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Finding Peace in Unexpected Places

Studies at CMU inspire Congolese pastors to work toward reconciliation

If they weren’t studying together at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Theo Muthumwa and Shadrack Mutabazi would be adversaries.

The local pastors are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They survived ethnic violence and traumatic civil war in their homeland, years of exile elsewhere in the region, and arriving in Canada as immigrants. Both study Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies (PACTS) at CMU.

While they have much in common, Muthumwa is part of the Bantu majority from the eastern Congo, while Mutabazi is from the Banyamulenge minority. The differing peoples have a history of mistrust and war against one another.

Today, the two are working toward peace and reconciliation between their peoples.

Theo Muthumwa (left) and Shadrack Mutabazi (right)
Theo Muthumwa (left) and Shadrack Mutabazi (right)

Their paths first crossed during an introductory PACTS course at CMU.  Through periodic classroom discussions, their ethnic identities were revealed to each other, and with every in-class encounter they shared more stories, becoming close friends in the process.

“We are now telling (our) stories,” Muthumwa says. “If we didn’t talk, we would finish at CMU and I would think (Mutabazi) is my enemy.”

“We believe that leaders are servants of God who can be ambassadors of reconciliation to bring people together … and yet some of our colleagues are preaching the gospel of division,” Mutabazi adds.

Muthumwa says the two have a mission to promote peace and reconciliation because the Bible instructs them to do so in Matthew 9.

“It’s also the mission of CMU,” he says. “It has shaped us.”

Both came to CMU to study Theology, but they found PACTS inspiring.

Ultimately, it’s equipping them to work toward peace and reconciliation between their peoples.

“Banyamulenge in eastern Congo have a reputation of being people who bring trouble,” says Muthumwa, who is a Bantu. He has faced persecution, attempted murder, and ultimately exile for denouncing Congolese marginalization of the Banyamulenge, and for vocally renouncing his own people’s violence and hatred toward them.

As a Banyamulenge, Mutabazi has lost loved ones to horrific violence. After fleeing war-torn East Congo, he lived in exile in Rwanda for 10 years and in Uganda for five.

“I lost both my parents in the war,” he  says. “We have wounds in our hearts because of the war.”

After arriving in Canada as immigrants in the late 2000s, both felt unable to speak about their past and who they are, even as they read about events in the Congo and saw images of their homeland.

“So many Canadians don’t know our struggle,” Muthumwa says.

As ministers, both have planted churches while in the Congo, while in exile, and now in Canada as well.

In Winnipeg, Mutabazi started Shalom Christian Outreach and Muthumwa founded Philadelphia Miracle, both congregations serving Africans,  immigrants, and Canadian citizens.

They believe that telling their story is crucial to finding unity and forgiveness.

That doesn’t make it easy, though. Mutabazi recalls the time he stopped attending classes for a week after hearing a lecturer’s stories of ethnic genocide, which triggered his own memories of violence and left him in shock.

“These are deep, deep wounds,” Mutabazi says, emphasizing that facing the future requires truly understanding the past.

Theo and Shadrack“CMU is helping us to speak of where we have come from, where we are now – digging for knowledge and learning – and planning now for our future to go and meet survivors and help bring them together for reconciliation.”

Bringing unity to their people is a difficult process, but Mutabazi and Muthumwa have watched young people create space through music.

Mutabazi’s children joined other Congolese congregations to form a band that now regularly plays at Congolese church services and events across the city, bringing together communities that otherwise have little contact.

“(In Congo), people are using the youth for fighting. Let us use our youth and our leaders to have a dialogue,” Mutabazi says.

After seeing the potential significance of their work for the greater African community, Mutabazi and Muthumwa started Reconciliation Initiatives and Healing for African People.

“Our goal is not to end here, it is to also go back home. We have so many spiritual leaders not aware of peace,” Muthumwa says. “The studies we got from CMU are a bridge. We want to start first with those Congolese here, to create a sense of dialogue, and to create also dialogue in Africa.”

They also look with hope to the greater Winnipeg community.

“Most people here, we’ve found, are listeners – they want to listen to our stories, but we want them to go to the next step,” Muthumwa explains.

“Your grandparents came to Canada and they struggled. We are also facing these kinds of struggles – being in a new place, no family, no one to show you what to do. It’s not easy for us. We need people to welcome us.”

Photos and story by Matthew Veith (CMU ’13)

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Shadrack Mutabazi Maintains Hope for Congo

December 4, 2012 – Shadrack Mutabazi is a Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) student who is doing his best to concentrate on his studies and embrace his family’s new Canadian home. It’s an everyday challenge for him because even oceans can’t separate him from the trauma he’s faced in his lifetime – and the trauma that continues to plague his family  and his country.

Mutabazi was born into the Banyamulenge minority tribe in the Democratic Republic of Congo – which is to say, he was born into persecution and violence. He lived for ten years in exile in Rwanda and five years as a refugee in Uganda,  spending his life as the victim of xenophobic persecution and life threatening circumstances, witnessing unspeakable atrocities, and losing many loved ones along the way.

“I have lost many relatives – parents, uncles, brothers, cousins, colleagues, and friends – and I have narrowly escaped life threatening incidents myself. I grew up with no peace, no hope for stability,” he said.

While he’s been victimized, Mutabazi is anything but a victim. In Africa, he became an ordained pastor and founded the HOPU Organization to bring hope and peace to hurt and suffering people – both those who have been persecuted and the persecutors themselves. “Deep inside, we all have interest in finding reconciliation and forgiveness. Even the perpetrators don’t live in peace,” said Mutabazi. “HOPU uses music to repair and restore, building bridges between groups of people who have been fighting for their entire lives. We want to see reconciliation. And we will get there someday. But first, we focus on just getting people sitting in the same room together and finding some common ground – through music, poetry, and other cultural activities.”

This married father of six children has moved his family – including some of his siblings, for a total of eleven people – to Winnipeg in search of the peace and stability he’s been looking for his entire life. At CMU, he is studying Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies and he also attended CMU’s Canadian School of Peacebuilding this past summer. He hopes that advanced education will help him continue to lead his people in healing and restitution.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned during my time at CMU so far has been the power of love and forgiveness,” he said. “It sounds so simple, but I’ve discovered that you must go inward first to find love and healing so that you can help others to do the same. This truth has been profound in my life.”

His work has continued here in Winnipeg, through Shalom Christian Outreach and Heritage Outreach, and Mutabazi plans to use his degree to continue promoting peace, unity, and social justice as both a church and a community leader.

When asked about his home country and the atrocities that continue there today, Mutabazi – holding onto his innate strength and optimism – said, “I see great possibilities for peace and reconciliation in the Congo.”

“The complexity of the real situation has been unrecognized – or undermined – by the organizations that have been trying to help there,” Mutabazi explained, “but God knows what is happening in the Congo. From my experience, I know that with deep spiritual maturity, we can remain positive and learn the process that can support resolution.”

“I am one of many who have experienced this extremely challenging journey,” he said. “What has happened in my life – the killing, the fear – surpasses all human understanding. But we can still preach the message of peace, love, and justice. God promises us, in John 14:27, a ‘peace that the world cannot give.’ Peace comes from God, and God has a wonderful plan for the Congo.”

This past week, increased tensions in the eastern Congo have sent some of the remaining members of Mutabazi’s family fleeing for their lives. Some are safe for now, but have been separated from their families and fears run high. Mutabazi is looking for ways to bring more of his family into Canada.

Article written by Lindsay Wright for CMU