Peterson Revisits Scene of Congo Nightmare

Post a Comment » Written on October 22nd, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (October 22, 2008) – Curt Peterson recently returned for the first time to Congo where during an earlier visit he spent the most harrowing day and night of his life.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” says the executive minister of the Department of World Mission. “I was prepared to have those traumatic feelings of anxiety, so I was surprised at how calm and peaceful that I felt throughout.”

In March 2007, he and Covenant missionary Dr. Roger Thorpe traveled to Congo and participated in a successful nationwide pastors’ conference that attracted 800 people. More than 6,500 people attended the opening worship service. Thorpe, a physician, also visited local hospitals.

Before returning home, they spent several days at a guesthouse in Kinshasa. The men set out for the airport on the morning of March 22 – exactly 19 months ago today. However, armed skirmishes had broken out between government forces and those of opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who claimed fraud in the election for president that Joseph Kabila subsequently won.

The violence prevented the men’s driver from taking them to the airport. Eventually Peterson and Thorpe found their way to a local police station where they thought they would be safe. However, fighters overtook the station and at least one government soldier died saving the lives of the two men. Peterson and Thorpe escaped the next morning and sought shelter in the same guesthouse in Kinshasa. For a fuller accounting of the events, see Caught in the Crossfire.

“During those months that followed I would revisit the images of that day and have anxious feelings,” Peterson says. Returning to Congo was important for him in order to continue his own healing process.

Peterson already had made great strides in that process. At the Covenant Annual Meeting this past June, he was even able to forgive the people who had threatened and nearly killed him.

Peterson figured he would be able to emotionally handle traveling through Congo, but Kinshasa might be a different story. During his return, he drove by the police station following the route that he and Roger took as they escaped to the guesthouse, where he again stayed.

Peterson was amazed to find that some of the same people who also had sought shelter there in March 2007 were again guests with him. Other lodgers had heard what happened from colleagues who had been at the guesthouse that day.

“It was ‘what are we doing back here again?’ ” Peterson says with amazement. “We’re in the same dining room with people who are committed to the people of Congo, and mission, and development.”

All of them had the same sense that “Because you experience a difficulty, that doesn’t mean you close the door to the place where it happens,” he says.

“I felt back to normal in being there,” Peterson says, but normal is not what it once was. That includes his understanding of the Bible’s promise of peace in the midst of suffering.

“I have the images in my mind of circumstances and being in the midst of it – the Bible on the table, the poster on the board, and the experience of God’s leading and protection through the night,” Peterson says. “It’s much more than an understanding of scripture and theology of suffering, but a direct experience of God’s working in our lives.”

Peterson says that what happened to him in March 2007 was an experience of suffering that barely compares to that of others in the African nation. That experience, however, strengthened his commitment to the people of Congo, one of the poorest nations in the world. The northwest section of the country – where the CEUM is located – is where the poorest of the poor live.

“Our brothers and sisters in Congo suffer a great deal,” Peterson says. “They lose children to diseases like malaria and pneumonia, and anemia and bronchial conditions that are treatable. How do they deal with that?”

Peterson also has a deeper sense of responsibility to extend God’s grace. “As we experience it, we also have an opportunity to be part of God’s work in other people’s lives as they experience difficulties,” he says. “So as we receive peace, we can be peacemakers; as we receive forgiveness, we can be part of God’s work in reconciliation with others.”

Peterson emphasizes, “Our desire to be there again is to say we have not forgotten, we will not forget, and we will stand beside you no matter how difficult it is to get things done. We are brothers and sisters united in Christ, and we are part of one body.”

During his recent trip, Peterson preached at several locations and shared his experience of God’s faithfulness. “In each of my messages, I talked about how in the storms of our lives, Jesus is with us in the boat, he’s with us in the turmoil, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with us,” Peterson says. “Whether it is in living or in death, there is an eternal peace that is present in our lives.”

In Loko, a city official who normally does not attend a CEUM church heard Peterson speak. He was so moved that he returned to his community and broadcast on the radio a summary of the message.

Peterson says he was as inspired as much by the Congolese as much as he encouraged them. “I’ve often been so impressed with the sense of faith and confidence in Christ in the midst of their struggles in Congo,” Peterson says. “They say, ‘We have nothing but Jesus, and that makes all the difference.’ That has seemed more and more real.”

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