One of my memorable experiences occurred recently on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, in Burundi, Africa. On one side of the lake was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and on the other side were the majestic mountains of Burundi. Standing in God’s presence in awe, my gaze turned towards heaven and the DRC. I could hear words of a cherished song in my ears, “Jesus, you have come to the lakeshore seeking neither the wise nor the wealthy. You have come to call me. You have looked into my eyes.”
This incredibly beautiful sight was a gift to be cherished. Yet, I could not avoid the thought of women and children across the lake attempting to survive by selling their wares on the streets. The water, before my eyes, reminded me of the inaccessibility of clean drinking water in many parts of the country. My heart throbbed while remembering women in east Congo who have been used as weapons of war, their bodies mutilated and their dignity lost. I remembered the many times they have offered gifts of extravagant hospitality, beautiful songs of praise and worship, dancing and the sharing of their offerings, despite their own pain and suffering.
At the lakeshore, I thought of how Congo, exploited for its mineral resources from its early beginning, was once the personal property of one man (King Leopold) before it became the property of Belgium. People lost fingers, hands and other body parts for not producing their quota of rubber used to manufacture tires during the early years of automobiles. Men died while extracting diamonds, gold and copper sent from Congo to build the economies of other countries. The exploitation that started under ruthless colonizers continued under ruthless and corrupt dictators supported by the West.
Congo seems far away and unrelated to our reality. Yet, coltan, a mixture of two minerals found there, is used to make the chip necessary to run our cell phones and other electronic devices. At the same time many Congolese are unable to purchase cell phones to connect with the next village.
We need the Congo for our very existence! One of two major rainforests in the world, affecting our entire ecosystem, is located in the Congo. Many natural resources from the Congo fuel our economy, our lifestyles and privileges; while hunger, impoverishment, disease, and suffering are rampant in the country.
The armed conflict that raged from 1998-2002, one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, was partly driven by the ongoing scramble for natural resources. The International Rescue Committee has estimated that as a direct or indirect result of the conflict, more than 5.4 million people have died and the number continues to grow.
At the lakeshore, in the presence of Jesus, I could not ignore the exploitation, the oppression, and the injustice in the Congo. I felt the connectedness. At the lakeshore, I answered, “You need my hands, full of caring, through my labors to give others rest and constant love that keeps on loving.” May others heed the call!
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.