Demonizing Warlords on the Path to Peace

[Giving Up Violence for Lent]

Guest Post: Chelsie Frank

Our friend, Chelsie, joins us in our series – Giving Up Violence for Lent – reflecting on her time amidst the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can catch up on our Lenten series here.

I stood on the balcony of HEAL Africa’s administrative building overlooking the town. A damp grey sky betrayed the shroud of fear, and the chill of uncertainty filling the air. CNDP rebel army general Laurent Nkunda was nearing the city and anxiety mounted every hour as the troops got closer.

DRC - Chelsie 3It was October of 2008 and I had just arrived in Eastern Congo; the first year of my four year tenure in the region. I had much to learn about the threat of violence for the local population, the complex nature of conflict, and my ability to do anything about it.

I came in from the balcony huffing and puffing to stifle the obscenities swirling on my tongue. I marched into the office of the hospital administrator, Patrice, looking to vent my frustration. I spouted off indignant phrases about the president’s inability to rule the country. He looked at me with a faint smirk and listened with Zen-like patience. I asked him why Congolese citizens weren’t standing up with indignation to demand their democratic rights. After I was done, he chided me like a small child, “Chelsie, Chelsie: we stopped trusting the government to rectify the situation long ago. Our trust and hope is in God.” Seven years later this brief exchange is etched in my memory and I have yet to fully grasp the profound simplicity of his words.

Later that day, I was sent away with the rest of the ex-patriots (international workers) to wait out the turmoil in the safety and luxury of Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. Nkunda and his troops never did take over the city of Goma, but the Congolese military took opportunistic liberties under the tumultuous circumstances. As they retreated from the battlefield they pillaged the city of Goma. Their own city. I’ll never forget the desperate calls I received from my colleagues and friends while they were hiding under their beds. Many people were robbed at gunpoint by the very soldiers enlisted to protect them. Even more shocking than this specific account is the fact that incidents of pillaging by the Congolese army is a familiar phenomenon. Yet when one visits the squalid conditions of a Congolese army camp where soldiers’ families go hungry and live like refugees it’s clear that brutal poverty can easily create a brutalizer.

This week at Kilns College I listened to a friend, Todd Deatherage lecture on peace building in Israel/Palestine. In summary he quoted activist, author, and nobel laureate, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956

I feel a deep sense of sorrow when I imagine a Congolese soldier pillaging to feed his family. Deatherage was emphatic that, “a right understanding of humanity acknowledges propensity for both good and evil…peacemaking affirms the dignity of all and acknowledges the brokenness of our world.”

DRC - Chelsie 2My Congolese friends’ unwavering personal commitment to peace has taught me so much. I have seen that violence only begets violence. Demonizing people (even warlords) fuels self-righteousness and destroys the opportunity to build relationships across opposing groups.

I draw hope from the example of people like Patrice working tirelessly to reconstruct brokenness in their community. Here’s a list of a few #rolemodelworthy people at home and abroad:

Dr. David and Kaswera Kasali educating a generation of skilled, faithful, innovative, servant leaders in Eastern Congo.

Dr. Celestin Musekura bringing Muslim and Christian leaders together this month in North Sudan for training in peace-making.

Lynne Hybels and Belinda Bauman raising funds for civil society programs that train leaders in rural Congo to settle community disputes and broker reconciliation amidst regional conflict.

And a host of other faith-community leaders in the U.S. calling for peace and justice: Jimmy Carter in his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power” unabashedly reprimands religious communities for being complicit in the oppression of women and promotion of violence, Gary Haugan in his book, “The Locus Effect” connects poverty to fear, violence and insecurity; and Ken Wytsma spearheading the conversation among evangelicals through founding The Justice Conference and Kilns College.DRC - Chelsie 1

I’d like to leave you with the sense that change is possible and we can engage with that change. During the lecture, Todd Deatherage shared some nuggets of wisdom for peacemaking. I pray these will remind you of God’s goodness, be absorbed into your soul, and be reflected in your conduct.

Thoughts on peacemaking:

    • Affirm the dignity of all
    • Acknowledge the brokenness of the world (it won’t be fully mended, but we have responsibility for how things turn out)
    • Listen to a variety of perspectives
    • Build relationships across boundaries
    • Be courageous
    • Avoid self-righteousness
    • Be a purveyor of hope
    • Partner with those building a new future, one that is informed by the past, but not bound by it

 

Photos by Cheslie Frank

 

Chelsie FrankChelsie most recently served as the Director of Partnerships and Engagement for Kilns College where she pioneered and developed a network of over a dozen local, national, and international partnerships. Prior to that, she spent four years in Eastern DR Congo acting as a liaison between church communities in the Twin Cities and indigenous-led Christian NPOs. While in Congo she established the Service-Learning Program at Universite Chretienne Bilingue du Congo.

Her professional experience in the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, and DRC spans across sectors: higher education, faith-based advocacy, community engagement, sustainable agriculture, and women’s development. A lover of language, she is fluent in Swahili, with proficiency in French and Spanish. In her free time, Chelsie enjoys pretending she can cook, composting, learning languages, listening to NPR, and exploring Bend, Oregon with friends.

 

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