Congo: Congo Church Watchful Amid Chaotic Leadership Transition

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It took six months for a rebel alliance to march into Zaire's capital, Kinshasa, ending in May dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's 32-year reign. With Laurent Kabila now in charge of the country—renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo—Christians wonder how long it will take for church and missionary work to resume fully and freely after the looting, evacuations, and killings.

Starting last October from the eastern region bordering Rwanda, Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces swept through the former Zaire, swiftly capturing towns with little serious opposition from Mobutu's unruly government army. It was an amazing military feat, given a dilapidated road system and great distances in Congo, a country of 45 million people that stretches across 905,000 square miles, an area roughly equivalent to the United States east of the Mississippi River.

As the rebels advanced westward, government soldiers retreated, attacking civilians and pillaging along the way. Western missionaries who did not pull out ahead of the revolution scaled back and evacuated as Kabila's fighters began to score victories. Local church officials who bravely remained at mission bases often suffered maltreatment from Mobutu's troops.

ON THE RAMPAGE: Near the end, desperate, greedy soldiers assaulted members of the Communaute Evangelique en Ubangi-Mongala (CEUM), a church with about 114,000 members in Mobutu's native northwest region.

CEUM's 872 churches and preaching points are supported by the Evangelical Covenant Church, which began missionary work in the country in 1937. Near CEUM headquarters at Gemena, soldiers put guns in the ears of national church president Luyada Gbuda and demanded that he give them "the dollars that the American missionaries had ...

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