Its building burned to the ground, a church in the Democratic Republic of Congo comes back stronger than ever with help from Samaritan's Purse.
There’s a celebration in Gangala. People are traveling by bicycle to the village from as far as an hour away to join in the dancing, singing, and throwing flowers. The narrow dirt roads hemmed in by dense Congolese jungle open up to a clearing, and, in that clearing stands a church surrounded by hundreds of people.
It’s a joyous gathering that has its roots in an earlier tragedy.The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group from Uganda whose leader has been indicted for crimes against humanity, came through Gangala in 2009. As people sat worshipping in the mud hut church, the LRA burned it down. They killed or kidnapped everyone they could.
Many villagers did escape, for which Pastor Daniel Maimano, the head pastor of the church in Gangala, gives thanks to God.
“They went to hide in the bushes, but God protected them,” Pastor Daniel said.
Bakosa Mbikonyekinzi, the director of the elementary school in Gangala, managed to escape with his loved ones.
“I saw God’s grace because I was displaced with my whole family,” he said.People settled into new areas. But, since they didn’t have livelihoods, they relied on their new communities and humanitarian organizations for food and other essentials. Life was difficult, so after a couple of years, many people decided to return home. Along the way, some people lost more family members to the LRA.
“When we’re coming back, they killed my oldest son,” Bakosa said.
Most of Gangala had been destroyed. Ashes were left where the church, the school, and homes once stood. Nonetheless, people slowly built their lives again. Bakosa said they were always afraid that the LRA would return.
On Sundays, the church met underneath a mango tree. Pastor Daniel wanted to rebuild, but the resources weren’t available. People didn’t have money to give. They barely had enough to survive. So they prayed for a miracle.
Celebrating a Beacon of Hope
God answered. Samaritan’s Purse heard about the church and decided to bring materials to the community. The congregation made the bricks and helped with construction throughout the process. The finished product was more magnificent than they had imagined.
The community members march around the church building and stop at the ribbon in front of the door. As its cut, they march into the church singing, “This new building is sanctified for the worship of the Lord,” in Bangala, the local language.
“We’re really glad that the church is here because that’s where we’ll go to present our concerns to God,” said Arriette Mbolimba, the treasurer of the church.
People file into the pews all the way to the back of the church. They flow through the back door and sit on overflow benches. Others crowd around the windows, and little eyes peer in as the singing stops and the pastor takes the stage.
He reads from Psalm 150: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!”
“[The ceremony] made me feel better,” Bakosa said. “I just forgot everything that I remembered from the time the LRA came.”
From the church construction, the community learned how to work together to achieve great things. Although Samaritan’s Purse provided the materials for the church, the community members spent a great deal of time building it.
“It taught me a moral lesson as a Christian,” Bakosa said. “I noticed that Christians help others during hard times, and this has helped me live a better life as a Christian. I realized that even if I have nothing, my Christian brothers and sisters can come and help me.”
This church will be an example and a beacon of hope in an area known for spiritual darkness. People in northern Congo still practice traditional African religions, including ancestor worship, and there has been a recent influx of Muslims. Church members hope that this new church will draw more people to Christ.
“Even those who have never been to church will start coming to church,” Bakosa said.