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Why return to hardship?

CMS missionaries David & Prue Boyd have spent years ministering in a context of rape, violence, and the societal breakdown of DR Congo. What has been their experience, and what has driven them to return?

Prue and I arrived as CMS missionaries in Zaire (formerly and now again the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1986 to work with the Anglican Church. The Zaire team eventually reached 19, plus some short-termers, working mainly in three towns in the east of the country, Bukavu, Butembo and Goma. Zaire was legendary even in those days for gross corruption, poverty, neglect and the decrepit state of its infrastructure.

From Rwanda, a worsening situation

In 1992, major looting across the country by unpaid soldiers and then locals caused many of our group to evacuate into neighbouring countries for a period. Then came the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which had major effects on Bukavu and Goma especially, because they sit right at the border between the two countries. As the Rwandan army retreated west towards the Zaire border, they forced large numbers of the population to move with them and eventually Bukavu and Goma were inundated with 1½-2 million refugees, including many of the main perpetrators of the killings in Rwanda.  They camped everywhere, including traffic islands and nature strips. Several hundred sought refuge on Anglican land next to our house. Some who were ill stayed in our garden. It was several months before the refugees had moved from the town to camps. There, the leaders who had organised and facilitated the genocide once again organised training and re-arming in order to take Rwanda back.

Having come from suburban middle-class backgrounds in Australia, these events were challenging and dramatic for us. Many wondered why we didn’t bring our three children back to Australia to ensure they were safe from the dangers of a failed and lawless state with a massive refugee problem and certain future conflict. Our response was simply that we knew in our hearts that our calling remained in Zaire, and we felt able to trust God for safety. How would we have felt if something had gone wrong? We’ll never know.

The refugees brought enormous hardship to eastern Zaire. We saw suffering on a massive scale. The world responded and the area was inundated with UN agencies and NGOs, some of them fighting over orphaned children in order to get the most heart-rending photos to drive their donations up. After two years of this we decided in 1996, for reasons unrelated to the local situation, that it was time to return home. Three months later, war broke out, with Rwanda invading and local rebel forces joining them to overthrow the 32-year-old regime of Mobutu.

Recovery from PTSD in Australia

We were not left unmarked. After three years as a school chaplain, I was diagnosed as probably having come home with post-traumatic stress disorder. It was a long way back again. We learned that, apart from single traumatic events, PTSD can also be caused by prolonged exposure to gross injustice and poverty.

After 13 years in country Victoria, a new challenge came when I was appointed State Director of CMS Tasmania. I was exposed in a fresh way to many enthusiastic and committed missionaries, young and old, and the challenge to consider whether we should apply for mission again arose. We had good health, our children were independent, we had skills and experience which were still valuable, and so we felt free to consider what God might have for us to do again in a mission setting.

Going back

Where to go? After considering places where our Swahili and/or French would be used, we concluded that the neediest place we could think of which would fit our skills and experience was exactly where we had been before – Bukavu, DR Congo. In the 18 years intervening, there had been wars and disruption on a massive scale. The war of 1998-2003 had seen the largest death toll in any conflict since WW2, and the number of displaced people within the country was still enormous. The east was unstable and had come to be called “the rape capital of the world”. Our skills in Bible teaching and audiology, and ministry in general, were still greatly needed.

Could we continue to trust God? We believed we certainly could, although we do not believe that faithfulness and obedience necessarily guarantee safety and comfort. We do believe though that God can be trusted, whatever happens.

We arrived in mid-2014 and started work. Much was different, much was the same, particularly neglect and corruption. Then, after six weeks, the blow came—our two year old grandson Ned had leukaemia. We were devastated and torn.

And so our back and forth life commenced – six months on leave without pay supporting Ned and his parents Emily and Seth and family in 2015 until he was in remission, back to Congo, several months during our home period supporting them after he relapsed and had a bone marrow transplant, six months again during a second bone marrow transplant, now back in Congo. We are thankful that Ned is, for now, cancer free.

[editor’s note: In March 2019 Ned’s cancer returned and progressed rapidly. Sadly he went to meet his heavenly Father on March 29, 2019]

The faithfulness of God

What to make of all this? I have reflected a lot on the absurdity and ephemeral nature of life as depicted in Ecclesiastes. We have seen Ned and his parents in deep suffering, but we have also seen the generosity and faithfulness of God as he has ministered to and provided for us and Ned and his family through many people and organisations. We are reminded that success and happiness, seen through the lens of Jesus’ life, do not look the same as through the world’s eyes.

We don’t know what the future holds – but it is really no more uncertain for us than it is for anyone else. God remains faithful and brings what is for our ultimate good out of every situation we face, whether we can see it clearly or not at present.

Pray

Pray for the ministry of the Boyds in DRC today, thinking especially of them as they deal with the recurrence of grandson Ned’s cancer. Ask God to give perseverance to all who minister and are ministered to in unstable and dangerous situations.

Further reading

To learn more about the work of CMS missionaries in DR Congo, see https://www.cms.org.au/2017/04/love-in-action-dr-congo-missionaries/