Open Doors team members have met a 73-year-old grandmother who has been forced to live in a classroom in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as thousands are forced to flee their homes by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamic militant group.
Marie had lived in Kamango, a town in North Kivu Province near the Ugandan border, all her life, until suspected ADF militants attacked her community last year. Marie said, "We were in the house when we heard noises outside. My husband asked me to go and find out what was happening. I left through the back door and they got in through the front. They killed him and the three others who were inside the house with us."
Marie and her family fled to Eringeti, about 100km northwest of her home. However, another ADF attack forced them to flee again, to Oicha, 25km to the south. Marie and her children are staying in a school; three schools in the area are hosting almost a thousand displaced families like Marie's.
Marie said, "When we get up in the morning, we sweep the classroom and put all our belongings outside. We wait outside until school closes for the day. Then we can put our belongings back inside, and start cooking whatever food we have for the day... We can't afford to have smoke blind the students' eyes now, can we?"
In the morning, each of Marie's children goes to the city in the hope of finding odd jobs. Marie herself cannot do much physical work due to her age, but their desperate situation forces her to do what she can. "I usually accompany some farm owners, sometimes carrying water for them and doing other odd jobs. At the end of the day they give me some oil."
Marie receives a miniscule quantity of oil, sometimes half a litre; she sells it to buy food for her family.
The Open Doors team was able to provide Marie with food aid. She said, "Thank you! It will help me and my family very much. What we have just received, it is God who has given it. I thank God for this gift, and may God bless you. Please do not relent in intervening, even for others."
Photo of Marie – larger file sizes available on request:
The ADF has killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands more in the mostly Christian province of North Kivu. On a recent trip by Open Doors to deliver food, each family received 12.5kg of rice, 15kg of beans, 10 sachets of salt, 5.5 litres of oil and five bars of soap, including Marie's family.
Photo of displaced people waiting to receive food aid:
Another who received food aid was Rosa; she also fled her home with her husband and their six children last year, and they have also been living in the school in Oicha. As soon as Rosa received her portion of food, she started stewing beans for the evening meal. "Thank you, thank you for all what you have done. We have just received rice, soap, beans, oil and salt. We plead that you support us in prayer for the war to end in DRC so that we can leave this school and go back home; so that we can work and take care of ourselves."
Photo of Rosa and three of her children:
Dimanche is a 12-year-old boy who fled his home with his four siblings and other family members when their community was attacked by the ADF. A few days before the attack, his parents disappeared. He said, "Mama and Papa went to the farm to harvest vegetables. In the evening, they didn't come back. The next day, we went to search for them, but in vain. We informed the army who also went and searched. Until today we don't know what happened."
He is being looked after by his aunt in Oicha, who received food aid from Open Doors. Dimanche said, "Thank you for the food my aunt received today. Pray for me to have food always, and clothes to wear."
Dimanche and his aunt:
In another part of DRC, Pastor Paul cares for around 100 displaced families. Three years ago he was displaced with his family of seven. He said, "For many here, even a place to sleep is a problem. When it rains, we stand up because the hut leaks. I am glad today, because we live here by faith. I thank the brothers who sent this food. It will help us to eat to our fill. It is not every day that we find what we need to eat. We sincerely thank you! The soap will help for washing our clothes and with other household chores."
Photo of Pastor Paul:
DRC is not on the 2017 World Watch List, and 95.2% of the population are Christians. However, the ADF is active in the east of the country and specifically in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces. In these two provinces, several villages and churches were attacked and almost abandoned last year. Since October 2014, the crimes of the ADF have included kidnappings, massacres, attacks on military positions, looting, rape, recruiting children into the army, abductions, and displacing families, communities and churches.
Open Doors works in DRC to provide emergency relief to church leaders and other Christians, economic empowerment, cross cultural ministry training and persecution preparedness training.
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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.
Further information on the ADF
Who are the ADF?
The ADF is an alliance of Muslim forces who were allies of notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. When Amin converted to Islam he attracted all kinds of Muslim groups to the area, including those with an ideology to Islamise the region. The ADF and its allies opposed former Ugandan president Obote and current president Museveni.
Nobody knows how many fighters they have. They operate from the Ruwenzori Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo, close to the Ugandan border.
What have they done?
When they first arrived in the Ruwenzori Mountains in 1996, the rebels recruited local children by offering free schooling and gifts to the parents. But over time they grew more brutal.
In 2005, after an aggressive military campaign against them, they started building hide-outs in virtually inaccessible areas in the mountains. In order to grow their capacity they intensified recruitment of local children and adults by offering free education and free pilgrimages. It was only after the recruits arrived that they realised they had been taken to rebel hide-outs.
Later they simply kidnapped children and adults in order to supply a workforce and soldiers for their ranks and to get women for sex and for birthing future warriors. Since the military campaign against them in 2014, they have massacred many villagers. The waves of violence have displaced tens of thousands of people, mostly Christians.
What is their agenda?
Although there are some who doubt that the ADF should be regarded as an Islamist threat, Open Doors is of the opinion that the group has to be seen as such because of its Islamist imprint, the forced conversion of Christians, and the presence of foreign recruits.
The ADF is alleged to have support from the Islamic government of Sudan, an assertion made by the Ugandan government and backed by Western diplomatic sources. The group is accused of waging a proxy war for Sudan against Uganda as punishment for their support to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the war between north and south Sudan.
There is reason to believe that the ADF has links with Somalia's al-Shabaab, Nigeria's Boko Haram, and even to al-Qaida. ADF also adopted the name Muslim Defense International (MDI).
During a research visit to the area, sources told Open Doors that ADF camps are offering training grounds for Islamist recruits from many African countries (e.g. Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Sudan). Sources further stated that their camps serve as hide-outs for African jihadists when operations fail elsewhere. Some sources also allege that the ADF camps are used to prepare fighters for future jihad in the Lakes region.
Although the successes of ADF fluctuate, the group remains resilient because of its links with the local population through marriage, commerce and land, their excellent knowledge and use of the mountainous border region and their religious drive that renders them perseverant in the face of all efforts to neutralise them.