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Congo turmoil, uncertainties necessitate IMB workers’ delay

KINSHASHA, Congo (BP)–Despite recent unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire, Southern Baptist missionaries still hope to enter the country for the first time since 1992.

DRC President Laurent Kabila was assassinated Jan. 16 by one of his own bodyguards. With all modes of transport in and out of the country shut down and a government in turmoil, International Mission Board missionaries Rusty and Debbie Pugh and Michael Hamline were not sure if they would ever move from their home in Nairobi, Kenya to Kinshasa.

“Things seem to be settling down now,” Rusty said. “Kabila’s son, Joseph, has been sworn in as the new president and the government has made a big effort to welcome foreigners. The foreign minister said he hoped many foreigners would continue to allow the Congo to be their second country.”

The three missionaries originally planned to enter the country and start their ministry Jan. 25. Now plans are on hold in hopes that the country settles down even more.

Even if the government stabilizes soon, there is still a chance that fighting between government troops and rebel soldiers will force missionaries to evacuate the country. Many missionaries living in the interior have moved to the capital city, Kinshasa, or to bordering countries to escape the violence, which has dominated life in the country since 1996. The IMB officially pulled out of the country in 1992.

Refugees from nearby Rwanda poured into Zaire in 1994, setting off a chain of events that eventually toppled the dictatorial regime of Mobutu Sese Seko and led to the ascension of rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The country has since become a battle zone for governments and rebels from across central and southern Africa.

Despite the unrest, Christian influence in the country is growing. Citizens enjoy freedom of religion. The Operation World prayer guide estimates the population as 42.1 percent Catholic, 36 percent Protestant (including 21 percent evangelical), 1.4 percent Muslim and 2.7 percent traditional religion.

The Congo has a gross domestic product of just $400 per person, and the continuing fighting has left the average Congolese malnourished, perhaps able to afford only one meager meal a day.

On trips in and out of the Congo, the Pughs have seen a tremendous growth and commitment in the Congolese Christians. They work with a leader whose congregation has started 12 new churches. The Pughs plan to train local Christian leaders in evangelism and Bible schools.

“Everyone knows that in the fairly near future the missionaries will be forced out again,” Rusty Pugh said. “That’s why it is so important for the leaders to be trained in starting their own churches.

“Our future in the Congo is always going to be ‘iffy’ at best,” he said. “We can always use prayers for our safety, but the Congolese need your prayers for daily sustenance. They need to feel God’s comfort in the midst of this turmoil.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RUSTY AND DEBBIE PUGH.