Ghosts of pastor's nine dead children

Don't read this compelling piece of journalism by The Associated Press' Michelle Faul unless you're ready to shed a few tears -- or a whole lot of tears.

This story, full of moving images, is both heartbreaking and enlightening.

With a major, glaring exception, it's the epitome of first-class foreign reporting.

The headline on the Yahoo! News version that I read:

Congo pastor loses 9 out of 10 children in war

The top of the story:

MWESO, Congo -- First, the rebels killed four of Joseph Munyaneza's children in 1997. The family fled to another village.

The following year, that village came under siege. Another four children died of gunshot wounds. Then the baby, from malnutrition.

Today, Munyaneza, a 52-year-old Protestant pastor, tenderly cares for his 17-year-old daughter, who is in the hospital after being kidnapped by rebels a month ago. When the rebels tired of raping her skinny body, they forced a stick up her vagina until it protuded through her side.

"She is the only child left out of 10 I had with my first wife," Munyaneza says, holding the moaning teenager's hand and clucking sounds of comfort as one would to calm a baby.

In the east of this vast country of nearly 63 million people, ongoing rebel attacks and poor health care have produced a generation of mourning mothers and fathers, many of whom have lost more children than they are raising.

My only problem with this report: Its total, utter lack of a faith angle.

Here is an article about a pastor losing nine children that fails even to consider what role faith plays in Munyaneza coping with his own suffering, much less how he ministers to those around him.

It's a piece replete with the kind of details usually reserved for photographs. For example, this sentence:

It's a cruel state to be in amid lush, mountaintop vegetation with a bounty of vegetables and fruit -- trees dripping with mangoes, bananas, plantains, avocado pears and coconuts, fields filled with yams, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes and corn.

Yet, on the subject on religion, this is the full extent of what we learn about Munyaneza's background:

Protestant pastor

The 1,200-word narrative puts faces on other orphaned parents -- all devoid of faith -- and then returns to Munyaneza at the end. We learn that he has 12 additional children with his second wife, but his relationship with God never comes up:

Pastor Munyaneza now gets by renting a patch of land to grow vegetables for meals and making palm oil for sale. He says his first wife died of dehydration and diarrhea while they were fleeing fighting in 1994. He remarried and now has 12 children with his second wife.

He calls himself a master of the "blinde" -- the igloo-shaped refugee hut of stick supports covered with banana leaves that he has built many times in eight places he has fled to, trying to keep ahead of the conflicts that rage in eastern Congo.

Asked how he copes, Munyaneza gives a sad smile and a surprising response: "I'm lucky," he says, giving his daughter's hand a squeeze. "We've been on the run for more than 10 years but we manage. We survive."

Now, could Munyaneza's "surprising" assessment of his situation have something to do with his faith? It certainly sounds plausible -- even probable -- to me. But we never find out. The reporter, apparently, fails to ask the obvious follow-up question.

In a story so otherwise gripping, the omission makes the religion ghosts all the more haunting.

Please respect our Commenting Policy