A Letter From Congo (Kinshasa)
In the Shadow of the Mountain of Fire
AS THE sun rises over the city of Goma, the sky is painted pink and orange. A breathtaking view of Mount Nyiragongo, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, greets us each day. A constant plume of smoke rises from the open crater. At night the plume glows red, reflecting the lava in the crater.
In Swahili, the mountain is referred to as Mulima ya Moto—Mountain of Fire. The last major eruption of Nyiragongo took place in 2002. Many of our neighbors and friends here in Goma lost everything. In some of the neighborhoods where my husband and I preach, we walk along a rippled lava-rock surface, and I imagine what walking on the moon might be like. The people are the opposite of the hardened lava. They are lively, with soft and open hearts receptive to the good news we proclaim. That makes serving in the shadow of the Mountain of Fire a joyful adventure.
Saturday morning, I awake with anticipation. My husband and I, along with our visiting friends and fellow missionaries, will be spending the day preaching in the refugee camp at Mugunga, just outside the city limits to the west. Many here have fled violent attacks on their hometowns.
We load the truck with Bible literature in French, Kiswahili, and Kinyarwanda. Then we set off. As we bump along Route Sake, the city comes alive. Young men are already pushing their heavily laden chukudus (handmade wooden scooters for transporting loads). Women wearing brightly colored wrap skirts walk gracefully along the side of the road with large bundles on their heads. The mototaxis are busy transporting people to work and to the market. The landscape is dotted with wooden houses stained brown-black and painted with blue trim.
We arrive at the Ndosho Kingdom Hall to meet some of our fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses who will join us in preaching at the camp. I am touched to see young ones, widows, orphans, and those with physical limitations. Many of them have experienced profound suffering but have improved their lives by choosing to follow Bible principles. The Bible’s hope burns bright in their hearts, and they are eager to share it with others. After a short meeting to give us some suggestions on what Bible verses would be encouraging to the people we meet, 130 of us head out in five minibuses and a four-wheel-drive truck.
About 30 minutes later, we arrive at the camp. Hundreds of little white tents are pitched over a lava field. In the middle of the camp are neat rows of public toilets and common washing stations for doing laundry. There are people everywhere—washing, cooking, shelling beans, and sweeping in front of their tents.
We meet a man called Papa Jacques, who is responsible for a certain section of the camp. He is concerned about raising his children during these difficult times. He was thrilled when we left him the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work and said that he would like to read it and then gather small groups together to share what he learns.
A little farther along, we meet a lady named Mama Beatrice. She asks us why God allows suffering. She thinks that God must be punishing her. Her husband was killed in the war, her daughter is a single mother struggling to raise her baby in the camp, and her son was kidnapped several months ago. She has had no news of his whereabouts.
Mama Beatrice’s laments remind me of how Job must have felt upon receiving all his terrible news. We show her the reasons for suffering and assure her that her suffering is not punishment from God. (Job 34:10-12; James 1:14, 15) We also highlight the changes that God will soon bring to the earth by means of his Kingdom. Her face relaxes into smiles, and she says she is determined to continue studying the Bible and praying to God for help.
Everyone in the group has enjoyed the day, and we all feel that Jehovah has really helped us to bring hope and encouragement to the people we met. As we leave the camp, many residents hold up their tracts, magazines, and books as they wave good-bye to us.
The ride home provides time for reflection. I am filled with gratitude for such a special day. I remember the appreciation shown by Papa Jacques, the relief in the eyes of Mama Beatrice, the strong handshake from an old woman who could communicate with me only by smiles. I think of the adolescents who asked intelligent questions and showed maturity beyond their years. I admire the strength of character that I observed in people who can still smile and laugh in spite of unimaginable suffering.
In this part of the world, we see the sincere efforts of many others who are trying to bring relief to those who suffer. Today, it has been a real privilege to use the Bible to show people the permanent solution to their problems. I feel very happy to be a part of the greatest spiritual relief effort that the world will ever know.