The Peacemakers of Bunia

Bernard Bisoke said four camps for displaced persons in Bunia house 200,000 people

By Jesse Masai
Correspondent

The Rev. Bernard Bisoke, the Anglican Church of Congo’s provincial youth coordinator, runs a peace center in the regional capital of Bunia.

Bunia is part of Ituri Province, which the U.S. State Department has warned is frequently beset by “crime, civil unrest, terrorism, armed conflict, and kidnapping.”

Biscuits for the children

“We embarked on this journey in 2017, when we began seeing trauma among our youth, occasioned by killings, violence, and destruction of property, Bisoke told TLC. “We are airing The Jesus Film, teaching women, convening assemblies and demonstrating life skills while growing maize and cassava on land a local chief gave us.”

“This center is creating a safe space for solutions, ecumenical interaction, and discipleship. It is helping us usher in healing and reconciliation,” the 50-year-old said.

A typical day at the facility begins with prayer, followed by seminars in topics like healing from trauma, mediation, deliverance ministry, discipleship, and outreach to women, and basic literacy. The program also includes workshops on creating batik, a cloth-dyeing method, and hosts a choir whose program of musical training incorporates peace-building activities.

An Anglican congregation has also formed through the Peace Center’s efforts. From an initial group of 15, Rwampara Church now has a membership of 350 adults. Its Sunday School draws about 400 children.

Bisoke said that Bunia and the wider Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo host at least 64 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“Bunia alone has an estimated 200,000 people in four such camps. Rwampara, with villages near this center, has 600,000 persons. We also have IDPs from North Kivu. It is not easy. Wars destroy livelihoods. Many of them are dying because of a lack of food and other basic amenities,” he said.

From 1999 to 2004, a Church Mission Society partner from the United Kingdom sponsored Bisoke’s education at Daystar University in Kenya, where he obtained an undergraduate degree in business administration, biblical studies, and peace and reconciliation. While he would like to pursue further studies in diplomacy, he believes his intellectual formation in the central African nation has equipped him to serve his people.

“We have a borehole serving 20,000 households, whose members previously trekked for five to seven kilometers in search of water amidst rape and kidnapping. We have trained 120 women how to read and write letters, telephone messages, and Scripture. We have witnessed the restoration of 350 traumatized women, who are now moving on with their families and daily chores,” he says.

“We have trained 374 women in cloth-making, which has opened a door for their families to earn a living. One of the women lost her eight kids in war. Only one survived. She was devastated. We prayed for her. She returned to herself.

“We are encouraged that 12 alumni from our discipleship classes are now preaching the gospel,” Bisoke said.

Amid the DRC’s political instability, violence, and limited resources, Bisoke and his team strive to devote themselves to God and his suffering people.

“They have lost everything,” he said “We are teaching them to listen to and focus on God. We would like to develop the discipleship program further so as to end the killings. We need a safe house for the ladies and a radio station dedicated to peacebuilding. A modern resource and retreat center to generate income is also critical.”

Already, the team has fourteen acres, for a Rwampara Peace Center Agape, which Bisoke believes can accommodate a children’s center.

His wife, Furaha (Swahili for “joy”), shares in his passion for the little ones.

Despite suffering from a tumor, which has blocked her eyesight for five years, the 38-year-old community development and accounting graduate — also from Daystar University — pioneered Baraka Academy in 2005.

The school began by focusing its work on orphans from the Nilotic Hema and Bantu Lendu communities. A high school section was added to the academy in 2010, bringing its combined population of learners to over 600 orphans.

“We have land in nearby Shari to feed the learners, though war and climate change have both affected our indigenous crops. We have opened a branch of our school there,” she said.

“Our alumni are becoming peacemakers. They are giving up on revenge. To serve the next generation of learners, we need modern buildings, furniture, and books for both the primary and secondary sections. Give, but also pray and come join us in this labor of love.”

Donations can be made to the Peace Center through the Church Mission Society.

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