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 (regional) Conference leaders’ seminar organized by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Kinshasa.
“I decided never forgive to President Laurent Kabila because he initiated the war which took from me my husband and my four children,” Ilombelombe said.
She told her story in response to a question by the Rev. R. Clayton Childers, director of annual conference relations for the Board of Church and Society, during a workshop on violence and revenge. 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?
“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 her five children were returning from school the same day. The rebels also killed them. “I saw their bodies myself,” she said. “One was cut in his head; another was cut in his foot. The two others were totally burned.”
As she and her remaining son sought safety in Kinshasa, in the road, they found the body of a woman 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 I 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.
“I then decided to go back and collect the baby girl. That little girl is now 18 years old,” she said, adding that 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.”
She said she learned from the Church and Society 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.”
“People were so moved hearing the painful story told by Vava Ilombelombe,” Childers said. “True forgiveness can be very hard. 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.”
The workshop, which continued to 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 and leadership formation, and Childers. Ado Omakinda, who participated in previous Church and Society training events, including one in Durban while he studied at Africa University and another in December 2012, coordinated the meeting. Participants hope to meet with government authorities to discuss peace-building and share the United Methodist position on the issue.
*Omadjela directs communications and development for the Central Congo Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.