I made a spur of the moment New Year’s resolution last Friday night to try and learn a bit more about Africa.

So it was strange that less than 12hrs later there was a Congolese man sitting at our kitchen table talking to us about his country. He explained a bit about the conflict that claimed the lives of 4.5 million people (I’ve actually heard figures of more than that).

4.5 million people!

The figure just bounces off me, it doesn’t sink in, I don’t get it.I seem incapable of processing that sort of horrific scale.In a week where their was so much horror over the deaths of 17 people at the hands of terrorists how do you compute 1000’s of deaths like those caused by Book Haram in Nigeria let alone millions of people?

My friend mentioned the mining and coltan which drive the conflict and fund the warlords. I don’t know where to start unpacking this stuff. This lap top, the Hudl 2 we bought. My need to upgrade to faster, sleeker electronic devices feeds into the pillaging of Congo, a country with is unimaginably rich in natural resources yet one of the poorest when it comes to measuring GDP. If laws are passed to try and avoid conflict minerals it makes things worse for people.So I am linked to the Congo,so are you.Yet the link seems tenuous unlike the links I seem to have to France.Perhaps it is because I studied a little French at school or have visited Paris.Perhaps the architecture on the rolling news coverage seems familiar and recognisable.Or the values that people have been proclaiming in newspapers or the news such as free speech are familiar.

People have been talking a lot about freedom this week.
People should be free to publish whatever they like without fear of attack.
We shouldn’t be scared by those who want to murder us because of what they believe.
We have to fight the extremists.

Yet lots of people throughout the world aren’t free to live their lives (never mind free speech) because our ‘religion/s’ or belief systems about the way the world should be keeps them enslaved.
How many people have died over the years keeping the wheels of consumerism turning?
How many people are enslaved mining metals keeping the wheels of smartphone worship turning?

The acts of killing people for publishing cartoons just because you believe that it’s not god’s will is horrific.
But you know there are people dying building football stadiums in Qatar because people want to see a World Cup spectacle on their TV screens in 2022? Or there are millions of people who are going to die from all the carbon we emit causing the planet to heat or storms to intensify just so we can practice our right of freedom of travel on jets and cars.
People die because they aren’t free to travel to other countries and escape war zones or build a better life for themselves.Those people aren’t free.Instead they can drown in the Mediterranean while we fly down there for sun tan.People should be free to publish provocative cartoons but people like my Congolese friend aren’t free to flee a country with 4.5 million deaths. People are free to express their bigotted racist viewpoints on The Irish Times Facebook site each time an article goes up about asylum seekers is published.My friend isn’t free to look for work but is free to listen to people say that they’re just here to sponge on the Irish tax payer.

Congo appeared again on my horizon on Monday.
A missionary from my home town, someone who talked frequently at my home church when home from Zaire (as it was then), who spoke at youth club was shot in an attack in a remote part of the country.
Having heard the stories from my Congolese friend a few days before I realised what an incredibly brave woman this was/is.Hearing the stories in my younger days I realised it, but now I’m a bit older I realise it more.

It makes me annoyed when people go on about religion being some kind of cancer that is responsible for men flying planes into buildings or shooting cartoonists.This lady is in her 70’s serving people in a country where millions of people have died, where brutal acts have been committed.Her faith means that you go and train nurses in Congo.I’d say I’m a religious fundamentalist in a way but don’t plan to carry out any acts of terror.

Another reminder of violence came as we drove through Greysteel on Wednesday, round the same time as the shootings in Paris.I remembered the terrorist atrocity there in the early 90’s carried out by some white Protestant men who shouted ‘trick or treat’ at a Halloween party and murdered 8 people.

I’d like to think that the people who saw this terrible deed a round the world at the time didn’t think that all white Protestant Northern Irish men are bloodthirsty murderers.

Strangely (or not) a lot of people will think that the acts of these terrorists is typical of Muslims, that it is in their DNA.Far right parties will use it to their advantage.Muslims will be treated with suspicion as if they are all terrorist sleeper cells.

I don’t how to respond sometimes, it’s an unholy violent mess lots of the time. I hate violence but my being is riddled with it.Violence seems to rule the roost, to shout out that a good God doesn’t exist.Yet I guess that the witness of people like Maud Kells and some of my friends in church who have suffered so much yet have an unshakable faith in a God who does care convince me that He does.





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