Rowan Williams has been on a visit to Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo – the latter a byword for particularly gruesome atrocities over many years. I have a mate who is a nurse and when she came back from a visit, she wouldn’t tell me details of what she had seen.
In this place of ghastly history, where the killing, maiming and raping still go on, the Anglican church is getting on with what needs to be done. A Bishop who headed up a youth organisation called Agape Mahagi worked with other youth leaders to keep in touch with young people who had been abducted by brutal militia gangs, who then forced them to rape and murder.
The Bishop and his colleagues made contact with such youngsters when they went back home for food, and they tried to persuade them to leave this way of life. Some leaders even followed the young men into the militia camps to try and encourage them to do so.
When our Archbish turned up, he met a group of 50 former militia members who spoke about how the church had not forgotten them, and as a result they had left the militias and were slowly putting the dreadful past behind them and building a future.
The Archbish also met a group of women who had been raped, rape being one of the chief weapons of war in the Congo. As a result women have had unwanted pregnancies, HIV and AIDs, and suffer social isolation and stigma as they are shunned by their families. The (Anglican) Mothers’ Union have established a clinic, counselling programmes and training facilities so that the women can develop marketable skills.
There is also a couples’ ministry, to try and restore the bonds between husbands and wives after such a ghastly experience.
Although for every small advance there is a setback, the church is transcending the tribal identities that have wrecked the Congo. It does not give up, and it does not go away. It keeps on trying, and it keeps on doing.
Rowan Williams was very moved by it all, so much so that, when he opened General Synod in this country last week, he was more outspoken than is his usual wont. He said that the church mattered so intensely in the Congo that it put into perspective the “fashionable sneers that the Church here lives with, the various excuses people make for not taking seriously the idea that God’s incalculable love for every person is the only solid foundation for a human dignity that is beyond question.”
He added a message for the church in this country (and by this I mean the Anglican church, but it is the message for all of us Christians, no matter our denomination). “It is only when believers are passionate about the God who has not abandoned them, that others will see faith (please note, faith, not ‘religion’) as a gift of transformed relationship with God and with the world.”
My heart goes out to brothers and sisters in the Congo, for the hellish things that happen to them, and I am so thankful that my church has not given up on them. What an inspiration it is: and what a challenge to the inward-looking, parochial, insular attitudes of so many churches in this country.