Peterson Recounts Harrowing Hours in Congo Conflict

Post a Comment » Written on March 29th, 2007     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (March 29, 2007) – Editor’s note: Following is a letter released today by Curt Peterson, executive minister of the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Peterson and retired Covenant medical missionary Roger Thorpe unexpectedly found themselves caught in the crossfire of a military confrontation last week in Kinshasa, Congo. In his letter, Peterson recounts those harrowing hours and just how dangerously close they came to losing their own lives in the conflict. To read earlier online stories detailing the conflict, please see “Covenanters Reported Safe” and “Safe Return Home.”

By Curt Peterson

I know that many of you have been praying for me and Dr. Roger Thorpe since hearing of our ordeal in Congo. Since the accounts of our night of protection and care were incomplete, I am sharing this account for you to know more of the grace and protection of God over our lives.

Roger and I went to Congo with Harvey Drake (Covenant pastor of Emerald City Bible Fellowship in Seattle, WA), Pete Ekstrand (Africa regional coordinator), and Keith Gustafson (Congo country coordinator) for a Pastor’s Conference of the CEUM (Congo Covenant Church) at Karawa. We also spent time connecting with Rev. Dr. Mossai Sanguma, CEUM president, regarding Paul Carlson Partnership (PCP) projects. Roger, a missionary surgeon in Congo for 30 years, visited the medical work and helped to assess next steps in the PCP medical projects at the hospitals and clinics.

The conference was an inspirational event on the theme “The Pastor and Mission.” I had the privilege of preaching on Sunday before 6,500 singing, dancing, joyful believers. Harvey was the chaplain for the week, preaching each morning. We all presented seminars on mission-related themes.

Roger, Pete and I flew from Gemena to Kinshasa to leave for Chicago, while the others stayed for the conclusion of the conference. Pete flew out of Kinshasa to Cameroon early on Thursday, March 22. When our chauffeur and protocol host returned from taking Pete to the airport, Roger and I went with them into the city to make arrangements for the night flight on Air France, to buy medical supplies for the hospitals and gifts for major donors, and to visit a pastor’s family.

Without advance notice, a conflict erupted between militia guards of Congo Sen. Jean-Pierre Bemba, former Congo vice president who was defeated in the election for president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and government troops. We were being escorted by a Congo National Police captain and our protocol host to a hotel, which they believed to be safe – this is the hotel where Air France has its offices. Suddenly, we were caught in the crossfire between police and Bemba militia. An armed guard of three police whisked us to “safety” in a special services police station nearby.

After six hours of fighting outside the police building, the Bemba militia overran the police station with a barrage of mortar fire directed at the building and a machine gun attack, all while we remained inside. Many police were killed, including the colonel who had given us refuge in his office. The militia took everything we had on us – our money, a camera – and pushed us around, but spared us when they learned we were missionaries.

They took us by pickup truck to the front lines at their barricade where we spent the night on the ground, out of the line of fire about 100 yards from the sandbag line of defense of Bemba’s camp. Exploding rocket-launched mortars could be heard around us through the night, with machine gun fighting, Uzi and rifle fire, and the sound of bullets flying through the streets. We kept our heads low. It was frightening, and we prayed and said our goodbyes to each other.

At dawn, the government troops began overpowering the Bemba camp. Women and children, located across the street in the militia compound, and Bemba troops began to flee. We didn’t know whether to stay and take our chances with the government troops or run. About 6 a.m., we fled with the women and children on the road by the river. Women were struggling with toddlers and infants. Roger and I carried little ones and joined the fearful retreat. By the grace of God, we eventually came to CAP (Protestant Guest House), where we had stayed the night before, and climbed over the wall to safety. Once we reached the guesthouse, the fighting continued outside our walls for another 12 hours. I did not think we would make it through the night – a 14-hour ordeal where we were moved from one side of the fight to the other. Captured is too strong a term, but we were certainly detained against our will all night.

We give witness to God’s amazing protection and provision for us. God’s hand of care was evident at every turn. When we arrived at the police station, there was a Gideon Bible on the police office table for us to read (Psalm 91 was our focus). Scripture verses were on the wall of the colonel’s office where we were taking refuge (Philippians 4:6-7; I Peter 5:6-7). I kept repeating Psalm 139 in my head – my life Psalm. We had peace and calm through all the terrifying moments. We give glory to God that our lives were spared.

I pray that this will not mean a long setback to Congo’s progress towards stability, but I’m sure that it will cause investment and international NGO caution concerning activity in Congo for some time. Pray for the suffering people who are again the ones who are trampled by this kind of conflict. This was a dramatic witness to God’s sovereign care and presence for us. We pray for the people of the Congo church who seek to move forward in these difficult circumstances. May God’s sovereign care and strength sustain them as well. Reports are that more than 200 people were killed – the number is growing as reports come in. See CNN, BBC, and for more news.

Order came to the city, and we were able to get to the airport and an Air France standby flight out of Kinshasa on Saturday, March 24, arriving home safely on Sunday at 2 p.m., another provision of God. I would appreciate your prayers for my family – and Roger’s family as well – who also have been through an ordeal. No one knew where we were until we reached safety at the guesthouse – no one even knew we were in trouble. God knew and was with us, however.

Blessings and peace to you, and to our brothers and sisters in Congo.

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