Typically, when war breaks out in Africa, missionaries evacuate and evangelism stopsdead in its tracks. But the Democratic Republic of Congo is not typical. Nobody told Congolese evangelicals to stop spreading the gospel during war.
In the late 1990s, Gil Odendaal was in and out of Congo for five years in a series of short-term visits with Medical Ambassadors International. His aim was to train leaders who would in turn launch Community Health Evangelism (CHE) projects that offer basic medical care and Bible teaching in remote villages.
In 1997, three major rebel groups combined forces to overthrow the national government. As violence spread, missionaries evacuated reluctantly from throughout Zaire (as the nation was known at that time).
For the next seven years, almost nothing was heard from the projects. In 2004, Westerners returned, expecting to find all the established CHE programs destroyed. Odendaal and his colleagues did indeed find mission stations in ruins, but the programs were a different story. They had survived and thrived, more than doubling in size. The total number of village-based projects was now 113.
Through word of mouth, villagers heard the CHE projects were lifesavers. When other villagers were starving, villages with CHE had food to spare. Fewer newborns died. CHE-trained villagers cultivated gardens and took on microenterprise projects. In one CHE community, villagers built a press to extract oil from palm trees. They refined the oil, used it for cooking, and sold the surplus in regional markets.
Odendaal believes CHE succeeded because Congolese Christians addressed physical and spiritual needs together. "We say you cannot separate the two," Odendaal says. Today, 168 villages in southeast Congo have ...