In Zaire, even the poor are millionaires. But they are still poor. The hyperinflation rate means 5 million zaires amount to no more than $1 in U.S. currency.

The economy of this French-speaking Central African nation of 40 million people has collapsed. Unemployment is at 80 percent. Food prices are beyond the reach of many. The U.S. State Department estimates that 5.2 percent of the population is suffering from acute malnutrition. Hospitals are without medicines, and many expatriate doctors have had to leave because of the violence.

Despite local and international pressure, Mobutu Sese Seko, the country’s military ruler of 28 years, has refused to give up power.

Looting, rioting, and fighting are frequent. In February, at least 1,000 people were killed, including French ambassador Philippe Bernard, during a mutiny by soldiers. Ethnic and regional animosity is brewing. The country has 200 tribal groups and is divided into ten regions. By May, at least 150,000 Kasai people had been driven out of their homes in the mineral-rich Shaba province, which the Katanga people always have claimed for themselves.

A Christian land

Ironically, Zaire is predominantly Christian. About 90 percent of the population professes Christianity, with at least 40 percent being Catholic, including Mobutu. A 1972 state decree brought all Protestant churches under one umbrella, the Church of Christ in Zaire, known by its French acronym ECZ. ECZ is made up of more than 80 Protestant denominations; the biggest groups include the Disciples of Christ and Presbyterian churches.

The churches are caught up in the crisis. During the February unrest when infuriated soldiers ran amuck, ECZ’s theological school in Kinshasa suffered extensive damage. The seminary building ...

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