of the Union is to “proclaim the Gospel to every Congolese and to plant churches and to promote social and economic development through programs and projects.” This mission is remarkably similar in both scope and execution to that of the Pokot Outreach Ministry in Kenya.

The conflict between Hutu rebels hiding in the forest that surround Goma and government troops has forced the evacuation of several rural areas in which the ministry works and displaced more than 500,000, many of which have taken up residence in refugee camps located outside of Goma.

Upon hearing of the wonderful ministry taking place in Congo that was very similar in methods and purpose of other ministry partners, the board of Harvesters approved the partnership of Harvesters International with the Baptist Union. Harvesters committed to telling the ministry’s story, informing God’s people of their needs and providing financial resources as the Lord provided

It is with great excitement and expectation that we introduce to you, Pastor Athanasi Habimana and the work of the Union of Baptist Churches of the Democratic Republic of Congo.