Church bombing in Congo rocks Christians—more attacks expected

June 30, 2021 by Becca Anderson in Africa

Over the weekend, residents in Beni, a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s eastern region, were rocked by three explosions throughout the city of 230,000. Some of the incidents were attacks on area churches. City officials have warned of more expected attacks.

Inside Emmanuel Catholic Church after the June 27, 2021, bomb attack.

On Sunday, June 27, Emmanuel Catholic Church was bombed just an hour before families were due to gather for a children’s confirmation service. The bomb injured two women who were in the church preparing for the day’s service. An hour later, a second bomb was found and defused at Saint Therese church. The Islamic rebel group Alliance for Democratic Forces (ADF) is believed to be behind the attacks.

At this time there is little movement in the city, which in May was placed under martial law to stem ongoing rebel attacks. Officials have banned gatherings of any sort, including church services. A believer, Atonisha Kambale*, who lives in the neighborhood of the bombed church, told Open Doors what he saw the morning of the church explosion and what the situation is like right now in the city:

“It was very early … I was still in bed. I heard a bomb explosion. I later realized the explosion was in the church. I got there at 7 am … people were really in great anxiety, the mothers and members of the parish were crying, others were talking, pronouncing words of despair.

“I felt really tormented by what I witnessed. We hoped that [martial law] would bring more security. So, when this attack happened, it really upset me. It is really painful. People are depressed and in despair. There is not much movement in town. People have to remain home because we think there are other bombs in places.”

Listen as Atonisha shares from the DRC:

In addition to Emmanuel Church, two other explosions rocked the city. The evening of the church attack, a suicide bomber in Beni killed himself and injured two others when he detonated a bomb. The evening before, another bomb exploded with no injuries reported. Reportedly, the suicide bomber who detonated his explosives outside a bar late Sunday, has been identified as Ngudi Abdallah, a known recruiter for the ADF.

Believers in the DRC—which is 95 percent Christian and ranks No. 40 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List—tell us they are being targeted by Islamic militants.

Who are the ADF?

Over the last 26 years, the Islamic rebel group Alliance for Democratic Forces has inflicted chaos in the Congo’s eastern provinces and is responsible for the death and displacement of millions of people. The group has attacked Christian churches and communities and taken an unknown number of hostages.

Historically a Ugandan group, ADF has holed up in the eastern DRC since 1995 and currently controls vast areas of North Kivu and Ituru provinces, using attacks and ambushes to intimidate and drive out Christians.

While an estimated 122 armed groups roam the eastern province of the DRC, ADF is the deadliest of all groups and is known to have an Islamic expansionist agenda aimed at displacing the Christian population. Open Doors local partners in the DRC report the ADF is actively working to uproot the Christian population and expand its own foothold. Their goal is to drive out Christians and supplant them with radical believers of Islam. Those who leave Islam or tribal religions to follow Jesus are often specific targets.

Believers in the Congo are specific targets of the Islamic rebel group ADF. Photo by IMB.ORG

A forgotten crisis

The UN refugee agency UNHCR estimates that in the DRC, an average of 6,000 people per day are leaving their homes due to brutal violence, the burning of their homes and persecution. Open Doors field workers have described the eastern province as a “war zone”—having been warned by the military to turn around and not enter the area. Two villages in the region were attacked on April 29, with two people killed and several missing.

In an attempt to clamp down on the violence, the national government declared a siege and placed two regions under martial law on May 6, 2021. DRC President Felix Tshesekedi said in a radio broadcast he had heard “the cries of distress of our population, and felt the pain that our mothers, sisters and daughters are suffering in these provinces ravaged by barbarity.” The drastic move toward martial law came after the U.S. added the ADF to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, saying that the group was linked to Islamic State group. Reportedly, the ADF responded to the listing by increasing attacks to show the designation had no impact.

While the country’s ongoing violence is often reported, little is said about the socioeconomic impact the attacks have fueled. Widely cited as having “one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises,” the DRC is challenged with food and water shortages, as well as education issues, caused by the ongoing violence.

More than 20 million men, women and children in the DRC currently face food insecurity, with 3.4 million children under age five acutely malnourished. Just finding water is a major difficulty. The violence has also severely disrupted the education system, driving the recruitment of children into armed ranks and jeopardizing the nation’s future.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

No. 40 on the 2021 World Watch List

Population: 89,505,000

Major faith:  95.1% Christian

Total displaced:  5-6 million people

Without adequate food:  27 million people

Major issues:

  • Islamic oppression
  • Widespread violence
  • Governmental weakness

*map of DRC and areas affected by ADF militants violence

After movement restrictions in Beni are lifted, Open Doors local partners in the DRC are planning to visit believers like Atonisha who are scared and frustrated at the same time. In the region and throughout the DRC, we regularly work with indigenous churches and ministries to support individuals and communities—strengthening the church in the Congo.

Please continue to pray with our sisters and brothers living in Beni. Join us in praying that God will give them His peace which transcends all understanding, to guard their hearts and minds against overwhelming fear. Please also pray for our field partners and church leaders in DRC. May the Lord give them wisdom on how to minister to all those fearful and affected by the blasts. Please continue to pray for the church in DRC and especially in the eastern provinces. Pray that despite the fear and anxiety, the church in Beni and throughout the Congo will be a beacon of peace and hope.

Praying with Atonisha

DRC believer Antonisha Kambale tells us how we can pray with our family in the Congo:

  • “Our prayer request is for God to help Christians not to compromise their faith, because we observe that it is about an Islamic threat, let people not compromise their faith to save their lives,” asks Atonisha.
  • “The second request is the awareness of Christians, that they should really take this seriously and start denouncing loudly what is happening.”
  • “Pray that God should help us to make the recently established state of siege to succeed, to eradicate the massacres of the population in general, and of Christians in particular.”
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