Jesus in the Congo

As much as we hear about our brothers and sisters in Africa, it is always striking how different and unfamiliar the situation for many African Christians is to our own.

One where suffering and persecution, at the hands of your neighbour, even from fellow Christians, can be the order of the day, but where God’s work still abounds.

This is the story of Jesus in Congo, a half-hour documentary made by Sydney Anglicans Joshua Maule and Bryce McLellan.

It’s a story told from the perspective of the viewers as outsiders looking in, but those involved are mostly Congolese Christians from a variety of backgrounds and vantage points.

The film, mostly a combination of archival footage and on-location interviews with individuals, begins with an overview of the historical and political situation of the country: colonial era slavery; more than 5.4 million dead since the beginning of civil war in 1998; some 40 per cent of all women in the country believed to have been victims of rape. It is a harrowing assortment of statistics that barely scratches the surface.

Particularly through the Congolese Christians who speak on camera, Jesus in Congo also makes the point that the church itself has often been complicit in the suffering. The mission of the church as established by colonial powers, says Bishop Dr Titre Ande, was not to spread the gospel but was often a tool of “civilisation” to “submit local people to politicians. That was the aim”.

In speaking of massacres that occurred in the country in the late 1990s, former health administrator Oscar says, “What led me to be very sad was because most of the people who had been involved in those things, massacres, were Christian, and they were killing their neighbour. The people who together were going into church and singing together.”

Narrator Joshua Maule ponders: “I wonder how Christianity can be a force for good when it has such a bad history in Congo?”

Thankfully, this is a question asked with an answer in mind. Jesus in Congo provides refreshing glimpses into the work that God is doing through the faithful church in Congo, and through individual Christians as well. Bishops like Dr Ande and Bishop Muhindo Isesomo – both with links to the Diocese of Sydney – are working for the betterment of their regions and for the church of which they are bishops.

In the end, though, the people in the documentary, working in official positions or among their local neighbours, place their final hope in God, not in people. Even, or especially, in the face of great suffering.

“I have hope that, even though we don’t know how, one day [widespread change in the church] will happen,” says Timon, who works as a dentist in Congo. “God is not a human being, he is not limited. We will still trust him to change things. If not today, one day.”

The stories are well worth hearing.

Jesus in Congo launched in May - for more - www.jesusincongo.com

Photo: Film producer, writer and narrator Joshua Maule (left) with Congolese men and women from the documentary.