Children walk among the destruction caused by massive flooding in the Bushushu village in Kalehe, Congo. More than 175 people, including 15 United Methodists, died after torrential rains overflowed the Chibira River in South Kivu. (Photo: Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.)

By Philippe Kituka Lolonga
May 10, 2023 | KALEHE, Congo (UM News)

More than 175 people, including at least 15 United Methodists, were killed after torrential rains overflowed the Chibira River in South Kivu, said the church’s district superintendent in Bukavu. 

The Rev. Clément Kingombe Lutala said the overnight flooding on May 4 and 5 was catastrophic in the Bushushu village, where one church family lost 13 members. He said 300 people were injured and more than 500 homes have been destroyed.

Herve Cibugi Eli, a 26-year-old United Methodist student at the Higher Pedagogical Institute of Bukavu, lost his parents and 11 other family members after flooding May 4 and 5 in Kalehe, Congo. Photo by Philippe Kituka Lolonga, UM News.

Herve Cibugi Eli, a 26-year-old United Methodist student at the Higher Pedagogical Institute of Bukavu, lost his parents and 11 other family members.

“I became an orphan following this natural disaster and I cannot do anything because it is the will of God,” he said.

Pastor Henock Museura Sage, who leads the Kalehe Circuit, said The United Methodist Church has had a presence in Bushushu village since 2020. 

There is a block in the village “where we just lost everything,” he said.

“It is a total desolation for The United Methodist Church, which has just lost its fighters in the middle of the mission fields of evangelism,” Sage said.

Moise Mwango, a Bukavu District volunteer trained by the local Disaster Management Office supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, surveyed the damage in the village. Mwango said that the needs are enormous because the survivors are living in inhuman conditions.

The government declared a national day of mourning on May 8, said Patrick Muyaya, minister of communication for the Council of Ministers, which is chaired by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi Tshilombo.

East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda sympathized with the families affected by the disaster. He said the region has been challenged by civil unrest and the devastating 2021 volcano eruption

“The floods (are) making the situation worse by rubbing the knife in the still open and bleeding wounds,” he said, adding that the disaster is causing massive displacement of already destitute populations.

“I urge you to look to the Lord, our God, the Almighty, who is our comforter in this time of great distress and crisis of hope, and when we despair, may the mighty hand of the Lord be manifested in our life,” Unda said.

“I call for a total mobilization in prayer, and your intention is that the Lord of peace heal the broken hearts of widows and orphans, and all those who currently live in a situation of total deprivation. For he is the protector of widows and orphans (Psalms 146:9).

Unda added that the church in eastern Congo needs help aiding these people of God in crisis. “This is why I reach out to our traditional partners and to all men and women of goodwill for urgent intervention in Kalehe, Uvira Isangi, Kisangani and Kindu.

“May the Eternal, our God, Master of times and circumstances, abundantly bless us all and comfort the families tried by this catastrophe.”

Roland Fernandes, top executive of United Methodist Global Ministries and UMCOR, offered prayers for the those affected and noted that relief efforts have begun in the region. 

“In the wake of this catastrophic flooding, we grieve alongside Congolese families who have lost loved ones and pray for the safety of those who are now displaced. Through UMCOR, The United Methodist Church has local disaster management coordinators in East Congo who are supporting relief efforts as the scale of this disaster is assessed,” he said.

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator in the Kivu Conference.