For five days, we listened as the women of the Congo shared with us the unspeakable horrors they had experienced -- personal stories of abduction, rape, and mayhem at the hands of men who use violence against women as a weapon of war.
But harder still for me to hear were their accounts of a second round of abuse at the hands of those from whom they should have expected comfort and compassion -- parents who rejected their own daughters after they had been impregnated in violent attacks by local militias; in-laws who laid claim to land and possessions from widows forced to watch as their husbands were killed in front of them. More than a decade of fear and devastation has ripped apart the very fabric of life for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Renee Stearns listens to the story of a survivor of sexual assault. ©2011 Jon Warren/World Vision
The American Journal of Public Health has determined that more than 1,000 women are raped every day in the Congo. One woman told us that the simple act of walking to her field or fetching water makes her a target of warring militias, keen to harm those they see as enemy sympathizers.
Who’s the enemy? It’s hard to tell -- or, at the very least, it depends on who you ask. Ever since the Rwandan conflict spilled over the Congolese border, various factions have been using rape and violence to brutalize women and their families.
Day after day, we listened to the stories of ordinary women caught up in the conflict, weeping for lives lost or ruined. How do I come back and tell their story? How do I make sense of what I’ve seen and heard? How do we bring hope to the hopeless? I have to admit that I was beyond discouraged. But then, on our very last day there, we met with World Vision's national director in the Congo, Bob Kisyula, who shared with us the story found in 2 Kings 2 of Elisha and the city of Jericho.
The men of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.”
“Bring me a new bowl,” [Elisha] said, “and put salt in it.”
So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.”
The Congo, Bob assured us, is a country well situated, brimming with natural resources (gold, copper, cobalt, and col-tan, which is essential to the manufacturing of computers and cell phones), strategically located at a crossroads right in the heart of Africa. But like the waters of Jericho, it needs salt. It needs men and women of God who are willing to work for peace and restoration in that war-torn nation.
The staff members of World Vision are the "salt," working tirelessly in a place of great pain and suffering to bring about God’s intended healing. Join me in praying for them, and for the people of the Congo.
Reneé Stearns recently traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo with Women of Vision to determine how the group could assist women who have suffered under the ongoing conflict in that country. Reneé is the mother of five grown children, wife of Rich Stearns -- who is president of World Vision U.S. -- and grandmother of one adorable grandson.