Report on Mission 9

Africa Great Lakes Region

October 2013 - April 2014


When we walked into the EGEE last Fall , the juvenile section of the Central Prison in Goma, DRC, we were swarmed by the young fellows - yelling, crying and roughly jostling each other to get close to us. We sensed that, even more than usual, the situation was desperate. It took no time to discover that not only were they starving but they were infested with bugs of all kinds: body lice, bed bugs, stingers and mosquitoes oozing off the damp walls and out of the broken drains. The boys crowded around us, scraped the bugs off their skin with their fingernails and snapped them at us while begging us to help them. It was immediately apparent that no matter what program we had had in mind, all would have to be put aside as we searched for a solution to this emergency which was not only torturing them but which had also stripped them of all dignity as children created in the image of God. And so was born another major project initiative in the prisons of the Great Lakes area of Africa.

In December 2013, we had the first major De-Bugging Clean-Up. Twenty-five chaplaincy workers scrubbed down not only the jail, but the young people themselves. Each was completely shaved, checked medically and given a kit which included towel, soap and a change of clothes. New mattresses were bought with a blanket for each. Some juice was supplied and efforts were renewed to encourage others to contribute weekly to a supply of food. The situation, while remaining very difficult, was notched down marginally. In the last six months, we have taken on responsibility for welcoming newcomers - about thirty a month, showering and shaving them and supplying them each with a personal kit. They are checked regularly by our medical team. A permanent classroom has been set up with benches and a blackboard for literacy and life skills training. Clean water and soap and enough food remain constant challenges.

The PJRIDI team under Simeon’s leadership keeps abreast of those who can be liberated after paying a fine and they lobby tirelessly to have as many as possible reintegrated into their communities and families

During the Easter season, we discovered that a young Rwandan was incarcerated with the Congolese. The team began working on his case and learned that he had been abducted several years previously from Rwanda and smuggled across the border to work on a farm in the interior. He was in jail because he had come back one day from selling milk to find his ‘patron’ strangled (by older farm hands who had not been paid for two years). He had no idea what to do and no hope. The PJRIDI team was given permission to assume his guardianship and take him to the Rwandan border.

Once there, Pierre signed as his father and was allowed to bring him to our home. It took ICOPUR, our Rwandan chaplaincy team, 4 days to locate his mother in a mountain village and bring her to Gisenyi where we live. She had not heard from him since his disappearance and presumed that he was dead. ‘My son was dead, and now he is alive’. What a joyous reunion! What a proof of resurrection for us all!

The work in Goma has grown by leaps and bounds and we are quite overwhelmed by it all! The Petit Sanctuaire Goma is bursting with people, including 45 women in the WoW (Women’s Wellness) program for displaced, abused and marginalized young women.

The Sewing Workshop has produced its first 15 graduates who are now making uniforms which we supply to the prison. Add to this literacy and family planning classes and the days are full.Their young babies keep the daycare bouncing - literally, and we need to work on the problem of malnutrition among this group.

These are women of prayer despite the odds stacked against them and they are becoming well. Politically, the region has been relatively calm the last few months. The UN MONUSCO presence in prison is consistent. We have continued to receive loving support from you, our partners - including a new generator. There are no words for our gratitude.

Let me introduce you to Theophile. He had the grand distinction of being the 100th Rwandan genocide victim to come to the Petit Sanctuaire Gisenyi and then to the Musanze Prison to meet with the offenders responsible for the death and destruction caused to his family in and around the events of 1994.

Theophile is 74 years old. He looks after cows and his wife grows potatoes. During the genocide, he, his wife and young daughters found themselves in the DRC. The rest of the family was still on the mountain that they inhabited as a clan - and this made them very easy to hunt down and kill. His three oldest boys were massacred and he told us how he still misses them today. He would have needed his sons to help in his old age. In fact, 106 members of his family were dead by July, 1994. His grandfather, leader of the family at that moment, was murdered as were all his wives and children. Property was pillaged and the mountain left desolate. Then, through the Letters Project which we began in 2008, he started to receive letters from some of the genocide perpetrators who had been responsible for his family’s extermination. This past winter, he met with G. who expressed deep regret for his part in the killings. Theophile had some serious questions to ask. Why did you do it? Where are the bodies? There was no real answer as to ‘why’, but G. was able to confirm where the bodies had been buried. We sensed an enormous satisfaction invade Theophile. He was proud that he had come to the meeting, proud that he had been able in God’s name and in the name of the remaining family members, to offer forgiveness. He was deeply touched to discover where the bodies were and the details surrounding the killings. Incredibly, he left for home with a smile and many hugs to the chaplaincy team for their part in the mediation. Only God understands all of this. The team has been used again and again to help people find some answers, peace and healing. The cost, however, is considerable - both financially, and emotionally for the chaplains who listen to unimaginable tales of horror every week. Thank you for making this all happen with us.

We work from a Restorative Justice perspective: respect for all parties in a conflict, listening, truth-telling and finally, repairing. The emphasis during the last mission was on ‘repairing’. We had the great privilege of helping with some home repairs both at the home of Anastasia, a genocide victim left with only one infant daughter, and her offender, Alphonse. Since she met with him in prison, offered her forgiveness, and welcomed him back into their small rural community, he has become like a son to her. They helped our team with improvements to each other’s very modest mud brick houses and toasted each other with sorgha beer upon completion of the work. We could hear the angels in Heaven applauding. Again, all this because of your support.

Jean Bosco continues diligently to visit all the prisons in Burundi and bring whatever material help he can, and we are happy to support him and his team in a small way. We are also happy to partner with Pascal and his impressive work in the Rwanda Reconciliation Villages; Deo Gashagaza and his many responsibilities with Prison Fellowship Rwanda, the Unity and Reconciliation Commission, and his precious street children in Kigali; and Pastor Emilienne and Christophe as they bravely work through the first Circle of Support and Accountability in Rwanda.

The chaplaincy teams themselves live in difficult personal circumstances while being called to meet unbelievable challenges daily in their work. They are a uniquely committed bunch and we are honoured to share with both you and them in this ministry which God in His grace has smiled on and is blessing. We will continue to strive for excellence in all we do.

DRCongo: Chaplain Simeon with Aimérance, Assani, Balon, Bitos, Ezekiel, Florence, Josée, Joséphine, Dr Justin, Marthe, Monique, Trésor, Victor.

Rwanda: Chaplain Lazare with Kizungu, Fine, Canisius, Nelson. Also Pascal, Deo, Emilienne, Christophe.

Burundi: Chaplain Jean Bosco with Ida, Fanuella.

Canada Board: Pierre Allard, Judy Allard, Jacqueline Hodges, Irene Sletcher, Gaston Boucher, Eileen Henderson, Randy Henderson, Sue Morse, Ed Pollitt, David Shantz, Doug Umbach, Nancy Umbach.

Travelling Team: Pierre Allard, Judy Allard, Eileen Henderson.

Judy Allard
For the Just.Equipping Team
Photos: Pierre, Simeon and Lazare