High in the mist-shrouded Mushaki mountains, amid a drenching tropical storm, the rebel leader swept into the crumbling brick farmhouse, his sinewy frame swathed in a red-and-black shawl, dutifully followed by a pet lamb called Betty.
Gen Laurent Nkunda, extolled by supporters as a gift from God, beamed a toothy smile as he shook hands and exuded charm during an interview with The Associated Press.
"I was born into a Christian family and I have always believed," he said.
The man blamed for a 10-week offensive that has forced 250,000 people from their homes as his fighters captured great swaths of eastern Congo says he's a born-again Christian and one-time Adventist pastor who'd rather be teaching than soldiering.
Nkunda defected from the army in 2004, saying he needed to protect his tiny Tutsi minority from Rwandan Hutu militias. He has since expanded his mission to "liberating" Congo from an allegedly corrupt government.
New clashes between the army and rebels erupted yesterday just outside Goma near Kibati, where about 45,000 refugees have taken refuge. Thousands fled toward the relative safety of Goma.
Nkunda called a unilateral cease-fire last week when his forces reached the outskirts of Goma, but the truce has crumbled.
On Thursday, Nkunda appeared in crisp camouflage and a bush hat, with an expensive hardwood cane topped in silver.
"We will continue fighting and we will fight all the way to (the capital) Kinshasa," he vowed.