Flight ministry sees uptick in aid requests as DRC violence continues

DRC (MNN) — In 2016, the Democratic Republic of the Congo had more newly-displaced people than Syria or Iraq. According to the latest Global Report on Internal Displacement by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 966,000 people fled their homes in the DRC last year, making it the largest group of displaced people from 2016.

Congolese soldier (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

What caused such a massive upset of the country’s people? National tensions had already been building in the DRC leading up to their elections, which were supposed to take place in November 2016. But then President Joseph Kabila refused to step down from his position in December, stirring up a lot of political outrage. Now the election postponement could take even longer as the nation’s budget minister essentially says they can’t afford the $1.8 billion it would cost to hold the elections.

The outrage has led to multiple protests, and clashes between ethnic groups and the militia. Just in the last five months in the DRC’s central Kasai region, over 500 rebels and security forces were killed. Investigators with the United Nations have discovered several mass graves since the unrest began.

Nick Frey with Mission Aviation Fellowship in the DRC explains, “The violence, first of all, in the Kasai region has been ramping up for the last few months…. two UN employees, one American and a Swedish woman, were kidnapped and eventually killed in the region. So that really brought international attention and forced the international community to get more involved.”

Flag of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The last civil war in the DRC ended in 2003, but there are new fears that recent tensions could lead to another civil war.

MAF works to fly ministry partners and humanitarian workers into remote regions in the countries they serve to bring aid, supplies, and share God’s love. The MAF team in the DRC has continued their aviation services, even since the start of the unrest.

“Since then, we’ve done a handful of flights. I think we’re up to somewhere around 10 to 15 flights now to the region, mostly for medical teams that are going to work in hospitals there. Sometimes we’re taking vaccinations and medications and other things, and then mostly health staff — doctors, nurses, logistics people — to and from so they can help the internally displaced people in the region and the other people affected by the violence.”

So where does the Gospel come in? Frey says it’s in everything they do, from how the aviation staff conducts themselves to the conversations they have.

“Before we fly, for example, we give the pre-flight briefing for the passengers and then we always start with a prayer. So that’s a perfect opportunity to pray for the country, pray for the people affected, pray for the passengers and the work they’re going to be doing in the humanitarian area, and then integrate God’s grace into that.

“[We] thank Him for the daily grace He gives us, for Jesus dying on the cross, and for the hope that is found in Him that is so much more solid than hoping in international aid groups that can come and save us for a day, but not save our souls. So there’s doors into all kinds of really great conversations that we’ve been having with these humanitarian aid workers.”

Many MAF planes, like 9Q-CMO in the Congo, are equipped with cargo pods in order to better serve the needs of isolated people.(Caption courtesy of MAF/Photo courtesy of Mark Hewes with MAF)

However, the MAF team in the DRC has still faced challenges. The biggest one Frey shares is the need for more hands on deck.

“With this current increase in flight requests, we’ve been really short-staffed. So we don’t have a lot of pilots and mechanics right now. It’s a constant need in MAF around the world. Most of the programs I know about are understaffed in terms of pilots and mechanics, especially maintenance specialists. So that’s a real need right now. We have pilots flying five and six days a week, and we all have other duties to maintain. We have lives here, and our children are here, and our families are here. It just takes a lot of time to pull all this off and it’s pretty straining on our program.”

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But most of all, they could really use your prayers — for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the people they serve, the partners they serve with, and the MAF ministry.

“We would really appreciate prayers for the country. It’s been a year of much instability in different regions and different areas, including the city of Kinshasa where our main base is. So we really covet prayers for the country, for the country’s leaders…. We really appreciate prayers for peace and for opportunities to share Christ’s love with people on a daily basis and to point people in the direction of real hope.”