In the Democratic Republic of Congo, men fight wars, and women often bear the brunt. Angela Kalesa was kidnapped by five men and taken to a dense forest in eastern Congo, where she was repeatedly raped. "They destroyed my arm with a bayonet," she told a Christian doctor. In medical terms, she has a complex, non-consolidated fracture of the right humerus.
Pregnant farmer Mwavita Luanda was gang-raped while tilling her field, causing a miscarriage.
Angela and Mwavita are among thousands of women who have been raped during Congo's conflicts. Hundreds bear resulting physical disabilities, such as fistula, which causes incontinence.
Surgery is often their only chance of returning to a normal life. Recently, UNICEF provided funding to HEAL Africa, a new Christian medical ministry, to build a women's hostel on the Goma hospital premises. At the hostel, up to 150 women and their children can access hospital care.
They are the fortunate ones. Amnesty International estimates at least 40,000 women and girls have been raped in DRC since 2000. Ndoole Mastayo, a Nyabiondo women's association leader, told CT, "In one village, [rebels] went house to house, raping all women and girls."
Stigma remains a huge issue, but Congo's pastors, nearly all male, seldom receive training in how to respond appropriately. "They say, 'If you were raped, come to the front for prayers,' " Mastayo said. "It is so embarrassing. Many women just keep their experiences to themselves."
In spite of this tragedy, Congolese women supply hope. "The future of Congo is in the hands of women," proclaimed nurse Kathy Holmgren, wife of Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. A report on her short-term medical missions trip to Congo was televised to a global audience during February's Super Bowl.
Congolese church leaders agree. David Kasali of the Congo Initiative said, "Yes, our future is in the hands of women. They work hard from morning to evening. They have no minute to rest." Their duties are legion, including fieldwork and water and firewood collection.
Where are the men? Many have been killed. War has also cost many men their jobs. A subsequent sense of powerlessness discourages them, so they lose interest in providing for their families. This leaves mostly women who remain motivated. Recently, Americans visited a Congo Initiative project, where they found 100 women volunteers at work.
In Congo's churches, women jam the pews. Though women have the numbers and the dedication, "they are not given leadership positions," said Mboligihe Ndalu, a Congolese leader with the Evangelical Church in Central Africa. Holmgren found exceptions, such as Lily, a Congolese Evangelical Covenant pastor. Lily is expanding her women's literacy program to include primary school scholarships and mentoring for girls.
Holmgren also talked about Charlotte, a destitute aids widow with two children. Charlotte's faith moved her to help her fellow widows. Someone loaned her a weedy lot, which she and a few other widows cleared. Together they planted a garden, fed their families, and sold surplus produce. Now 360 widows in her program engage in microenterprise and training.
"[Charlotte's] message was turning a very difficult situation into something positive," Holmgren said. "It was working with practically nothing materially, just using it to God's glory."
Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Also posted today is:
Hope in the Heart of Darkness | With 3.9 million dead and 40,000 raped, Christians work for renewal and healing in Congo's killing fields.
Born Again and Again | 'Jesus gives us strength,' says a Congolese pastor.
Gospel Work in Time of War | Who says evangelism has to stop during conflict?
Glimpses of God in Africa | Reporting from the heart of darkness.
Previous Christianity Today coverage of the Congo includes:
Uncivil War | Missionary tells of horrors in strife-torn Congo. (July 25, 2005)
Roadblocks to Mercy | Congolese Christians won't allow a civil war to curtail outreach, church-planting. (Dec. 22, 2000)
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