Four of us set out from Western Congo last week to revisit the refugees who had escaped the massacre at Nyankunde Mission Hospital and to assess needs and health conditions since our first visit six weeks ago.After crossing the vast expanse of Congo we landed on the eastern side of the African continent in a town called Goma.After fueling, dropping off some cargo and obtaining clearance from rebel authorities, we re-boarded the single engine MAF plane for the 200 km flight to Oicha, a mission station tucked in the lush volcanic hills of Eastern Congo and dangerously close to the site of intense rebel fighting.
Due to inclement weather and instructions to land by rebel authorities as we crossed into another territory, we weren't able to reach Oicha until the following morning. We spent the night in the frontier town of Beni where two months earlier Ugandan and Congolese rebel troops fought a heated battle.Arriving at the Oicha mission station the following morning, we were glad to be amongst Christian friends and familiar surroundings.
There have been many changes since our last visit.The number of refugees in the outlying area has tripled as fighting continues.The mission hospital of Oicha has far more patients than they do beds. We visited sick children lying on mats in hallways and families camped out on the veranda.A tent city has been constructed next to the hospital consisting of plastic sheets wrapped around wooden frames.Families of 6-10 persons are accorded a single 4 x 4 meter section to live in. Even with these spartan accommodations; dozens of families are without shelter, waiting for more ‘plastic tents' to be built.Food is the other problem.It is rainy season in Eastern Congo and too late for planting.The refugees, of course, who number in the tens of thousands, came with nothing but the clothes on their backs.Groups such as World Relief, Samaritan's Purse and the UN Food program rendered significant assistance during the initial weeks…but the numbers of displaced persons and the magnitude of the problem is rapidly overwhelming available resources.In Oicha the refugees are now totally dependent on the mission hospital for food and shelter.The cost of supplying food alone for those 150 families from Nyankunde exceeds $2100 a week….or approximately twenty cents per person per day.Compounding this is an inadequate supply of potable water, limited medical supplies, school needs for the hundreds of children….and finding a way to deal with the trauma as people are starting to recount the horrific events that prompted them to flee their homes.
We took a tour of the refugee camp with hospital administrator Mr. Kyusa."How are you able to cope with such a large influx of refugees which increases daily?" I asked him, knowing the limited resources of the hospital and mission."We do the best we can," Mr. Kyusa replied. "As Africans," he reminded me, "it is our nature to share with those who come to our door, but as Christians we have great joy in being able to serve our brothers and sisters in the Lord."In fact, during my time in Oicha, the hospital and mission staff never referred to the Nyankunde people as "refugees or displaced persons"…but as "notre bien-aimee" (our well loved).
We crossed a path leading to Mr. Kyusa's house and indeed his own family had taken in three other families!Two were lodged in the bedrooms where their children had been… and another was camped out in a shelter built along the side of the house.I reflected how I felt back home on the rare occasion when ‘invited company' overstayed their welcome by a day or two.Do I always receive such visitors with "joy in my heart"… could I ever imagine displacing my children to let a family occupy their rooms?
The response from our churches has been significant.During our initial visit in October we were able to bring in nearly a ton of medical supplies, sheets, and food.In the ensuing month after we shared the needs, gifts from supporting churches and friends have been beyond what we ever anticipated.This second trip was made possible by such support.
Our team this week consisted of two pilots and two physicians.We brought in bales of blankets and sheets, medical supplies provided by Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA) and USAID as well as donations from churches and friends earmarked for relief.The team of ‘doctors and pilots' turned into a team of ‘shoppers' that second day as we set out in trucks to pick up supplies.Obstetrician Dr Mike Haninger purchased over 6 tons of rice, fish, soybeans and oil with funds provided by PCUSA and the American Baptist Church's One Great Hour of Sharing.MAF pilot Garth Pederson ventured into a border town with his team and returned with a truck filled with mattresses for families who had been sleeping on the ground, wooden cases of shovels, hoes, and gardening supplies for when the rains stopped all with funds provided by a sister church, Eaton Evangelical Free Church in Colorado.
We assessed longer-term needs as well.We recently financed the construction of more wells and water catchments systems.A grant from Church World Services will allow us to build more temporary shelters and purchase over 500 sheets of tin roofing to place on top of existing shelters, where sheets of plastic, cracked in the hot sun, are already leaking water during the heavy tropical storms.Funds from FBC Mt Holly in New Jersey, and FBC in Waukegan, IL will allow us to employ over thirty nurses who escaped the Nyankunde massacre, and put them to work helping to care for the escalating number of refugees from other sites.We learned that a group of African Christian women and lay counselors from Goma had started a counseling session in the nearby nursing school for families who have been through circumstances, too heart wrenching to describe.
ill Clemmer (International Ministries)