. . . that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:17
Civil wars have plagued Central Africa in recent years. Volcanic eruptions have further threatened Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly known as Zaire). The borders of these countries are separated by an unstable mountain range.
In 2002 a fissure opened in the south flank of Mount Nyiragongo, sending a massive stream of lava toward Goma, the provincial capital city of the DRC. Hundreds of thousands of residents fled through the night. Many lost their lives as molten rock swallowed entire villages before emptying into nearby Lake Kivu. The city of more than half a million people became a ghost town overnight.
Only some peace exists in the DRC because of persistent violent factions. With a long Christian history, the nation looks to pastors for community leadership. In 2009 the DRC State Department sent a request to Mark Struck, an experienced teacher with a 30-year background in missions. Several Congolese pastors invited him to provide training for pastors. In response, Struck planned a week-long theological training conference in the DRC. Church pastors and leaders in the U.S. raised funds to provide for 60 DRC pastors’ travel, housing and food expenses.
The Same Christ
When Struck and his companions arrived in Goma, they found the city mostly destroyed. They drove 10 mph across the dusty city on lava rock instead of roads. Some rebuilding was evident—with lava rock used as material.
In an area of Goma least affected by the devastating eruption, an ornate white guesthouse came into view. Struck’s team left the grey ash outside a gate as they entered the green refuge that would accommodate the DRC pastors that represented 30 denominations.
The first night of the conference brought a horrific reminder of dangers still threatening Congo. As Struck recalled, “We heard a screaming woman close to the guesthouse, followed by machine gunfire and then silence. In the morning we gathered for prayer for the city. This was heavy on our minds as the conference began.”
The week yielded spiritual insight for addressing issues these pastors face. They recognized key factors for bringing reconciliation to their communities. One pastor, “Robert,” couldn’t take notes fast enough. (The Presbyterian pastor has oversight of 20 other pastors, and travels at his own expense to help them. He’d never had theological training or even one book to assist his study of the Bible.)
The Congo churches are ahead of U.S. churches in their unity—“a positive by-product of war and natural disaster,” Struck said. “It didn’t matter about our denomination. They just wanted solid preaching. Circumstances have forced understanding. They have different expressions but the same Christ.” Struck attended several church services while there; he said people stood outside of packed buildings to listen.
A Plea for Resources
When the conference ended, Struck and his co-workers climbed into vans to leave. But someone grabbed him from behind, yanking him out of the van—Robert. The DRC pastor fell to his knees, pleading: “I can’t let you go. I have nothing to train others.”
Struck remembered a half-case of International Outreach books in the van—left over from his visit to Rwanda. Thankfully, he had copies of John Piper’s book, 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, in English, which could serve DRC pastors, who typically know enough English to get by.
Robert received the books, holding them like a newborn. He joyfully distributed them to the other pastors in his network.
There is great need in Central Africa for biblical training materials and teachers. TGC International Outreach hopes to partner with more churches and agencies reaching out to this part of the world for the cause of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church.