At the turn of the century, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was an area embroiled in a seven-year Great War. It was violence that would continue – resulting in decades of conflict, the death of 3 – 5 million people, and the displacement of a million more. In 2002, out of a passionate concern for their country, Congolese theologians and educators, Drs. David and Kaswera Kasali, traveled home from the security of their work in Kenya, where David was President of the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST).
They met with key Congolese leaders, pastors, and thinkers for three days and worked to understand what had happened to their country. They listened to stories of cultural fragmentation, exploitation, anger, suffering, and grief, mixed with those of heroic intervention, care, and compassion. Together, they asked themselves these three questions:
“What went so wrong that people would destroy and kill each other without regard to human life? Where have we, God’s people, the Church, been in the midst of such widespread suffering and violence? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?”
Their conversations turned to the future. Taping sheets of newsprint on the walls, those present wrote down their thoughts on how to be the church and be followers of Jesus in the context of crisis and trauma. They grouped their ideas into six areas of brokenness that would be their focus: failure of the churches to be different; ineffectiveness of education to form and equip ethical leaders; the breakdown of community and family community life; loss of the ability to create; lack of ethics and innovation in the professions; and inability to mobilize resources for innovation and sustainability.
When the brainstorming was complete, David rolled up the sheets of paper and said, “This is our call.”
With this in hand, the Kasalis resigned from NEGST, assembled a community of dedicated co-participants including key churches, foundations, and individuals both in Congo and internationally, and established Congo Initiative (CI) as a non-profit in the US (and later in the UK). An initial series of regional consultations in northeast Congo identified CI’s priorities and affirmed its vision. The work of Congo Initiative began and took shape. In the past two decades, the CI community has become “a new we,” a community of mutuality, transformation, and dedication to creating a more peaceful and flourishing Congo.
All this is what sets Congo Initiative apart — a vision anchored in impassioned lament, contextual examination, indigenous ownership, and the extraordinary vision of women and men with a personal commitment to a transformed future. It is a process, continuously reengaged and updated that guides and informs CI’s ethos and work.