Violence is never the answer

“The New Apostolic Church rejects any form of violence!” These were Chief Apostle Schneider’s opening words in a divine service in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on Sunday, 16 July 2017. Violence is still the order of the day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The divine service on Sunday morning was transmitted throughout the country. The Chief Apostle used this opportunity to send out a strong message against violence. The 30,000 people attending the service in Lubumbashi—inside and outside of the church—and the many thousands of others throughout the country understood this message all too well. The eastern region of the country has been seeing armed conflicts between various militant factions for over twenty years. Over the last few months the violence has spilled over into the Kasai region in the central part of the country, which is now seeing bloody fighting. Aggravating matters is a severe economic crisis: the Congolese franc has lost seventy per cent of its value in just one year.

Outside of the country hardly anybody is aware of this. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and have fled to Angola. Four refugee camps have been set up there. Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider knows what he is talking about. As a District Apostle he worked in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years. And this time too he encouraged his brothers and sisters, “I am praying for you. I am sure: God has not forgotten you!” It is his wish, he said, that they feel the love of God. “Don’t be afraid. Jesus Christ is with you.” He emphatically stressed that the New Apostolic Church does not tolerate violence. “That is the position of our Church. That is my position as Chief Apostle, and it is the position of the gospel.”

Promoting the gospel

He based his sermon on the words of Paul to the Philippians, recorded in chapter 1: “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” The Chief Apostle immediately launched into a very current phenomenon—namely that life for many is sometimes hardly bearable! There are many people with many problems. Many suffer under unbearable circumstances, are persecuted, captured, and held captive, and fear for their lives. Let us take inspiration from Apostle Paul. Already he was made to suffer in his time. And today people still suffer. As New Apostolic Christians we are subjected to the same tragedies and misfortunes as anybody else. These tribulations, the Chief Apostle said, can contribute to furthering the gospel, as it says in our Bible text, if we adopt the correct behaviour. To keep faith in times of affliction is especially important. It is also important to love God and your neighbour, because this is an expression of the glad tidings of Christ. If we are there for others and console and comfort them, we bear witness of the presence of Jesus in our lives.

We will report about the divine service at a later date.

Civil war in Kasai

One example of many: Martin Beya is fifty years old and is an Apostle in the province of Kasai-Central. There is an intense inter-ethnic conflict that is constantly flaring up again. Many thousands have already been killed and many others have been displaced. The Apostle witnessed how a group of two hundred armed rebels stormed his village. He and his family—his wife and their seven children—fled across the border to Angola. For the time being, they are safe there. The problem is, however, that refugees are not allowed back into the country so easily. It is a vicious circle. After several weeks he did manage to make his way back. His house and the entire village were destroyed; and the many New Apostolic members displaced. “Normal” divine services are not possible at this time. Pastoral care visits, meetings for ministers … none of this is possible. He tries his best. He has nightmares and gastritis. Even his way of preaching has changed, he says frankly. He is much more concerned with showing compassion and giving comfort than he used to: “That is what the congregations really need the most right now!” he says.

The situation is serious

District Apostle Tshitshi Tshisekedi knows only too well how serious the situation is. He is planning on going to the Kasai region for a whole month in August. He also wants to go to the refugee camps in Angola then. “I am not planning a holiday with my family this year. I will be visiting families,” he says in a confident voice. “My brothers and sisters need me now!” There are twenty-six Apostle areas in the Kasai region, and all are affected by conflicts. About 175,000 members of the Church have been displaced in the last few months and have fled to Angola. His message is the same as in the divine service: “Don’t give up! God has not forsaken you.” And anyone who would like to help, he urgently asks: “Pray, pray, pray!”

These stories—of which there are many more—and the Chief Apostle’s message last Sunday show a harsh reality: many people have to suffer a lot.

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Peter Johanning, Oliver Rütten, Kevin Sargant
Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congregational life