Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Herod still runs amok: Islamists in Congo

United Methodist Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel is resident bishop of the East Congo Episcopal Area. He preached at the Tennessee Annual Conference last summer. He sent this message to Bishop Bill McAlilly this week.
To brothers and sisters in Christ:
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
As I write these few lines, my heart is too heavy because of the situation going on in Beni territory, northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is part of my Episcopal Area. The efforts of our army (are) insufficient to protect people. 
People there are killed every day in the neighboring villages and we run the risk of losing all our believers. Two weeks ago, a group of Uganda rebels killed people in the villages (of) Kamango, Oicha and Mbawu. A Methodist family (a father, his wife and their two children) were killed with machetes. 
Many people are fleeing to Beni. Our local congregations there are crowded with displaced people who flee from villages for their lives. We need your prayers. But, as you know, food and basic needs must be met. Our evangelization should reach people in need. 
I am sending this SOS message to all those who may want to help. 
May God be with us all during Christmas, but let’s keep in mind that our brothers and sisters are dying somewhere because of selfish interests. 
Bishop Unda Yemba Gabriel
Resident Bishop, East Congo Episcopal Area
Two thousand years ago, King Herod sent his soldiers into Bethlehem to kill every male child two years old or younger, thinking that the dragnet would surely include the young Jesus. But Jesus and his family had already left town. The killing of the children has become knows as the "slaughter of the innocents."

Der Kindermord zu Bethlehem (The Slaughter of the Innocents)
Original lithograph, 1960, by Otto Dix
The world's opposition to Christianity certainly did not stop at Herod. In our present day the Islamist murderers of ISIS have been slaughtering Arab Christians by carload lots in Syria and Iraq. They have recorded the killings on video and posted them on the internet. I'll not post any here, they are shocking and gruesome, but according to Western Muslims who have translated the audio, the ISIS killers use actual formal phrases of sacrificial Muslim worship when killing the Christians. Clearly, they say, ISIS sees the murders not merely as holy duty but literally as human-sacrificial worship.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is not so clear, however. There have been anti-government insurgencies there with varying degrees of intensity for about 20 years. Presently, more than 15 different armed groups operate in the Beni region and even more in nearby Lupero. Attacks and abductions for ransom have intensified all around with many hundreds per year. These groups include but are not only Muslim gangs. Some are simply outlaw bandits. For example,
KINSHASA, 10 December 2014 (IRIN) - The murders of more than 250 men, women and children in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Beni Territory in recent weeks have widely been blamed on an insurgency of Ugandan origin known as the Alliance of Democratic Forces-NALU (ADF-NALU). But several armed groups and racketeering gangs are active in the area and the culprits of these killings have not been incontrovertibly identified. 
Who is the Alliance of Democratic Forces? explains:
The Alliance of Democratic Forces (ADF) is made up of Ugandan opposition forces, supported by the Government of Sudan, which fought the Government of Uganda. The ADF was formed in the late 1990s. According to the UN, most of its members are Islamists who want to establish Sharia law in Uganda. This Ugandan Muslim rebel group has conducted limited activities in Uganda and DR Congo. The Allied Democratic Forces, originally a Ugandan based insurgency, now operates in eastern DRC and is listed as a terrorist organization.
Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Beni Territory is on the DRC's east, bordering Uganda.
Bishop Gabriel did not identify who carried out the murders in the villages of Kamango, Oicha and Mbawu, although his identification of them as "Ugandan" reasonably points to the Islamist ADF. Originally, the ADF was made up of a coalition Ugandan refugee groups who found themselves marginalized after the fall of Uganda's dictator, Idi Amin. Taking refuge in Congo, they originally oriented toward agressing the Ugandan government, which they still do, but have over time attempted to cement Islamist rule in larger areas of the DRC. About the middle of last year the ADF began a resurgence in the Congolese district of Beni. The Congolese government says that the ADF is receiving training, equipment and funding from Al-Shabaab in Somalia, an Islamist group that rivals ISIS in its brutality and insistence on enforcing strict sharia law. It was Al-Shabaab that gained widespread notoriety for its kidnapping of dozens of Christian girls and young women to use as sex slaves, a deed that earned the Obama administration's condemnation. Some Western analysts affirm the ADF's relationship with Al-Shabaab but others do not.

Fortunately for Beni, the ADF is not very large, estimated to include no more than about 1,500 combatants. The ADF claims it is growing daily, however, and it is apparently very efficiently organized and managed. The great majority of Muslims in Congo and Uganda are not politicized and are not easily attracted to Islamist groups. (Interestingly, the ADF's leader, Jamil Mukulu, is a Christian convert to Islam. He has been under UN sanctions since 2011.)

ADF Leader Jamil Mukulu addresses some fighters and children. The Allied Democratic Forces rebels indoctrinate children as young as 3 years, before they become terrorists.

On the other hand, there is widespread disaffection among the population in and around Beni, who believe, on the whole, that they have been neglected and shortchanged by the central government in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Flush with new, foreign cash, the ADF has been literally buying the people's loyalty with simple but valuable gifts such as new bicycles.

Congo's government has not mounted effective actions against the ADF but, rather, just a series of individual firefights with no apparent organizing principle or strategy. A Western journalist noted that government forces, "will come in, handle fighting, declare their victory and go home. At this point the rebels move back in again... and the villagers are punished as a whole,"

All of which is to say that there is no good omen for this part of Bishop Gabriel's episcopal area. To respond to his plea, Bishop McAlilly writes,
If you wish to offer any financial assistance for the current crisis he describes, please send to your conference treasurer for “Bishop Unda SOS.” 
I am sending a donation and I hope you will, too.