This has been a week of tragedies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Last Tuesday a ferry over laden with people capsized in the middle of Lake Mayi Ndombe (black lake). This is a 16-mile wide body of water emanating from the Congo River and overflowing during this rainy season.Over 300 people perished less than 900 feet from shore as the boat took in water and rapidly sank.Most of the men, women and children aboard could not swim; their bodies have not been retrieved.
The same day a train transporting cargo and people hit a landslide while traveling up the 200-mile rocky terrain from the port of Matadi to the capital city of Kinshasa.The tracks were strewn with rocks and mud… and the train, along with one engine pulling and another pushing, careened off the side and into a precipice below killing 20 people and effectively disabling the national railway system of this country.
And today we heard news of a plane, again heavily laden with passengers and freight, which crashed just after takeoff from a city north of the capital…killing everyone on board.
Congo is a nation the size of Western Europe but has only a few hundred miles of paved roads, and even those are in disrepair.People rely on river and rail and plane transport as dangerous and overcrowded as they are.
I wonder how they will transport desperately needed food to isolated urban areas?
Other news from the interior of this central African country is equally sobering; a new strain of Ebola continues unchecked in the republic of Congo just across the river.Our hospitals in Eastern Congo are reporting thousands upon thousands of cases of brutality and rape and torture as the 3-year civil war winds down and women come forward with horrendous stories about their ordeals.Many of these women are testing positive for HIV; a death sentence on top of their severe emotional and physical scars.
During worship this morning we commemorated the start of the Advent season.Advent means ‘the coming of the Messiah.' In church history this is a time of joy, hope and expectation.What is the meaning of Advent in present day Congo?
The people of Congo are in need of an advent message. Their hearts are yearning for a message of joy and hope and expectation of better days; in contrast to the everyday tragedies they witness in this taxing central African nation.This is the message that we are called to bear during these uncharacteristic hot and sultry December days:
There is a God in heaven.He knows of the pain and suffering in this African land; he experienced much of the same.
He is not blind to injustice or the plight of the poor.He has promised comfort to those who weep and will redress in his own time those who have been wronged.
He knows the pain of death; he watched his own Son die in agony…. for our sake, for our eternity.
As tragic as the news appears coming out of Congo these days, as far away as we are from home this Christmas season, we find pause and joy by recalling what is promised to those who put their hope and their trust in Jesus; a peace which surpasses all understanding, an inner joy which can overcome the tragedies in our lives…. even in the heart of Congo.
With blessings and love and hope from Central Africa,
Bill and Ann Clemmer with Jasmine, Eli, Joel and Cassie