Churches in central Africa's Great Lakes region are struggling to keep their communities intact and maintain Christian ministry as wanton violence meted out by insurgent armed groups scatters the faithful across eastern Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda.

Eastern Zaire is the center of Africa's most recent carnage. Trouble already began brewing there in 1994 when 1.2 million Rwandan Hutus streamed over the border as refugees in the wake of a civil war and a ruthless killing spree, claiming the lives of more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in their country.

But events took a radical turn last October when the governor of Zaire's south Kivu Province ordered the expulsion of the Banyamulenge, a group of 300,000 Tutsis. Although most of them had been in Zaire for 200 years, they were deprived of Zairian citizenship in 1981 and suffered discrimination and harassment. In October, fighting broke out between Zairian government troops and Banyamulenge rebels, who have since grown in number and have won a series of military victories.

Massive migration, involving hundreds of thousands, has taken place in recent months as refugee camps in eastern Zaire empty and Rwandan Hutus return home to an uncertain fate. The entire region is in a state of flux. War and social upheavals have led to major disruptions for churches in the region's hardest hit countries: Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi.

CHURCHES SCATTERED: As ethnic unrest grips the region, church leaders and members have repeatedly taken flight, leaving their homes to hide in the bush. Many Protestant pastors and Catholic priests have fled their countries altogether, leaving a leadership crisis behind.

Stephen Bamoleke Ruvamwabo, coordinator of the Peace and Justice Department at the Nairobi-based ...

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