A story of forgiveness

United Methodist West Congo Annual Conference leaders attending a of conflict in Kinshasa pose for a group photo with the Rev. Neal Christie (far right) and the Rev. Clayton Childers (fourth from right) of the General Board of Church & Society who led the seminar. (UMNS photo by Pierre Omadjela)

KINSHASHA, Democratic Republic of Congo (UMNS) — Vava Ilombelombe, president of the widows group of Mapamboli, recently challenged African United Methodists to forgive, even when it is difficult.

Ilombelombe issued the challenge July 16 as she shared her story with the Western Congo Annual Conference leaders’ seminar organized by the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) in Kinshasa.

He initiated the war which took from me my husband and my four children.

“I decided never to forgive President Laurent Kabila because he initiated the war which took from me my husband and my four children,” Ilombelombe said.

Ilombelombe told her story during a workshop on violence and revenge in response to a question by the Rev. Clayton Childers, GBCS director of Annual Conference Relations. After reading 2 Kings 2:23-25 and Luke 9:53-55, participants looked at the reaction to violence in the two lessons.

‘Calling down fire from heaven?’

Then they considered this question: In the Gospel lesson, the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. Have you ever felt like you wanted to call down fire from heaven on somebody?

All the soldiers of that team died from those explosions.

“During the war in 1998,” Ilombelombe said, “my husband, who was a soldier, was sent to the front to fight the rebels in Bukavu (a city in eastern DRC). As they were going, the rebels had mined all the entries of that city. All the soldiers of that team died from those explosions.”

Four out of Ilombelombe’s five children were returning from school the same day. The rebels also killed them.

“I saw their bodies myself,” Ilombelombe said. “One was cut in his head; another was cut in his foot. The two others were totally burned.”

A baby in the road

As Ilombelombe and her remaining son sought safety in Kinshasa, they found the body of a woman in the road whom the rebels also had killed. A baby girl cried beside the woman.

“As I was trying to pass them,” Ilombelombe recalled, “I heard a voice telling me, ‘Take the baby.’ I decided to go on, but again, I heard that voice telling me, ‘Take the baby.’

“Still, I continued going on, but then I fell down, hearing the same voice, once again telling me to take the baby.”

Ilombelombe decided to go back and collect the baby girl, who is now 18 years old. She lost four children, but God gave her a daughter.

Ilombelombe hated Kabila because of the death of her husband and children. “When I leaned that he died,” she said. “I celebrated.”

‘Shall I forgive?’

In Ilombelombe’s local church, they had a seminar with the theme, “We should forgive even when it is very hard, in every situation.”

“I asked my pastor, ‘Shall I forgive even those who killed my children?’” Ilombelombe said. “The pastor took time to talk and pray with me, and she convinced me I needed to forgive them. From that day, I took the decision to forgive, not only those who killed my children, but also all others who do wrong things to me.”

Ilombelombe said she learned from the GBCS-led seminar “because it urges us to do the hard work of peace building, resolving conflicts, which are very important if we want to have peace in the world.”

Childers said people were moved hearing the painful story told by Ilombelombe. “True forgiveness can be very hard,” he said. “Even for faithful Christians, it can take time, even years. That is the power behind this story and in the honest, heartfelt reflection I heard in her testimony.”

GBCS-led seminar

The workshop, which continued in Kindu in the Eastern Congo Episcopal Area, attracted more than 120 United Methodist laity and clergy in the Eastern Congo and Central Congo episcopal areas.

Leading the training for the denomination’s social action agency were the Rev. Neal Christie, staff executive for Education & leadership Formation, and Childers.

Ado Omakinda coordinated the meeting. He participated in previous GBCS training events, including one in Durban while he studied at Africa University and another last December.

Participants hope to meet with government authorities to discuss peace-building and share the United Methodist position on the issue.

Editor's note: Pierre Omadjela directs Communications & Development for the Central Congo Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.

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