An intern reflects on her time spent in the Congo
Elise Cegielski worked as a communications intern for Samaritan’s Purse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the 11th largest country in the world and the second largest country in Africa. It’s so fertile it could feed a third of the world’s population, and it’s so rich in resources that all the surrounding countries are envious of its land.
Since 1996, between the Great African War and continued rebel violence sweeping across the eastern side of the country, more than 5 million people have died. It’s the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. Right now, there are 2.6 million displaced people within the borders of the Congo.
Yet the world remains silent. There stands a gaping hole where the continent of Africa should be. Few have even heard of the country. Western history books have no record of this place—neither the wealth nor the terror. Western news sources grow tired of the same stories of more rebel violence, more people abandoning their lives to flee into the forest, more epidemics of hunger and malnutrition and malaria. So the Democratic Republic of the Congo passes out of minds and hearts and into oblivion.
It has been an interesting time to intern here. During the past few months, violence has not only surged, but it has also seemed darker and more gruesome—if such a thing is possible. People in the streets have been decapitated, hacked to death with machetes, dismembered, cooked, and eaten. Women are being gang raped in frightening numbers. Kidnappings are increasing.
Villages are being attacked in the night, leaving death tolls of more than 100 people on a regular basis, and the violence is creeping closer to previously more secure city areas. Even full-out war between the government and a prominent rebel group has threatened to emerge.
Even though these travesties are happening within driving distance of my front door, I have felt a million miles away. Because of this violence, it can be difficult for our team to travel to the areas of need. I have felt trapped behind walls when I so desperately wanted to be in the field alongside the people who need to know Jesus’ love most.
The interesting thing about walls is that they give you lots of time to think and question. Maybe it would be easier not to come face to face with the seemingly unalterable and ever-present evil in our world. It makes me feel small, and it makes a life of service daunting. But then again, maybe we never grapple with who God really is, and what this life is, if we don’t dare to look into the abyss.
God has reminded me that I must rest in the assurance that He is good. He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. This current state is not and never was His desire for His creation; God does not stand behind evil. He too grieves alongside us, and all creation groans for restoration.
We now wait in the dusk between the chapters of creation and the promise of all things new. We wait for the fullness of His time. We have this great hope that He is preparing us for something beyond our understanding.
That by no means dismisses pain, suffering, and evil. But it reminds us of the greater story we find ourselves in. It’s bigger than me and Samaritan’s Purse and the Congo. It’s beyond the scope of human history. And on God’s timeline, this dark season is but “a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4b, ESV). Soon, death shall be no more. God will dwell among us and permanently wipe every tear from our eyes. God cannot be thwarted; Jesus has already won.
But the war rages on.
Today we weep in the midst of a fallen creation, ruled by powers and principalities of evil. It’s in this reality that my Congolese brothers and sisters have shown me how to hold my head high, love deeply, laugh readily, keep the faith, and not back down from the darkness that surrounds us.
One of our staff member’s favorite praise songs is “Hakuna Rafiki Kama Yesu”—there’s no friend like Jesus. Unceasingly, he holds onto to Jesus’ assurance: “Take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33b, ESV).
I leave this place with a fresh conviction that in this world we will face great troubles but that we can confidently sit at the feet of our great King who is love. I’m convinced that many days there will be no easy answers, but I’m also convinced that there is something inexplicably beautiful about our union with our Creator.
And it’s with this inspiration that we must fight the war. The victory is already and not yet. The promise is fulfilled and being enacted. We see in part, but one day we will know. Will we dare to step onto the battlefield?
The Samaritan’s Purse internship program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to use their skills to impact the world in a tangible way. Find out more here.