Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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By Linda Burkle, PhD

In 2006, I had the privilege of traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), commonly referred to as the Congo.  I traveled as an ambassador of the USA branch of an international church body. The national Congolese Church leaders gave me a VIP welcome, as I represented both the USA and the donor of several humanitarian projects in the Congo.  I spoke at a church grand opening, dedicated a generator, visited a school for the blind, and conducted women’s seminars in three cities where I spoke to thousands of women. Despite the jubilant worship, powerful prayer, and royal reception, I could sense the effects of deep trauma resulting from decades of ongoing tribal conflict and war.  From 2000 to 2010, it is estimated that approximately 4 million people died in Congo’s devastating civil war. [1]

Historically a Belgian colony, DRC gained its independence on June 30. 1960.  Struggling to form a national identity, DRC has gone by several different names, including the most recalled, Zaire.  After years of violent conflict, wars, related atrocities, and several constitutional iterations, the current constitution was codified in December 2005.  This constitution set up a parliamentary system, with a president, Prime Minister, a bicameral legislative body, and a judicial system.  The legal system is patterned after that of Belgium, incorporating customary and tribal law.[2]

In the document, Title II, Chapter 1, Article 22 states: “All persons have the right to freedom of thought, of conscience and of religion. All persons have the right to manifest their religion or their convictions, alone or as a group, both in public and in private, by worship, teaching, practices, the accomplishment of rites and the state of religious life, under reserve of respect for the law, for public order, for morality and for the rights of others.” [3]

In its 2020 report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) did not include DRC in its designations of “countries of particular concern.” [4] However, USCIRF’s website does reference a briefing to discuss “the arbitrary or misapplication of hate speech laws in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” along with other African countries. [5]

Likewise, DRC is not listed on the 2020 World Watch List published by Open Doors, a list that ranks the fifty countries in which persecution of Christians is most prevalent. [6] Nevertheless, Open Doors does cite numerous incidents in recent years of Christians being abducted and killed by rebel terrorist groups, principally the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an organization that aligns with ISIS.  Their stated goal is to establish a caliphate in the DRC, based in the North and South Kivu provinces.

Originating in Uganda in the 1980s, ADF eventually spread into DRC and have been kidnapping, killing, and raping Christians for more than two decades.  In over 20 attacks between January and May, an estimated 90 people were killed, at least 131 kidnapped, and over 12,000 displaced.  Those displaced include predominately children and elderly, who are even more vulnerable due to starvation. Christians and Christian buildings, such as churches, schools, and hospitals, are the primary targets of ADF. [7]

Despite their overwhelming majority presence in the DRC, comprising 95 percent of the population, Christians are increasingly threatened, attacked, and victimized by Islamist terrorists and their affiliates, similarly to as in Christian minority countries like Nigeria. Over 35 million Catholics live in DRC, making it the tenth largest Catholic country globally and the largest in Africa. In fact, Catholic leaders have been some of the leading voices in denouncing the violence.  According to Crux Now, in 2016, Catholic Bishops brokered a peace deal between the government of President Joseph Kabila and the country’s political opposition, though recently that accord has appeared to disintegrate amid renewed bouts of violence.  There is widespread targeting of Catholic seminaries and organizations, in the crosshairs of several political factions. Some believe that Christians, and Catholics in particular, might even be targeted not primarily for their religious beliefs, but for the values they hold and humanitarian stances guiding their ministries. [8]

The persecution of Christians in DRC is not limited to Catholics, as Protestants also have been frequently victimized by ADF attacks.  Early this year an Anglican priest was beheaded in his home by members of the ADF on account of his faith.  “They told him to convert to Islam if he wanted to live,” recalled his widow. “He declined. Right there, they slew his neck and left. He died on the spot.” [9]

Reverend Wilson Kasereka, friend of the slain priest, paints a disheartening picture of the ongoing situation for Congolese Christians. “The war against Christians has been escalating and people are dying daily,” says Kasereka. “[W]e live in fear because we do not know when the ADF will come for us. We have many refugees here at the border of Congo and Uganda because there is some peace. We have many Christians who have taken shelter in our diocese. The Anglican of Congo is not strong enough to support all these Christians.  The Christian refugees need a lot of prayers and support.” [10]

Dr. Burkle retired from The Salvation Army in early 2019 where she oversaw an array of social services in a multi-state region. Along with the State Attorney General, Burkle Co-Chaired the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force. Dr. Burkle holds a doctoral degree in international relations. Dr. Burkle has worked with persecuted peoples in a number of countries, and her dissertation focused on religious persecution; specifically regarding Iran, Iraq, Sudan, China and Burma (Myanmar). Dr. Burkle resides in Omaha, Nebraska. She has three grown children and eight grandchildren.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.

  7.…/church-under-siege-in-congo-terrorist- group-pledges-allegiance-to-isis/
  9. told-him-to-convert
  10. Ibid.