Last June, my friends from TENforCongo and I left the US knowing we might not be able to get to our destination: the village of Rutshuru in Eastern Congo. Fighting in the region had escalated and Rutshuru was becoming an epicenter of the conflict. But we were fortunate, and a lull in the fighting allowed us to get to Rutshuru. For four amazing days we stayed at the Catholic Guest House, where we enjoyed breakfast together each morning and the gracious service of the Catholic sisters who live there.
Breakfast in Rutshuru
My travel friend and photographer, Christine Anderson with Sister Therese.
Erin Lytle, member of TENforCongo and director of the Justice Conference, with one of the sisters from the Catholic guest house.Later, we were shocked when we learned that, within hours after we left Rutshuru, the village and surrounding area was taken over by M23 rebels—and it remains under rebel control to this day.
A week ago at The Justice Conference ’13 in Philadelphia, TENforCongo presented a workshop on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We described Congo’s ongoing civil war in which nearly 6 million people have died and brutal rape is used systematically as a weapon of war. We explained that the DRC is a failed state where there is no rule of law, where power belongs to whomever has the biggest guns, where a few greedy people grow rich at the expense of millions of innocent Congolese, and where there is no refuge for the vulnerable. No refuge, that is, except the local church.
In Rutshuru, we saw the church being the church more radically and purely than we’ve ever seen. Years ago, Dr. John Perkins said, “The church lives out its call most fully when it is a community of faith with arms wrapped about a community of pain.” That defines the church in the DRC. We spent a day in a local church building with eleven women who had agreed to tell their stories. Each had been violently raped; some had seen their daughters raped and their husbands murdered. Each had despaired of life until church-based counselors, trained and empowered by World Relief, had provided them with food, clothing, medical care and ongoing support so they could “get their lives back.”
This three-minute video moves through the course of that single day in Rutshuru: hearing the women’s stories, weeping and praying with them, sharing lunch with them, and finally taking their photographs. By the time the women posed for Christine’s end-of-the-day “portrait sessions,” they were laughing and preening (as all women do!), clearly re-awakened to their own strength and beauty.
Lynne Hybels in Congo - Slideshow from World Relief on Vimeo.
Sadly, last weekend, just a day after we’d presented the Congo workshop at The Justice Conference, rebel militiamen set off a bomb frighteningly close to the Catholic Guest House where we’d stayed. Eight civilians were killed. Within twenty-four hours another twenty deaths were reported in outlying areas. A “peace agreement” signed last weekend by regional leaders seems to have little impact on the ground.
TENforCongo is a movement I started to raise awareness and funds for the DRC. All funds raised go directly to World Relief Congo, which works through local Congolese churches to bring healing to women who have been raped, to establish micro-enterprise opportunities for women, and to foster peacemaking initiatives in local communities. Find out how you can support this work here.
TENforCongo also supports peace in the Congo by asking our government to join the international community in doing more to protect people and save lives in this critical region of the world. Find out how you can be an advocate for peace in Congo here.
Tomorrow, March 1, TENforCongo is launching Ten Days of Prayer for Congo. Please join us in a guided experience of education and prayer on behalf of the strong and beautiful—but vulnerable—people of Congo. Go to www.tenforcongo.com to join this movement of prayer, learning and advocacy, and to learn more about Congo.
Follow us on Twitter @TenforCongo and on Facebook.