UNDER THE MID-MORNING SUN, the people of Mapedi village gather. Forty-six students don their shirts and dresses, all made from the same fabric.
They march into a tarp-covered shelter. A man in military fatigues leads them in song. The audience claps along.
The northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Mapedi is located, is often referred to as "The Black Hole" of Africa because of the spiritual darkness in the area. Although some would say they're Christians, most people continue traditional African religious practices, such as ancestor worship.
Many pastors in the area have no training, and some don't even have access to Bibles. To equip church leaders and other Christians, Samaritan's Purse is taking lessons to people who otherwise would never hear them. The celebration in Mapedi was the sixth Portable Bible School graduation since the program started in 2013.
THE GRADUATES TAKE THEIR SEATS, and groups in the audience take turns singing. A woman occasionally ululates. The band plays a hymn on trombones.
A pastor prays in Bangala. A passage is read from Psalm 136: "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!"
FIVE HOURS LATER, the students' names are called. They walk down a line of pastors and teachers, shaking hands before receiving their diplomas and congratulatory hugs from their families.
TWENTY YEARS OF CIVIL WAR have left scars across the Congo. People have been forced from their homes and watched siblings, children, and parents killed in front of them.
"Since the war, people don't have a heart of forgiveness anymore," said Pastor Etienne Ngadu, a teacher with the Portable Bible School program.
In an area so war-torn and so remote, attending Bible school is nearly impossible. The distance and financial restraints stop people from leaving their communities. They struggle just to have enough food to live and to keep their babies from the clutches of malnutrition.
"In short, life is hard here," said Pastor Obed Mukawirna, the Samaritan's Purse ministry coordinator.
AT THE END OF THE CEREMONY, the pastor gathers the graduates and the community members in the front of the room. They pray together, thanking God for this opportunity.
As the last "Amen" is uttered, the real celebration begins. Food is brought out for everyone in the community.
One graduate, Theophile Woduke, doesn't have anyone to share in his celebration. The Lord's Resistance Army killed two of his older brothers. The rest of his family was scattered as they ran from the violence. He is alone in the village.
When he first saw the violence against his family, he plotted revenge.
BUT THEN THE PORTABLE BIBLE SCHOOL CHANGED HIS LIFE. He was recruited as a student. As he prayed and learned, his heart changed, and he forgot his plans for witchcraft and killing. Like many in the program, he found God's will for his life.
"I'm going to go and share the Gospel," he said. "I want others to change like I have."