Restoring hope in the DRC
Salvationists travel to Goma to help victims of gender-based violence
by Michael Freeman, Envoy –
Envoy Michael Freeman, Anaheim-PraiseWorks Corps, wrote this article after a recent mission trip to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There she sat in front of us, no more than three feet away, dressed in traditional, colorful Congolese attire. She looked right into our eyes and began to tell us her story…
She was walking back to her village with three friends after spending time working in the bush. She was 20-years-old, engaged to be married, looking forward to a good village life.
They were militia with an agenda to destroy people in every way possible. There were many of them with guns, and the girls where quickly surrounded, stripped naked, tied up and taken away. The remaining details of her story are much too graphic to write here. Of the friends, two were shot for disobedience to the captors and one died later from her injuries from the gang rape.
Lumo, the one survivor, sat before us. Lumo has considered that maybe her friends had a better outcome, not having to cope with all the physical and mental effects she has had to deal with. She has had multiple fistula surgeries, but none has been able to repair her physically.
We are there with our friend, Esther, who spends her days ministering to the many women who are brought into the city to receive treatment for their injuries. Esther encouraged Lumo to share, and Lumo’s smile lit up the small room. As we sat and listened to her story, I wanted to look away in disbelief, but I forced my eyes to stay fixed on hers. She was brave and gracious to share her story with a couple of masungus (white men).
When we left her, I was in a state of shock and spoke with Esther about the reality of sexual violence in Eastern Congo. Since January of this year, new cases of sexual violence have been reported at Heal Africa (www.healafrica.org); these are the fortunate women who get to the city from the bush. Many more never receive medical treatment and are shunned from their communities, because rape brings shame to the community. Husbands and families generally do not want anything to do with these women. Lumo was just one of the many victims with whom I spoke, but I could have given you many other names. She was 20 when she was raped, but the victims range in age from 16 months to 80-years-old. This violence in not just against women, but also little girls; it knows no age limits.
How we can help
After hearing the stories, meeting with the victims for prayer and buying their crafts, one question still haunted me: What can I do? I cannot see all this and go home and do nothing. While there last month, our church supplied five women with new sewing machines and supplies to get them started in their own businesses. While at Heal Africa, the women learn skills so they can provide for themselves and their children. We had the opportunity to help five women who were headed back to their villages with restored hope that life is going to get better. Witnessing their joyous dancing and singing when they received the sewing machines brought me a measure of joy, knowing a difference was being made. Did we stop the violence? No, but we gave five women hope. Is there a better gift?
Gender-based violence is a tragedy occurring in our lifetime. We cannot sit idly by and wait for someone else to act. But what can you do? First and foremost pray for the people of Congo. Pray for protection and healing of the women. Pray for Jesus to be made known to the men, so they stop the violence. Pray for God to show you what part he wants you to play, and pursue it with all your might. It might seem impossible to you, but with God all things are possible. For specifics of what you can do or if you have some creative ideas, please email me at Michael@praiseworks.org. To read a detailed account of our last two trips to Congo, please read our blog at https://pwgm.blogspot.com.