Back to Nyankunde

MAF’s return to this eastern DRC base revives a region scarred by war

The MAF Cessna Caravan 9Q-CAU at Nyankunde. Photo by Stig Jacobsson.

The MAF Cessna Caravan 9Q-CAU at Nyankunde. Photo by Stig Jacobsson.

The last radio communication MAF pilot Dave Jacobsson received from his wife on the morning of September 5, 2002, was, “They’re at the door!” Then, nothing. Just agonizing silence as Dave tried for more than 24 hours to make his way back to the MAF base at Nyankunde in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

On the ground, tribal soldiers had just kicked in the kitchen door at his house. At gunpoint, they demanded that his wife Donna give them radios, satellite phones, food, and money, while 20-month-old son Andrew toddled around in between the soldiers’ feet. Three Congolese workers and another son lay hidden underneath the bed in the back bedroom, where they had taken cover against heavy gunfire.

The next day the Jacobssons and a handful of missionaries were evacuated, along with some Congolese who were thought to be in greatest danger. The rebels allowed three airplane loads to leave. The relief they all felt as they took off in the MAF Cessna was mixed with incredible anguish for those left behind. Some 3,000 people lost their lives, while thousands more fled on foot. The entire village and mission station were destroyed. Nyankunde was left abandoned. It would go down as the worst massacre of the Ituri tribal conflict.

The Healing Begins

The first of the displaced people began to return in early 2004. In February of that year, MAF and AIM (Africa Inland Mission), along with a Congolese pastor, drove from Bunia to Nyankunde to do their first on-the-ground evaluation since the attack. MAF’s base of operations for eastern DRC since 1967—10 homes, two hangars, and a small school—had been completely looted. Tin roofs, doors, windows, wiring, toilets, sinks … all of it, gone. The main hangar was still intact, though empty. But there was hope—MAF could rebuild and come back.

An aerial view of the destruction of Nyankunde. Photo by Dave Jacobsson.

An aerial view of the destruction of Nyankunde. Photo by Dave Jacobsson.

A multi-phase plan was initiated, with the first step being to secure and maintain the base with the courageous help of a small Congolese crew on-site. The airstrip was demined and restored, and the first flights into Nyankunde began again in 2005.

MAF started rehabilitating its houses and hangars with the help of visiting church teams from the States. Staff monitored security in the area, and two risk assessments were conducted to determine when it would be safe to return.

In the meantime, while MAF was going through this years-long process, the work of healing was taking place through local churches, newly formed reconciliation ministries, and an evangelical radio station that spread the good news of Jesus Christ far and wide. Hundreds of ex-militia turned to Christ; there was confession and forgiveness, and freedom from hatred and bitterness. And Nyankunde was reborn.

Out of the Ashes

In the early mornings now, it’s common to see people with a hoe over their shoulder, heading to the lush green fields and hillsides to work their gardens—a sign that there’s a sense of security among the community, that this place is safe to call “home” again.

“What had become a symbol of fear, death, and destruction, Nyankunde is alive again and a testimony of God’s faithfulness, restoration, and healing,” said Donna Jacobsson. She and Dave, and the young son who toddled among the soldiers’ feet on that fateful day (he’s now a teenager!), were the first MAF family to return in spring of 2013.

“We have literally seen and felt the gray cloud of oppression lifting, and today we can say that Nyankunde feels like a beautiful and peaceful place once more,” said Lary and Sheryl Strietzel, the second MAF family to move back last December.

As repairs continue on the remaining MAF houses, a third family relocated there this spring and—Lord willing—a fourth will follow in the fall.

“The vision for our Nyankunde and Bunia bases is still a work/prayer in progress, said Dave.”

MAF is again serving the Nyankunde Evangelical Medical Center, which has been revived thanks to Congolese doctor Mike Upio in partnership with Samaritan’s Purse. It serves as a training hospital for the country’s doctors and nurses, and patients come from all over to receive specialized care and surgery.

Dr. Mike Upio. Photo by Michael Ben.

Dr. Mike Upio. Photo by Michael Ben.

Along with an increase in flights for the hospital, Christian workers and pastors are taking advantage of affordable flights out of Nyankunde and avoiding the high airport taxes of Bunia.

“Last July, we were ready to travel to Tchabi by road, a full day’s journey through some insecure stretches for annual church meetings,” said Pastor Kabaku, director of the Institute Biblique de Nyankunde. “MAF made it possible for our pastors to safely arrive in 15 minutes!”

When Kabaku and his team visit the hospital to pray for the sick, they often learn that patients are coming from far away via MAF. “We see that our ministry reach is widened, enlarged,” adds Kabaku.

“For me personally,” adds Dr. Upio, “MAF is a big support and an answer to my prayers. MAF in Nyankunde means life is back, and the Gospel can be spread again and again.”

2 Comments

  • Phil says:

    This is good news, for the people and for the gospel to reach the people in my place of birth!

  • Pitua Uzunga says:

    Amusing story but whas reality and difficult. I think when Dave come back to take his family on September 2002 , we spend all our hope, very anxious and taked way to Oicha in Nordkivu.
    To day MAF is an indispensable partener of people in Nyankunde.

    I distinguish oneself that, when an Maf plane fly all time in Nyankunde, it said Nyankunde weak up and Fly for our building.

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