When my family and I served as short term missionaries in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) we learned about the struggles that had led to President for Life Mobutu taking power. During the independence movement, which began in the 1960s, violence broke out that led to the deaths of many people throughout the nations including a missionary from a mission near where we served. There was little unrest in the country in 1988 when we were there, but there have been multiple wars and rebellions in the past two decades.
As Americans we tend to be optimistic, hoping nations will improve and grow stronger. However, little changes from year to year in many nations in Africa. In my book “CONGO MISSION,” I describe a fictional battle and rebellion that could have taken place. (Excerpt Below) In fact, as recently as 2009 a rebellion actually did take place beginning in a village called Dongo in the DRC. It began as merely a local incident where one group claimed ownership of fishing ponds reportedly owned by another group. The conflict spread as villages fought against each other. Seven local policemen were killed in this initial outbreak of violence.
The local issue led to a wholesale rebellion against the government requiring employment of UN troops to protect inhabitants of other villages in the region. The president of the DRC had to airlift troops from a far distant part of his country to put down the rebellion leaving in their wake even further destruction. Ultimately over 115,000 people were displaced. Many people crossed over the Ubangi River into the Republic of the Congo, but there were also families of whole villages who fled to the jungle and lived off the land for several months. They often suffered illness, starvation, and death and, when they returned to their villages they found them ravaged by either the rebels or the government soldiers.
– EXERPT FROM “CONGO MISSION”
Chapter 31: Limpoko, Congo – July 1988
In the morning Jack was awakened by shouting and shuffling of feet. Opening his eyes, he found Ned staring at him intently motioning to remain quiet. Ned then crept to a nearby window, and surreptitiously peered out into the pale gray early daylight.
Jack could not understand the language of the shouting, but identified fierce anger in the voices. There were at least four men clearly arguing. He sidled up to Ned and whispered, “What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure,” Ned answered in the same subdued voice. “It doesn’t sound good, though. Richard told me that there has been a local disagreement here lately about fishing rights.”
Just then Ned saw Richard approach the scene from one side. He had his arms out in a conciliatory manner. Walking up cautiously he tried to calm the posturing men. Speaking in French he said, “Men. Please. What is the problem? You don’t need to fight here. Let’s go sit and talk things over.”
Ned translated for Jack while he watched Richard draw nearer. “One guy has a machete and has been threatening the other, who has a club.”
The men stopped their arguing to stare at Richard, then one pointed his weapon at him, “Don’t come here, white man! This has nothing to do with you.” He answered in French also. Richard stopped his advance, but did not back up.
The other man shouted something to someone behind him and suddenly Richard fell to his knees, hands flying to his head. Jack wanted to sprint out to help him as he heard a woman’s scream, but Ned grabbed his arm. “It was only a stone. Probably from a sling-shot. Wait, we don’t want to go out there right now.”
Richard was holding his head and slowly rose to his feet. This time he retreated to his own house saying nothing else to the men. Ned motioned that they should try to move over to Richard’s house. At least then they would know what was happening.
Keeping an outbuilding between them and the arguing men, Jack and Ned moved to the main house. They slipped in through the back door and found Richard sitting with a cloth on his head, his wife next to him.
“Richard, what’s going on? Is this what you were telling me about last night?” Ned asked cautiously.
“Yes. It’s an old argument. The men of this village fish in an area downstream that another village claims is theirs. I have never seen them get so angry before, though. This time someone has already been hurt.”
“I see,” said Ned
“What do you think will happen . . .”
Just then the shouting outside intensified and they could hear the clash of weapons. “Oh no!” said Cindy, her voice quavering in fear .
Jack looked out the window and saw at least two dozen men in hand-to-hand combat, some with machetes some with sticks or slings. Shouts and groans could be heard for several minutes. Metal rang against metal and there were other, more sickening sounds. Suddenly there was a loud “pop” and Jack dropping to the floor shouted, “Get down! Someone has a gun!”
The others in the room didn’t have to be told a second time. There was another shot and someone began wailing. There was the sound of running feet and more scuffling. Then silence.
After several moments with no obvious conflict taking place, Jack, who had military experience, took charge. “You all stay here. I’ll check it out.”
“But Jack . . .”
Jack didn’t wait for protests. Making his way to the back door again he peered around. There were no men nearby. He carefully moved outside to the front of the house, keeping close to the wall. There were no arguing men now, but Jack could see men lying on the ground. He scanned the area and seeing no current threats, moved in the direction he’d seen the people flee. There was still no sign of conflict. The only weapons he could see lay on the ground next to their fallen owners. Jack called back to the house, “Ned, Rich, come out. It looks like we have work to do!”
He moved to the closest man who lay, unmoving, eyes open fixedly into the sky. There was a large gash on his forehead. Jack felt for a pulse and found none. The next man was moving and moaning in obvious pain. He was holding his shoulder where blood oozed from between his fingers. He didn’t appear to have other wounds. Ned now arrived tossing a pair of latex gloves at Jack. “Just to be safe, I’d wear these.” He moved on and inspected another man. Richard, a little unsteadily, checked on a man who was leaning against a tree.
They didn’t ask for explanations, but helped those who could walk to the health center. By now other men were approaching and women appeared at the scene. There was also an increasing sound of crying and wailing coming from the women. Jack could see one woman kneeling over the dead man, shaking her head in grief.
“Ned, do we have suture here?” Jack asked.
Ned answered as he applied pressure to the shoulder wound, “We just brought some yesterday, but I doubt we will have enough.”
Already moving toward the trees Jack said, “I’ll check on more victims.”
He moved farther down from the scene of the fight and found another man lying face down. He was moving an arm and his feet were moving slowly. He started to roll the man over, but a hand grabbed his arm. “Hey!” Jack exclaimed involuntarily.
He looked to see who had grabbed him and found two men staring down at him. One held a gun aimed at him. It wasn’t like any rifle he had seen. It had a barrel and a wooden stock but appeared like a toy he might have made as a child. Jack was certain, however, that this was the weapon he had heard earlier. He raised his hands as the men motioned him away. Backing away he kept his eyes toward the men. They lost interest in him once he was behind them. Standing over the man they made no attempt to help. Jack saw that he was no longer moving his feet and the hand made one last grasp at the soil and was still. With one last threatening look at Jack, they surveyed the area and disappeared into the maze of huts nearby.
Despite his appearance of courage Jack trembled as he thought about what could have happened had the man pulled the trigger. Hands shaking he forced himself to move. He scanned the area for more wounded. Several men sat holding limbs or trying to press clothes against cuts. Richard was directing them toward the health center so Jack decided to see what he could do there.
There were more injured men than he had thought. There must have been a couple dozen on each side. He didn’t voice his comments but looked for Ned.
“There are some more gloves on that rack over there. They haven’t been sterilized, but they will give you a measure of protection. There aren’t enough sterile gloves here. Just rinse off between patients. It’s the best we can offer.”
“Okay.” Jack looked down at his bloodied hands, remembering the potential for AIDS in Africa and was glad of Ned’s advice. The gloves on the rack looked as though they had been cleaned more than once. Not all of them were even fully intact. Ned was already sewing a laceration so Jack found a basin of water and began cleaning a facial wound on the next man. It wasn’t too deep but the man seemed dazed. Richard entered just then with another man whom he deposited along the wall.
Putting a hand gently on Jack’s arm he asked, “Jack, can I help?”
Nodding Jack said, “Yes, ask this man a few questions to be sure he is coherent. We don’t need to sew his cut closed, but he looks stunned. I’ll take the next one. Maybe you could have Cindy start soaking some thread in alcohol. It might be needed yet.”
Jack stepped toward Ned who said, “There are some sutures on long straight needles. You don’t need suture holders that way. We’ll worry about infection later.”
Jack found a packet of suture and carried it to the next man in line. A woman had just finished cleaning a gash on his side. Little bubbles were forming indicating that it went through to the lung. “Do you have any tubing?”
Ned spoke to the health center nurse who had just arrived and got his answer. “Domenge says he will look, but isn’t sure.”
Jack’s patient did not seem to be having difficulty breathing so he proceeded to close the wound as well as possible. He knew it could not be fancy since he had limited suture. His combat experience came in handy here, though, and he knew just how to close such a wound. If the man’s lung had not collapsed too much he may not need a chest tube.
They spent the morning tending to the wounded and gathering the dead. Three men had died. Two of them were from Limpoko and one, the man who had been shot, from the other village, Daba. Most of the wounds were cuts from machetes and bruises from clubs. A few were serious, like the chest and head wounds Jack had treated. They had used up their meager supply of suture but had managed to treat all the men. Now infection was the enemy. They had only soap and clean techniques. There was no sterilization for most of the instruments. The supply of antibiotics was small too, but people in the Congo often had to fight off infections naturally. Some did so successfully while some succumbed to the ravages of sepsis.
When all of the patients had been cared for, the little group of missionaries met together at the Clark’s house. Richard spoke first. “This could just blow over, you know Ned.”
Ned shook his head. “Rich, you know that there could be revenge killings. There will be reprisals. You and I can’t stop it.”
Richard remained silent.
Jack asked, “Has this happened before?”
Richard looked up at him. “Nothing like this. There was an argument a few weeks ago, but this is the worst I’ve seen.”
Ned said, “We have to call Roger and you need to get packed. We’ll contact the church. Perhaps the president of the Central Church could send a negotiator.”
Richard looked at his wife who was quietly holding their son. She spoke next. “Rich has a lot of rapport with these people, Ned.”
Ned replied, “Cindy, I understand. But this is different. The Daba people don’t know him well and he is the wrong color. Richard, if you try to get in the middle here it could be very dangerous for you.”
Richard slowly looked up again. “Honey, I think Ned is right. Jack, tell them what happened to you.”
Jack relayed the story about being threatened by the gun. Cindy was crying now. “We have done so much. This is our home. Why now?”
Ned said, “Cindy, you’ll come back . . . when things are better. We need to get ready to leave, though.”
Richard stood and put an arm around his wife. “Ned, I agree with you. I don’t like it, but my family’s safety is very important to me. Before we do anything else, though, let’s pray together. Then I’ll go speak to the elders of the village.”
Jack and Ned stood. They all joined their hands and poured out their hearts to God.by