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Church aims to aid Congo's innocents
Chaos once again engulfs the Congo, as the church works to protect the innocents

 Displaced Congolese women sit in a refugee camp west of Goma following the latest rebel offensive.
Jerome Delay/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 11/29/2012

By Ed Jones

THERE WERE NO church services on a recent Sunday in the sprawling Congolese city of Goma because "the bombs were booming." Civilians were reportedly being pulled out of their homes and killed by the armed forces known as the M23 rebels. Food and water were in short supply.

That's what we hear from the Anglican priest our three-person Episcopal delegation befriended last May in the war-ravaged eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This week our Congolese friend made it to Rwanda from a conference in Ethiopia on his trek back to his beleaguered hometown of Goma. His family is safe. They have brought many displaced people into their home. But others have not been so fortunate.

Hardship and conflict are no strangers to this beautiful sliver of the Congo along the Rwandan border. Since the 1990s, this region has been engulfed in a war that few Americans even know about. Casualties have mounted to well over 5 million.

Our May trip from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia focused on the key city of Goma, now taken over by the rebels after all-but-invisible resistance by the dysfunctional Congolese army. Our second stop in May was Bukavu, the city the rebels say they're planning to conquer next.

For our Anglican friend and his family, who offered us a warm welcome during our stay, these are times when the church's commitment to helping the needy and hungry, through schools, medical facilities and just plain kindness, really comes to the fore.

The rebel army owns a long track record of atrocities.

These rebels, who are former Congolese soldiers, are said by the United Nations to be secretly backed by Rwanda, which denies the accusation.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this renewed chaos is that no one can explain clearly why this is happening yet again. The stakes have to do with natural resources, power and ethnic identity.

But as one expert on the Congo put it, the history of this massive nation in the center of Africa is like the skin of an onion. Every time you peel off one layer, you find another beneath it.

In many ways, the armed forces are a reflection of the dysfunctional state apparatus bequeathed to the DRC from a Belgian colonial experience that turned this vast land into an autocratic "plantation" for the export of ivory and rubber.

While the forces of chaos rage, the innocents in the midst of the violence must once again try to hang on. Their resilience is absolutely inspiring.

In the midst of the killing, good people like the Anglican priest who was our host have found ways to work together to help those caught in the crossfire.

They need our prayers and our dollars. If you can help, send a check to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, 110 W. Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23220-5095.

All the dollars will be used directly in the Congo, helping to spread love and kindness in a land with more than its share of misery.

Ed Jones: 540/374-5401
Email: edjones@freelancestar.com