I sat in the leather passenger seat of Cassie Kasali’s Ford Expedition with the windows rolled down, soaking in the beauty of the sunset over the expanse of bright green palm trees. I’m not sure how many places in the world could compare with this natural beauty. The air was crisp and clean, the sky a bright blue, puffy clouds littering the horizon, the temperature hovering around 70˚. I was kind of lost in thought when Cassie’s beautiful alto voice broke the silence, “This is the area where many people were killed recently, only three miles into the forest.”

Although the violence here in Beni, in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has subsided almost entirely since it saw a spike in indiscriminate massacres as recently as December, word continues to come into town of people being murdered in the bush – nine people here, three people there, five people there.

It seems unclear as to who is behind the recent attacks. Some people suspect Rwandans, who have been expelled from their country for crimes committed during the genocide; others think it’s political maneuvering by the powerful elite in the capital, Kinshasa…the fact of the matter is, we just don’t know. There have been rumors of women and children being involved, complicit in these horrendous atrocities.

How is it anyone could find joy in the midst of such unrest, such insecurity, and such horrifying violence?

At church this morning, as people shared, the prevailing sentiment was a very real and heartfelt thankfulness for getting through another week without harm.

Joe, the lawyer from Kenya with Dr. David Kasali (right)

Joe, the lawyer from Kenya with Dr. David Kasali (right)

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

I stood in front of a long, wooden bench, in a small concrete room with thirty or so others singing that hymn this morning, their voices reverberating around me. My heart was broken for a nation that is so wrecked by widespread corruption, pervasive immorality, and coldblooded violence.

And yet, even as I write this, I can hear the laughter flowing through the windows from the kids who are out playing soccer. Today, I walked on the dirt roads through town and people were going about their day as normal, drinking coffee, getting their hair done, and playing chess.

 The Justice Conference

So what can be done to bring this country to a place of peace, stability, and renewal? I admit that the challenge seems daunting. Rule of law does not exist and corruption reigns supreme. Not only are the police corrupt, but the government is corrupt, the lawyers are corrupt, and the judges are corrupt.

Time during the conference to break up into small groups by city

Time during the conference to break up into small groups by city

Nine years ago, in 2006, a retired American Air Force lawyer named Ben Chappell began a conversation with Dr. David Kasali, the founder of Congo Initiative, about what it would look like to be a part of changing the Congolese justice system from the inside out. Not that he thought he had all the answers by any means, but he saw a need – a desperate need – and wanted to be a part of the solution.

Over the next eighteen months or so, the conversation continued between Ben and David, and in 2008, Ben and two others visited Congo for the first time. Congo Initiative organized and hosted the first meeting of national lawyers. The group who attended that first conference was small – only about twenty-five or so – but they started the discussion, began to share their experiences of practicing law in the midst of widespread and accepted exploitation of people and resources, and shared truthfully about what needed to change. They focused on violence happening throughout the country, especially toward women and children, the necessity for peace and reconciliation, and the importance of teaching the common people their rights under the constitution. They spoke honestly and candidly about the absolute tenacity with which they must stand against a country steeped in corruption.

 A Law School!

Between 2010 and 2013, Ben Chappell returned to Congo twice to attend two more conferences, with different combinations of law professionals from the States. They continued to see participation grow from all over the eastern Congo region, specifically from the towns of Butembo, Beni, and Bunia. Resolutions were beginning to take shape between the Congolese contingent. By the end of the 2010 conference, the major decision was made to begin meeting in groups within their own cities on a regular basis to share victories, encourage one another, and keep each other accountable.

Ben Chappell catching up with his interpreter

Ben Chappell catching up with his interpreter

More exciting, however, was the announcement that the Bilingual Christian University of Congo (UCBC), under the umbrella of Congo Initiative, would start the process of beginning a law school within the next several years. To train up the next generation on a foundation of a pure conscience, focusing on moral formation and integrating faith and law could open up exciting new doors for justice in the region.

How would the law school benefit the lawyers from Beni, Butembo, and Bunia? With a law school in place, there would be new opportunities for adjunct or full-time faculty positions to teach their area of law, they could be involved in mentoring young lawyers, and they could have the chance to take ownership of a new initiative in their own country.

 Looking Ahead

This last week in Congo has been an exciting one, as we just wrapped up the 2015 conference, with over one hundred Congolese in attendance, five American lawyers, and one lawyer from Kenya. I don’t want to give it all away just yet – there’s so much more to write.

So for now, I leave you with this:

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,

Do not be discouraged, God is over all;

Count your many blessings, angels will attend,

Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

We may find ourselves (maybe not today, but perhaps someday) in the midst of very real conflict, uncertainty, insecurity, danger, or war. We cannot allow it to paralyze us with fear. We must move forward, seeking justice and pursuing it fervently. We must not be discouraged in the face of such hardship.

The lawyers in Congo face the temptation to succumb to corruption on a daily basis. Congo Initiative, along with UCBC, is giving them to tools to do their work with faithfulness, commitment, and morality. May we all be encouraged to be as committed to our own work as they are!

Until next time,

Sarah

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About the Author: Sarah is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She has her undergraduate degree in Business Communication from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and is currently working on her Masters degree in Organizational Leadership. Sarah recently finished a two and a half year assignment working for an anti-trafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she had the opportunity to mentor and lead college students in ministry abroad. She is mildly obsessed with Jeopardy, coffee, running, and the Atlanta Falcons.

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