A team of 12 Presbyterians recently traveled to Goma, on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to take part in a 10-day World Mission travel-study seminar. The pilgrimage of hope and solidarity is designed to promote understanding of the impact of conflict and sexual violence in the volatile region and to enable Presbyterians—who are members of the We Will Speak Out US coalition—to learn best practices for accompanying the Church of Christ in Congo in ministering to survivors of violence.

Members of the team shared their travel journals with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and with We Will Speak Out, so we can spread the word of their amazing journey.

FEBRUARY 10, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 10

Redoubling our efforts and seeking justice

Our Congolese sisters participated in the closing discussion. From left: Mama Kavira Nganza, Mama Wivine Bitondo Kasobe, Mama Olela, Mama Annie, and Mama Marie Kabazaire. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Our Congolese sisters participated in the closing discussion. From left: Mama Kavira Nganza, Mama Wivine Bitondo Kasobe, Mama Olela, Mama Annie, and Mama Marie Kabazaire. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

As our time together in Goma drew to a close today, we met with women leaders of the Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC) and its member denominations to reflect on what we had learned and to discuss how we might continue to accompany each other to address sexual violence and to promote respect for human dignity. Many of the women who hosted us over the past 10 days took part in the discussion, including Rev. Berthe Nzeba (National General Secretary of the ECC Department of Women and Families ), Mama Kavira Nganza (General Secretary of the Baptist Women’s Department), Mama Wivine Bitondo Kasobe (Director of the North Kivu Provincial DFF), Mama Olela (Women’s leader in Goma United Methodist Church), Mama Annie (Director of PRENAO), and Mama Marie Kabazaire (Provincial President of ECC Women’s Federation, Ituri Province).

Rev. Berthe Nzeba, center, with the participants in the Presbyterian World Mission East Congo Travel Seminar. The women at Mama Jeanne Banyere’s skills training program for survivors of sexual violence, which we visited on our third day, made our attire for us using the fabric of our Congolese Presbyterian partners, the CPC/CPK.

Rev. Berthe Nzeba, center, with the participants in the Presbyterian World Mission East Congo Travel Seminar. The women at Mama Jeanne Banyere’s skills training program for survivors of sexual violence, which we visited on our third day, made our attire for us using the fabric of our Congolese Presbyterian partners, the CPC/CPK.

Christi Boyd provided a helpful overview of Presbyterian World Mission’s Critical Global Initiatives and the campaigns associated with them. She explained the three types of strategies (“hands-on” projects, training programs and advocacy campaigns) that World Mission uses to achieve greater collective impact in mission, encouraging us to think about how these might be relevant to future collaboration to address sexual violence in East Congo and its root causes. Debbie Braaksma reminded us that in her presentation to the group on day two, Mama Wivine had cited two key roles for the DFF in the province: training and advocacy.

Rev. Debbie Braaksma and Rev. Berthe Nzeba celebrate the Lord’s Supper at our closing worship. (Photo by Christi Boyd)

Rev. Debbie Braaksma and Rev. Berthe Nzeba celebrate the Lord’s Supper at our closing worship. (Photo by Christi Boyd)

In the course of the conversation, the Congolese women identified six areas of ministry where they felt a need for training to develop crucial skills in this regard:

  1. Trauma healing aimed specifically at children;
  2. Mediation and negotiation, particularly to address rejection of rape survivors by their husbands;
  3. Equipping survivors of sexual trauma to earn income and develop sustainable livelihoods;
  4. Sensitizing men on sexual violence and the need to support survivors;
  5. Addressing impunity for perpetrators of violence; and
  6. Civic education for effective democratic participation (including voter education).The DFF has long used a “training of trainers” model, so national and provincial officials are equipped to pass on skills by training local leaders. The women also noted that the DRC now has a national strategy to fight sexual violence, so they were eager to consider how any new initiatives might work in concert with this larger plan.The PC(USA) participants committed to continuing the conversation after they return home. In particular, they felt it would be helpful to identify actions that Presbyterians in the United States could take to demonstrate solidarity with the advocacy efforts of Congolese partners. Regular events, such as the annual Sixteen Days of Action Against Sexual Violence, could be used to highlight East Congo concerns. Good communication was seen as a catalyst to future cooperation, and the participants agreed to some basic principles to facilitate communication.We concluded our time together with worship, during which Revs. Braaksma and Nzeba led us in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Here’s a link to our Liturgy for East Congo Travel Seminar Closing Worship.We were blessed and humbled to be able to share this experience with our Congolese sisters, a moving conclusion to ten intense days of learning and pilgrimage that have challenged us to redouble our efforts to halt sexual violence and seek justice for the survivors of violence.

Douglas Tilton
Regional Liaison for Southern Africa

FEBRUARY 9, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 9

Can you trace your minerals to East Congo?

cooperama

A representative of COOPERAMMA shows us samples of the iTSCi tags used to certify miners’ production. representative of COOPERAMMA shows us samples of the iTSCi tags used to certify miners’ production. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Today, our delegation had an opportunity to learn more about the links between mining, conflict and oppression. Whether we know it or not, many of us take a little bit of the eastern Congo with us wherever we go. Modern electronic devices such as cellphones, tablets and laptops rely on metals such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and even gold. The eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is an important source of the ores—minerals with exotic names like wolframite, cassiterite and columbite-tantalite (often abbreviated as “coltan”)—that yield these valuable metals. Since the mid-1990s, a range of actors, including foreign governments and rebel militias, have sought to capture this lucrative trade by annexing mining sites or by charging “taxes” on the movement of minerals through territory they control. The revenues earned from these activities have helped to finance the activities of rebel troops and government forces alike and have thus contributed to the duration and intensity of a conflict in which sexual violence has routinely been used as a weapon of war. This has led to these crucial ores being labeled “conflict minerals.”

In 2010, the U.S. Congress enacted extensive economic reforms in 2,300-page legislation known as the Dodd-Frank Act. Included in this was a small passage, Section 1502, that required companies to identify and disclose whether the minerals used in their products were sourced from the DRC or its neighboring countries. The goal was to reduce the marketability of conflict minerals and to establish “conflict-free” supply chains that do not fuel ongoing warfare.

At the trading centre, Fidel Bafilemba (right) explains the data collected in the iTSCi log while representatives of SAESSCAM look on. On the wall in the background, a poster urges people to report human rights and safety violations such as the presence of troops, miners working alone underground, forced or child labour, etc. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

At the trading centre, Fidel Bafilemba (right) explains the data collected in the iTSCi log while representatives of SAESSCAM look on. On the wall in the background, a poster urges people to report human rights and safety violations such as the presence of troops, miners working alone underground, forced or child labour, etc. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

To understand the implementation of these traceability mechanisms, we traveled nearly three hours northwest of Goma to Rubaya. Little more than a village five years ago, Rubaya has burgeoned into a city of roughly 100,000 people as individual or “artisanal” miners have been attracted by its rich mineral deposits. Its bustling, dusty streets felt a bit like an old Gold Rush town—except that instead of mules, motorbike taxis zipped up and down the main road, weaving alarmingly through the crowds.

Fidel Bafilemba, from the Support Platform for Traceability and Transparency in the Management of Natural Resources (a Congolese nongovernmental organization, known by its French acronym GATT-RN) accompanied us. Fidel also serves as consultant to the U.S.-based Enough Project. We had hoped to be able to visit an actual mine; unfortunately, the mine owner refused to grant us access, in spite of the fact that Fidel had secured the necessary approval from a dizzying array of Congolese officials.

After presenting ourselves to the local authorities, we made our way to the Rubaya Trading Center, which was built with USAID support to promote transparency and accountability in the mineral trade and opened in April 2013. The facility brings together agents of the Congolese state (the Ministry of Mines and the inter-ministerial Small Scale Mining Technical Assistance and Training Service, known as SAESSCAM), the mining industry (specifically the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI) Tin Supply Chain Initiative, or iTSCi) and the artisanal miners (represented by the Cooperative of Artisanal Mining Operators of Masisi, or COOPERAMMA). These actors cooperate to certify the provenance of minerals so that they can be marketed as “conflict-free.”

There are meant to be five such trading centres in North Kivu, but so far only three have been built. The Rubaya Trading Center serves the 17 mines certified as conflict-free in its catchment area, but Fidel told us that there are well over 100 other, non-certified sites in the area. Of the estimated 5,000 artisanal mines in East Congo, only 161 have been certified conflict-free thus far.

Under the tagging scheme, which began operation in March 2014, artisanal miners at the 17 certified conflict free mine in the trading center’s catchment area put their ore into sacks that are tagged at the mine, using tags provided by iTSCi. The tag confirms how much raw ore the miner has dug, so that it may be sold at the trading center. Once there, the minerals are weighed and a purchase price determined, after which a Ministry of Mines agent retags the bag and the transaction is logged. The tags must stay with the ore until it reached the end user to ensure traceability, so even if multiple bags are consolidated into a drum for shipping, the tags from the various sacks must stay with the drum.

The impact that the Dodd-Frank Act has had on artisanal miners has been hotly debated. Critics of Section 1502—including the Congolese government representative who accompanied us to the trading center—refer to it disparagingly (and inaccurately) as “Obama’s Law” and claim that it mandated a suspension of mineral imports from the DRC, causing markets to collapse. Fidel, on the other hand, noted that others, including his organization, saw this as a boycott of Congolese minerals by electronics firms resisting the due diligence requirements of 1502. In the end, detractors were less upset by what legislation contained than by what it omitted: an earlier bill to limit the marketability of conflict minerals included $20 million in funds to create alternative employment opportunities for miners who might be adversely affected by the introduction of controls.

rubaya_

Rubaya exudes the energy and bustle of a boom town. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Outside, on the steps of the center, we spoke informally to one of the artisanal miners, Habumugosha Mundere. He confirmed that, economically, things were difficult. Before the scheme began, he could get $30 to $35 per kg for his ore; now he gets half that amount, despite rising global prices for coltan. And yet, paradoxically, he also felt that things were better now—improved security had helped the town to boom, and he had hope for the future. When we challenge manufacturers to ensure that their products are “conflict-free,” we help to increase the chances that the hopes of Mr. Mundere and his colleagues will be realized.

Doug Tilton
Regional Liaison for Southern Africa

FEBRUARY 8, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 8

Communicating more than words

We have been amazed by the incredible language skills of the women of East Congo, who speak to us in French, Swahili and English, and occasionally in Lingala or other local languages. Our hosts have been consistently gracious and tolerant about the more limited fluency (and unintentional gaffes) of some members of our team of “ambassadors.”

But there is much more to effective communication than words alone. Everyone also conveys messages through gestures and body language. While our lack of proficiency in local languages is sometimes a drawback, it has never obscured the delight with which we have been received. We have enjoyed immensely the hospitality extended to us. That is communication!

Children at Mubimbi Camp for Internally Displaced People, Minova, DRC. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Children at Mubimbi Camp for Internally Displaced People, Minova, DRC. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

We drove more than two hours west of Goma to visit Mubimbi Camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) at Minova and to meet with women farmers at the nearby coffee growers’ cooperative called Farmers Solidarity for the Promotion of Coffee and Integral Development (SOPACDI). Established with the assistance of the Church of Christ in the Congo (ECC) in collaboration with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the Mubimbi Camp accommodates mainly women and children who have fled villages ravaged by violence and conflict.

We met Oripa Nabarungu, a woman tiny in stature, but brave and strong in heart. In 2012, Oripa was raped by a gang of soldiers when the Congolese military and Rwandan and Congolese rebels were competing for control of the area around her village. After the assault, her husband rejected her, so she gathered her six children, ranging in age from 17 to 3, and walked for two days to Mubimbi Camp.

She showed us the house she had built herself by weaving a mesh of sticks gathered from trees and bushes and applying mud to make a Quonset-shaped house with two rooms—a common room in front and a bedroom behind. A large tarp, provided by a relief agency, covered the dwelling.

Oripa’s eyes sparkled with hope as she answered our questions. She is proud to be able to provide shelter and food for her family. She grows maize and some other vegetables in her garden, about one kilometer away. She sells some of her produce, earning enough to buy milk for her children. While the camp provides some nutritious foods, her family never gets meat to eat. Oripa’s youngest child—who clung to her leg as she talked—appeared healthy, with no signs of malnutrition.

She expressed appreciation for the support she had received from the ECC, which has helped residents to establish gardens and to send their children to school, as well as offering trauma healing counseling. She hopes to learn a craft in order to earn more income.

Oripa and the other women of Mubimbi meet every Friday in a small common room in the camp for bible study, prayer and discussions revolving around mutual support. Her faith is strong, and she has been elected president of the women’s group.

Not far from Mubimbi, the striking beauty of Lake Kivu communicated with us in a different way. As we drove along the shore of one of Lake Kivu’s finger-like bays, we had a panoramic view of lush agricultural land cascading down the steep slopes of the surrounding hills to the sparkling water below. Soon, we were on the lake itself—in an open motor-driven longboat, gliding from the offices of SOPACDI coffee co-op to the farms and processing station several miles up the coast.

After a tour of the washing and drying facility, we had a chance to talk with some of the women who comprise more than a third of the 7,000+ members of the cooperative.

Some of the inspiring women coffee farmers of the SOPACDI Co-operative. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Some of the inspiring women coffee farmers of the SOPACDI Co-operative. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Many of these women fled to the area when their communities were attacked by M23 guerillas. One in five of the women are rape survivors. SOPACDI took them in, helped them to get medical attention, and helped them to establish coffee farms. Twenty percent of the retail price of SOPACDI coffee bought through Equal Exchange and thePresbyterian Coffee Project goes to support Panzi Hospital’s work with survivors of sexual violence.  In addition, SOPACDI is beginning to package the women’s coffee separately, and these sales will help to support animal husbandry and microcredit programs for the women farmers.

It is heartbreaking to think of the trauma that so many have suffered in this place of immense natural beauty and resources. We give thanks to God for the resilience, optimism and abiding faith of the women we encountered, and for the stories that they were willing to share with us.

Bill Moore
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, Delaware

FEBRUARY 5, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 7

Understanding the patterns of sexual violence

Dominique Vidale-Plaza shared valuable material on conflict-related sexual violence. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Dominique Vidale-Plaza shared valuable material on conflict-related sexual violence. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Our first visit was to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission. Dominique Vidale-Plaza, the Women’s Protection Advisor for North Kivu, helped us to understand the scope and limitations of the UN’s mandate in the region, particularly with respect to preventing conflict-related sexual violence. Dominique’s experience working with rape survivors at Panzi Hospital enriched her understanding of the complexity of the situation.

MONUSCO works to strengthen the capacity of the Congolese government to secure and administer conflict zones in an effort to build popular confidence in the state.  The Mission is moving away from a primarily military strategy of establishing “islands of stability” in favor of promoting broad-based grassroots dialogue. It is also working with Congolese security forces to enable them to provide effective protection during elections.

Dominique observed that patterns of sexual violence in the region have been changing. Five years ago, the overwhelming majority of rape was committed by military and paramilitary forces and marked by extreme brutality. Today, while there are still many military atrocities, perpetrators of rape are increasingly civilians.  She commended the ECC’s role in peace-building, care for internally displaced persons and accompanying survivors of sexual violence. At the same time, she felt there was room for churches—especially Protestant churches—to engage in advocacy and promote electoral democracy.

“I have only one weapon, which is to speak out. Truth is my weapon,” said Thomas d’Aquin Muiti. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

“I have only one weapon, which is to speak out. Truth is my weapon,” said Thomas d’Aquin Muiti. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Thomas d’Aquin Muiti, the Provincial President of North Kivu Civil Society Organizations, echoed this challenge at our next visit, but only after he had shared helpful historical insights on Congolese social dynamics. According to Thomas, sexual violence was taboo in traditional Congolese culture; violations were rare, and when they occurred, the society had mechanisms to isolate and control offenders.  Congo’s recent history of repeated waves of ethnic and political conflict has broken down those customary practices. From the mid-1990s, rape became a weapon of war in Eastern Congo, often calculated to inflict maximum trauma and humiliation on entire families. More recently, peace agreements with rebel groups often allow combatants to be integrated into the state security forces without either accountability or retraining, such that the perpetrators of sexual assaults are often the very people who are meant to be providing protection.

Thomas urged “the people of God” to become more involved in advocacy to break this cycle of impunity by effecting reforms to both military and civil judicial systems.

He noted that senior military officers do not respect decisions handed down by judges of subordinate rank and called for the promotion of more military judges. He proposed further that military court rulings be subject to appeal and that a soldier’s superior be informed whenever a soldier is found guilty of an offense.  Lamenting the frequency with which survivors of rape are rejected by their husbands, he saw opportunities for church and civil society organizations to work together to sensitize husbands and help them to understand that their wives are not responsible for the violence committed against them. Further, he warned that the generation of children born of rape—children who struggle to find their place in society and are often effectively stateless—are a “time bomb.” He urged international partners to support those in the Congolese churches and civil society seeking to accompany and restore families broken by sexual violence. Finally, he appealed to churches to help civil society develop a culture of civic participation.

We concluded our day in conversation with representatives of the World March of Women (WMW), an interfaith organization committed to ending violence against women and promoting peace and demilitarization through advocacy. Not only do they engage public officials together, but they also pray together, finding strength in the diverse spiritual gifts that they bring from their respective faith traditions.

Edos Nziavake, coordinator of the North Kivu World March of Women. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Edos Nziavake, coordinator of the North Kivu World March of Women. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Since 1999, WMW’s courageous members have used tactics such as demonstrations, petitions and sit-ins to educate the public about their concerns and to promote social and political change. Often, they encourage supporters to dress entirely in black or white, a strategy that provides visible evidence of the increasing support for their message. A 15 km march WMW held in November to protest continuing insecurity attracted more than 2,000 demonstrators. They welcome the growing participation of men, but ensure that women lead all of their marches and demonstrations, in part because they say that they are less likely to be arrested.

The organization runs sensitization programs to encourage women to play a greater role in public debates and decision-making. Three of the dozen or so women who met with us had sought public office at the local or provincial level; two had succeeded and the third was still awaiting an outcome.

ECC members have been active in WMW, a further sign of the church’s commitment to working together with other sectors to achieve collective impact.

 

Dave Eaton
First Presbyterian Church, Normal, IL

FEBRUARY 4, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 6

Pray for us … pray that the violence will end

I was eager to be a part of the East Congo travel-study seminar group dispatched to Bunia, as I had heard about the impressive ecumenical peacebuilding and trauma healing work being done there by the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) women. We quickly learned that the situation in Ituri Province was just as harrowing as Goma.  The very fabric of society was torn by what was described as a “tribal war unknown by the outside world” that claimed 100,000 lives from 2009 to 2015 and “prepared the region for violence.”

ECC women help rape survivors who have been rejected by their families learn skills to generate income and become independent. (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

ECC women help rape survivors who have been rejected by their families learn skills to generate income and become independent. (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

And that violence is continuing.

We heard of recent atrocities committed in Gety, Mambassa and EringettI, and these statistics became real to us as we met and prayed with several survivors, many of whom had been rejected by their families.

But beyond the painful stories, there is much to celebrate in Bunia. The Church of Christ (ECC) women are “movers and shakers” who are courageously addressing the violence. Marie Kabazaire, the Provincial President of the ECC Women’s Federation trained 123 women and men in “Healing the Wounds of Trauma.” We met with 30 of them and were inspired by testimonies of how they had used their training to assist traumatized persons. It was noted that training in children’s trauma healing has not been offered and is needed. After receiving reports though their network, these women serve as the hands and feet of Jesus and go, at great risk, out to the “front lines”—areas where violence and rape have occurred—and help the survivors to procure medical care within 72 hours, as well as legal assistance, spiritual care, trauma healing and skills training to be able to earn an income.

ECC Provincial President Marie Kabazaire works with the Bible Society in training 123 leaders in "Healing the Wounds of Trauma: What the Church Can Do.” (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

ECC Provincial President Marie Kabazaire works with the Bible Society in training 123 leaders in “Healing the Wounds of Trauma: What the Church Can Do.” (Photo by Debbie Braaksma)

In addition to ministering to survivors, these women were effectively addressing the root causes of the violence. We were especially inspired by the work of Androse and learned that she had led a delegation of 20 ECC women who went to the “bush” four times in six months to negotiate with a rebel leader, Cobra, who was known for extreme violence, including rape. Amazingly, these brave women persuaded Cobra to turn himself in just over a year ago!

The women also see their involvement in the political process as essential: They engage in public demonstrations, asking the Congolese government to address sexual violence and provide training in voter education. They also encourage women in the church to elect responsible leaders who will end the violence.  Marie urged, “Pray for us that the war and the sexual violence may end!”

Debbie Braaksma
Africa Area Coordinator, Presbyterian World Mission

FEBRUARY 3, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 5

Speak Out!

Faida M'wachidende shared her story with our group.

Faida M’wachidende shared her story with our group.

Our dispatched group learned the value of making adjustments as our expected destination changed … twice. We ultimately found ourselves scrambling to catch a boat to Bukavu in South Kivu province. At this point in our experience, our learning is beginning to gel and certain themes are starting to emerge. While we are far from coming up with ideas for common action, our time in Bukavu has highlighted the importance of communication.

Our first meeting was with Mama Antoinette Mutunure, the coordinator of the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) women’s programs in South Kivu, and her assistant, Miriam Lubindi. They graciously accommodated our last-minute request to meet, so we could learn more about their activities in the province. Antoinette told us about the women’s advocacy work, including their demonstrations and memoranda to officials to protest levels of sexual violence. Her department established 15 Tamar Circles to raise awareness about sexual violence. She was eager to continue good communications with the ECC national office in Kinshasa to expand this initiative.

Communication also is important for rape survivors at a “Rural Dorcas” site run by the Panzi Foundation in Kavumu, a 40-minute ride from Bukavu. We learned about their three-year program that helps to reintegrate survivors into society. During our visit, a survivor named Faida shared her story. Speaking in a strong, confident voice, she told how the program had helped her raise her living standards. When we asked if she would share the circumstances of her rape, she agreed, but she appeared to shrink a bit and her voice became quieter as she laid out the details. It was a striking illustration of how deep these scars run and how much courage it takes for survivors like Faida to speak out.

Survivors from the Rural Dorcas project, who have started Upendo (“love”) restaurant in Kavumu, prepared lunch for us. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Survivors from the Rural Dorcas project, who have started Upendo (“love”) restaurant in Kavumu, prepared lunch for us. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

We were privileged to have in our group Dr. Amani Musafiri, a physician who had grown up in Bukavu and worked at Panzi Hospital, where thousands of rape survivors have begun their journey to wellness. With a few calls, Dr. Musafiri made arrangements for us to visit the hospital. Dr. Neema Rukunghu, coordinator of the hospital’s Survivors of Sexual Violence Project, gave us a tour of the facility, following in the steps of survivors. We met with the hospital’s founder and medical director, Dr. Denis Mukwege, renowned for his work with sexual violence survivors. Asked what churches can do to help, he urged us to stand up and speak out with a prophetic voice.

When we met an 11-year-old girl, a survivor of sexual violence who had recently given birth, I found what will be the spark for me. She embodied the growing number of sexually-violated children in East Congo in recent years, children whose voices are so often silenced. As followers of Jesus Christ we must find a way to halt these vicious crimes and amplify the voices of survivors.

We are still in the listening phase but are looking forward to discerning our next steps. I am reminded of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, one of the “Big Six” in the Civil Rights Movement, who always says “Stand up and get in the way!”

Cathy Coons
Starmount Presbyterian Church, Greensboro, North Carolina

FEBRUARY 2, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 4

Love will have the final word

Residents of CEPIMA Mental Health Hospital gather to welcome the team. Photo by Bill Moore

Residents of CEPIMA Mental Health Hospital gather to welcome the team. (Photo by Bill Moore)

The days leading up to our dispatched travels as three small groups this weekend showed us how necessary it is to have several back-up plans. But when even those fail, we are reminded of our reliance on God-given resourcefulness and grace.

The purpose of splitting into small groups and traveling to different areas was to provide diverse and intimate opportunities to learn about church-based ministries in response to sexual violence. They may be ecumenical and interreligious efforts through the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) at the provincial level, denominational programs implemented by congregations, or church-supported individual responses by women leaders in the church. The intimacy thus created by small groups allows women left isolated in shame for the rape they have survived to share their stories. Too often they have endured violence at the hands of multiple men and even multiple occasions over the years. These are not stories anyone “wants” to hear, but they are stories we “need” to hear. They are stories the women need to tell for their own healing.

The church-based “listening homes” we’ve visited in places such as Butembo and Lubero exist to invite those who have been traumatized to talk with a trained and caring counselor. God’s love is expressed through listening, gentle words of comfort, an embrace, or the holding of the hand of a woman healing from abuse.

Presbyterian delegation shares insight from DR Congo
The first director of the CBCA Department of Women and Families is now a trauma healing trainer for the church. (Photo by Jeff Boyd)
Presbyterian delegation shares insight from DR Congo
Mama Kavira Nganza displays the handiwork of one of the listening groups. (Photo by Bill Moore)

Mama Kavira Nganza, director of the Department of Women and Families for the Baptist Community of Central Africa (CBCA), shared with the three of us who visited the most northerly region of North Kivu Province how, in November 2015, she had encountered in a village listening center three young girls and one boy, all of whom had been raped two years earlier.  She was concerned that these children were not improving at the listening center; rather, they were showing signs that their traumatic experiences were affecting them mentally. She sent them to Butembo where the CBCA has a ministry for those whose mental state has been affected. Mrs. Kavira was so excited to see these four children today, realizing how they had been transformed.

They were smiling and showing signs that healing was progressing, although not yet complete.  As we discussed the differences between the processes and methodologies of trauma healing with children compared to adults, the importance of play was emphasized, as was the fact that the recovery process is often longer for children.

We give thanks to God for the kind and caring women who are dedicating themselves—many volunteering their time—to let love rather than violence have the last word.

Jeff Boyd
Regional Liaison for Central Africa

FEBRUARY 1, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 3

Lifting up God’s promises

A Biblical theme of our study visit is the Isaiah 65 passage lifting up God’s promises.

Ann Crane talks with some of the military wives who shared stories. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

Ann Crane talks with some of the military wives who shared stories. (Photo by Doug Tilton)

God’s vision of a life of peace and justice for all of God’s people. It is a “not yet” passage, a “becoming” passage. On January 29, we visited those who live out their lives on the furthest fringes of this vision. We also met some of those individuals in Goma who have committed their lives in extraordinary ways to participate in growing the Isaiah vision into reality.

Friday was a 12-hour day. We were out on the brutal lava roads of Goma shortly after 8 a.m., heading for the first of four meetings. We were welcomed by exuberant singing and dancing at each stop.

At the Goma military base, we heard from Marthe, head of Federation of Army Wives, about the 3,800 widows and military wives in camp—only 800 of whom receive government benefits of $11 per month. We could see all around us the shacks the women constructed of scavenged materials. We learned about the extremely limited sanitary facilities, the insufficient water supply and the lack of schools for the hundreds of children at the base. We were shocked to hear that in order to survive, many women have no choice but to follow their deployed husbands, and they are then extremely vulnerable to ambush and attack by rebel forces. The women are so preoccupied with feeding their children that they find it hard to focus on issues of sexual violence and human rights.

At the Methodist Church, we met Mama Olela, who, with her cadre of women, spearheads a program that cares for orphans in homes of members of congregations, feeds street children, and works with Goma victims of sexual violence. One woman shared her difficult story: She was conducting business in a nearby town when seven soldiers from the M23 rebels raped her and two other women. She was taken to a clinic where Mama Olela found her and brought her to the church. She is now living with members of the church and she has started a business selling charcoal.

At the PRENAO Light School, Mama Annie welcomed us, surrounded by her 120 primary school and 30 secondary school orphans. In addition to running a primary school staffed by volunteer teachers and housed in a very basic wooden structure, Mama Annie has organized trauma healing and economic support for 35 rape survivors, as well as 80 widows. We heard the heartbreaking stories of two rape survivors and appreciated, with them, the support Mama Annie provided.

Our final stop was at the Centre for the Protection of Children run by Jeanne Banyere. We visited the hostels for orphaned boys and girls before Jeanne led us to another structure where we found two female survivors—the youngest 14—who are being treated for fistula resulting from rape. Some of these women have had multiple surgeries. In another room, we were introduced to rape survivors, the youngest of whom was 9. The survivors of sexual violence have lived through horrible experiences. Thanks be to God for the women who are comforting them, counseling them and training them in skills for economic empowerment.

Nancy Collins, Regional Liaison for East Central Africa

JANUARY 30, 2016

Congo travel-study seminar – Reflection 2

North Kivu Province and Kyeshero Hospital

Women leaders of the Church of Christ in Congo. (Photo by Amani Musafiri)

Women leaders of the Church of Christ in Congo. (Photo by Amani Musafiri)

On Thursday, our group, accompanied by Rev. Berthe Nzeba, got a snapshot of the extensive work that is being done in the North Kivu Province through the Eglise du Christ au Congo (the Church of Christ in the Congo or ECC) to support the survivors of rape.  Rev. Nzeba, based in Kinshasa, is the General Secretary of the ECC’s Department of Women and Families. The ECC is made up of more than 60 Protestant denominations in the Congo, and its member churches play a vital role in the social fabric of the country.

We began the day with a courtesy visit to the North Kivu provincial President of the ECC, Msgr. Mbala, who welcomed us and expressed his appreciation of the work that is done to support the victims of sexual violence, the children born to women who have been raped and war orphans. We then met with the women leaders of the ECC member denominations, who together constitute the ECC Women’s Federation. They talked about how women work together to keep their communities informed about incidents of rape that have occurred in the area where their church’s congregations are based and to support the survivors. Women play a proactive role in publicizing these incidents. For example, they:

  • meet monthly to share information about what is going on in the areas they represent,
  • organize demonstrations to protest each new incident, wearing black as a symbol of mourning,
  • send written statements of protest to the government,
  • fast, pray and collect funds for the victims of violence.

Our next visit was to the Kyeshero Hospital, which was opened in 2012 by the Pentecostal Church of Central Africa, another ECC member, with the mission to provide holistic care to the survivors of rape. Survivors, most of whom are minors, but who range in age from toddlers to elderly women, are referred to the hospital when their cases are more complicated. In addition to the medical specialists, the staff includes psychiatrists and counselors and people who provide training to help women develop skills that will enable them to become more self-sufficient. Many rape survivors are rejected by their families and communities, and the churches provide crucial support. We learned that, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had visited the area and helped to secure funding from the Norwegian government to build the hospital.

Doctors at Kyeshero Hospital in Goma. (Photo by Amani Musafiri)

Doctors at Kyeshero Hospital in Goma. (Photo by Amani Musafiri)

At the hospital and at our later meeting with Baptist Church women, we had the opportunity to speak with some of the survivors and to hear their stories of being subjected to unspeakable violence—often more than once. The stories are heartbreaking, but the strength of the survivors is truly inspiring. During this visit, we also learned of the survivors’ solidarity groups, which have developed income-generating activities for rape survivors through savings and loan programs and skills training programs. Finally, we spoke with a group of lawyers about the challenges of holding accountable the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Anne Crane
Church of the Covenant, Boston, Massachusetts

SAFETY EXIT