Congo, Republic of

Leadership Profile: Jean-Claude Malanda

Chris Lawrence

Jean-Claude Malanda was stuck in the jungle. The canopy of trees was so thick he rarely saw the sun and he lived on only plants and insects. At the same time, a pack of hostile rebels hid in the same jungle.

War had broken out in Republic of the Congo. Jean-Claude, from Laari -- the same ethnic group as the rebels -- was forced to flee Brazzaville, the capital city.

If he tried to return to the city he could be mistaken for a rebel and shot. However, the jungle wasn't safe either. "In a sense, I was running from both sides," he says.

Similar uprisings have occurred in the Congo the past few years, including one that displaced 40,000 people from Brazzaville.

Now the director of Cru in his home country, Jean-Claude spent a total of nine months in the jungle. It was a time of faith-testing that prepared him to be a leader.

Jean-Claude, age 42, became a Christian in 1996, after performing the voice of Jesus while recording the JESUS film into a Congolese language. "After repeatedly watching the scene when Jesus suffered, I realized my own misery and sinfulness," he says. He began telling others about Christ and joined Cru in 2000.

When the rebellion started, Jean-Claude was immediately in danger. After making sure his wife and children were safe, he fled, along with his two brothers and brother-in-law. Another Cru staff couple didn't evacuate in time. They were captured, shot and killed.

Because of their swift departure, Jean-Claude and his brothers had no provisions.

For shelter, they covered themselves with large leaves to shield the rain and used smaller leaves and grass for bedding. Plant leaves, grubs and the occasional wild fruit were all they could scrounge to eat. Jean-Claude dropped 25 pounds off his already thin and lanky frame.

During the day, he would go by himself to pray. He was deeply concerned about his family and whether he'd ever get out of the jungle. His concern often turned to discouragement. Job 5:7 helped sum up his plight: "Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward" (New International Version).

Often, Jean-Claude would encounter the rebels. Many of them were young -- teenagers even.

At first they thought he and his brothers were spies. When they found out he was a man of faith, they mocked him. After he prayed for some of the sick rebels, they respected him. One shoeless rebel, probably in his 30s ("He was so dirty it was hard to tell," says Jean-Claude), later prayed with him and received Christ.

Eventually the fighting stopped, and Jean-Claude and his brothers returned to their families. The peace continues today. "But it is a fragile peace," he says.

Jean-Claude says the jungle experience taught him crucial lessons: "I learned about prayer, listening to the Holy Spirit and being content in any circumstance."

Plus, God gave him a vision to reach the Laari people. "Nothing happens by accident," he says. "No matter what happens, the most difficult times are God's plan to prepare you for something to help change the world for Christ."

Not long after he returned, the national Cru director left his position, and Jean-Claude took the helm. He had only been a Cru staff member a few years, but he was prepared. He'd been through the jungle and was ready to lead.

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