While many people were wrapped up in Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House on Saturday, at least 200 people were killed in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. A landslide swept through a fishing village on the banks of Lake Albert in Ituri province. Some people are still buried and may never be found. Landslides are common in the area, since the hills are deforested and desperate people crowd onto them in search of affordable land for their homes.
While we continued to obsess over the outrages in Charlottesville, we ignored the ongoing violence in the central Congo. 1.4 million people have been displaced by a conflict between government forces and those of the traditional chief, the Kamuina Nsapu. 8000 people among the displaced are Mennonites. “There is no place where this conflict has gone where there are no Mennonite churches,” says Rod Hollinger-Janzen of Inter-Mennonite Missions. Church leaders report that 36 Mennonites are among the U.N.-estimated 3,300 deaths since October. Church buildings and church schools have been damaged or destroyed.
While Congress was trying to eliminate the minimal and expensive healthcare provided by the Affordable Care Act, the Congo plunged deeper into a humanitarian crisis, with about 7.7 million people on the verge of starvation, according to UN food agencies.
Let’s find Kinshasa on the map
As we took a peek under the blanket of silence that covers the great national sin of racism in the wake white of supremacists making themselves known in Virginia, we did not bother to peer out from under the blanket that hides the rest of the world from us. Can you find Kinshasa on a map? 11 million people live there — 3 million more than New York City.
But why would we know? The country was founded on invisibilizing Africans. The slaveholders who greatly influenced our country’s Constitution managed to get 3/5 of the enslaved population of their states counted as citizens, even though they knew they would never vote and their interests would never be represented. When Charlottesville was discussed on the BIC-List, voices immediately rose to parrot the President’s claim that there was “violence on both sides” – it sounds like the same kind of “equality” African Americans have received since the beginning of the country. 25% of the descendants of slaves in the United States probably traveled the great river near Kinshasa because they were stolen from the area that is now the DRCongo and Northwestern Angola.
Are the troubles in Africa more important than troubles in the U.S.? Not really. Are we responsible for the displaced in the Congo? — to the best of our ability, yes, of course –just like we are responsible to take action against injustice and hopelessness in our own churches and cities. And, thank God, the Mennonite Central Committee is helping people in our name and in the name of Jesus right now. Circle of Hope contributed over $100,000 to MCC last year, and my household added more, directly.
But even if we cannot be responsible for solving all the problems of the world, we could at least do our best to be aware of them. Our country is responsible for causing many of them, after all.
I acknowledge that you might have varying degrees of willingness to be a “we” or think in terms of “our” with me. But let me finish. I just want to say that It would be best if we were not so self-absorbed that we react to every Trumped-up bit of nonsense that comes over the airwaves as if it were of primary importance. We should discern what are the most important things for us to care about, not just careen from newsbite to newsbite. Even as the President tries to distract us from some sin by committing another, we should not take the bait, but attempt to see from the eternal perspective of Jesus and act accordingly.