Last week I went to Beni with a small team to conduct a needs assessment. Beni is a (very bumpy) 10 hour drive from Goma, and the people living in and around Beni have recently suffered greatly. Towards the end of last year, armed rebel groups terrorised communities with extreme violence: women, children and babies were attacked with machetes in a series of horrific attacks. Over 200 were killed, others kidnapped and many injured. It even made the bbc. Hundreds fled the violence. When I drove through some of the villages that had been attacked in October last year they were eerily quiet. Doors locked with planks of wood nailed across the doorframe. The opposite of normal village life in Congo.
When I went back to Beni last week, we found communities had begun to return after a period of uneasy yet relative calm. I went with a small team to learn more about the suffering of the people. To meet with those who have been displaced because of the violence, and to find out what their greatest needs are so we can begin an emergency response. Communities spoke of extreme hunger since their crops were ruined in the attacks. Water User Committees spoke of tapstands and water pumps being destroyed meaning they must walk miles to reach protected water sources or risk drinking contaminated water. Teachers spoke of children in their schools who are now living alone because their parents were kidnapped during the armed raids and have not yet been released.
These people have stared evil in the face. Each have horrific stories to tell. Many have not only lost all their possessions but also lost loved ones in unspeakable violence. Suffering beyond my comprehension. Suffering that makes me ask where are you God? Where were you when these people were being attacked?
I never really used to struggle with the concept of suffering. Of finding God in suffering. I used to be able to theorise quite well that God had given man free will and the pain we have in this world is a consequence of our own decisions. That in this broken world there is a battle going on between good and evil but eventually good will win and meanwhile God is with us in our suffering.
I still ultimately believe these theories to be true. But somehow they don’t quite satisfy me so much any more. Somehow, after meeting people who have fled horrific violence and been lift with nothing, having befriended a child as young as 6 years who has been raped, having held babies with swollen bellies and matchstick arms and legs due to severe malnutrition, these theories of suffering don’t stick any more.
Where is He in it all? Has He run from us? Forgotten us?
I remember the words uttered by Jesus on the cross: ‘my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ (Matt 27:46).
Even Jesus, being fully God, questioned his own father which allows me to so do too without feeling guilty. I’m allowed to question and I don’t need to have the answers. Jesus questioned His own father and He understands my questioning too.