The life of a refugee is complex and the answer is more elusive than you might think. In Mugunga Refugee Camp in Goma, Congo while we were conducting interviews, we met this family. You could see how worn and weary they were from being driven off their land by Rebel fighting. They were from a village about one hundred kilometers away and had walked that distance when the rebel fighting began. That was quite a journey for this pastor, his wife, and six children.
When they arrived in this “safer” area surrounding Goma, which has only seen peace since December in the last 17 years, they found themselves in this Refugee Camp where we met them. Mugunga is the largest of six refugee camps surrounding Goma, with 20,000 living in it. Mugunga is not an easy place to live by any stretch, with there being very little food, a very rough terrain to build on (volcanic rock), extremely limited access to medical care and education, and a constant fear of rebels coming again. But here 20,000 people lived in these conditions.
While hope was present in this pastor, it felt like it was “just” holding on. He was the strength to his family and his six children, but he seemed weary and tired, and that he did not know what to do next. His family did not have enough food and he had no way of providing for them. We asked him why he couldn’t return to his village. He said that the rebels had moved onto his ancestral land and if they returned they would kill him.
It is hard to know what the “answer” is in a story like this. The rebels and fighting made this family leave there home. The government places them in a large refugee camp, where there is not enough food or jobs. The International NGO’s are not helping as much as they can with providing basic services like education. The problem is difficult and complex. You listen to there story, and it feels very easy to doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. But in fact, that is the only hope that is present in Mugunga, and is far more present than you think. Jesus’ hope is the only thing powerful enough to shine in a place like this. I found the more I was in Mugunga, the more I saw hope and beauty. God hears every cry, and even in a place like Mugunga he sees and hears. That is the justice of God.
I just found out last week that the government has shut down this refugee camp, forcing the refugees that met either back to there home villages or to other refugee camps. The sad part about this is that the problem that caused there to be so many refugee’s in Eastern Congo has only been partly fixed. This pastor and his family can’t go home, because rebels have taken over there land and are living in there house. Who knows where this pastor and his family are now. What a glimpse into the life of a Refugee Pastor in the DRC.