On International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, we asked Brooke Sulahian, Founder of Hope for Our Sisters, to help us learn more about this tragic injury and the ways in which it might be prevented, treated, and healed.
DRC: The Conflict in Context
“Conflict spares no one,” writes Cyprien Nkiriyumwami, World Relief Africa Director for Peacebuilding.
The context in which he writes is that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). For twenty years the DRC has experienced continuous and brutal conflict, originally a result of the tribal animosities unleashed by the Rwandan genocide in 1994, then exacerbated by the military overthrow of its president, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1997.
There are now as many as 70 armed militias operating in the DRC, fighting over control of the land and the rich mineral resources buried within it. As many as 6 million people have been killed in the fighting or by related impacts such as disease or malnutrition. Women and children are those most affected and victimized by this conflict—including recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence, and many forms of gross physical violence. Today, the United Nations estimates that there are 4.7 million people displaced from their homes in DRC and another 450,000 who have fled the violence as refugees living outside of their country.
On the UN Human Development Index, which measures for life expectancy, educational, and economic factors, DRC is ranked 176 out of 188 nations worldwide. And despite its people’s deep desire for peace, the conflict and resulting corruption too often benefits those in positions of power, creating little incentive to stop the violence that causes so much unbelievable suffering.
In the midst of this chaos and constant simmering of open-conflict, Cyprien has been facilitating World Relief’s efforts to transform communities of conflict into those characterized by peace through the formation of our Village Peace Committees (VPCs). VPCs are community structures composed of ten trained and respected community members who work together to solve disputes and conflicts within their localities before they reach violence. Today, the VPCs are incredibly successful vehicles for conflict prevention throughout the DRC. The road to their installation however, was not an easy one.
A Difficult Task
Over ten years ago, World Relief’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo experienced disruption upon disruption due to constant violence. As staff came together to discuss solutions, two staff members who worked with local churches observed that the tribal divisions in churches typically mirrored the conflict they saw in the wider community. Pondering how they could act upon this insight, Cyprien and local pastor, Marcel Serubungo, called together church leaders from across the area to a 3-day pastoral retreat to address the conflict in the community.
This task was harder than it sounds given the history and context of this request. At the time, pastors and their churches were largely segregated by tribal identity. So too were the relationships among pastors. In fact, pastors would normally avoid meeting one another or even gathering in the same room with pastors of another tribe. Now tensely gathered together in one room, Pastors Cyprien and Marcel shared their vision of pastors leading the way in bringing peace to their community and providing care to victims of violence, without consideration of tribal affiliation. Discussion was difficult and quickly devolved into accusations from pastors of one tribe against pastors of another, even as Pastors Cyprien and Marcel tried to bring pastors together in unity around their shared purpose and design as image-bearers of God.
That night, by design, Pastors Cyprien and Marcel assigned each retreat room to two pastors, one from each combating tribe. Each room was furnished with one bed. The pastors were forced to decide if they were to sleep on the floor or on the bed. In customary African fashion and considered culturally appropriate, the pastor-pairs reluctantly agreed to share each bed. Yet lying back to back, the pastors could not sleep because of the level of bitterness and mistrust against one another.
The Birth of the VPCs
The next morning, the pastors wearily re-convened to continue conversation about their influential roles in conflict mediation. As the day went along, defenses began to fall and conversations moved into a recognition of the need to be involved in brokering peace. That night, back in their rooms, the pastors engaged in willing conversation and were finally able to sleep, this time side by side. The next morning, well rested, the pastors regathered. The conversation turned personal as one pastor stood and confessed publicly his hatred for pastors from the other tribe. One by one, pastors stood to confess their own sin against one another. Confessions turned to weeping and forgiving-embraces, which turned to corporate repentance and a final decision as a group to pursue reconciliation and peace in their communities. The Pastors shared a collective and unifying sentiment as they left the retreat, “How can we expect our people to live any differently, if we ourselves cannot gather together in peace and unity?”
That water-shed gathering shifted things significantly. Meaningful pastor-friendships formed across tribal differences. Regular pastor gatherings commenced to discuss peacebuilding in their congregations. These gatherings and relationships soon led to pulpit-exchanges, where pastors from opposite tribes would preach at the other’s church on a Sunday. At first, parishioners were shocked by these actions, but eventually began to realize that “If pastors could meet together, so too could they.” The example of these pastors cascaded into their churches and out into the community, as tangible hope began to form within their people.
VPCs Around the Globe
The lessons learned from the early peacebuilding efforts in the DRC have today formed the foundation from which World Relief’s peacebuilding efforts have expanded into other fragile countries, including South Sudan, Burundi, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
Today, VPCs are able to operate independently and successfully because they are acknowledged by villagers as neutral, impartial and effective conflict resolution facilitators. Not only do they formalize the process by which tribal leaders and community members publicly address past and current tensions, but they also encourage and offer this process free of charge. These local committees have resolved thousands of conflicts which would have otherwise escalated into cycles of violence causing loss of land, property, and life on mass scale and tearing families and communities apart.
Peace building matters because it helps people and communities to refrain from using force to impose their views on others. It helps people to accept others as they are, to tolerate differences, respect the vulnerable, especially women and children, and eventually, to come voluntarily to solutions acceptable by all.
VPCs have resolved conflicts as small as land and livestock disputes, as well as cases referred to them by the local police, but they also accomplish something much bigger: They create hope, courage and faith. Hope that problems can be resolved and that a better future exists. Courage to address larger relational issues and conflicts despite historical failures and fatigue. And faith, as communities begin to see that the church is both relevant for their communities and that the teachings of scripture do make a difference.
Today, World Relief continues to pioneer our VPC work across fragile states. Though we face countless challenges and roadblocks to this work, we take heart, because of our confidence in men and women like Cyprien who lean into the discomfort and fear courageously, in faith. And we have great faith that this work will continue to be transformative in the lives of thousands across the world.
Gil Odendaal, Ph.D, D.Min, is the SVP of Integral Mission Division at World Relief. He previously served as the Global Director for PEACE Implementation with Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California as well as Global Director for the HIV/AIDS Initiative under Kay Warren. Gil has 30 years of ministry experience as a missionary, pastor, educator, leader and public speaker, including serving as Regional Coordinator for Africa, Russia and Easter Europe with Medical Ambassadors International. Gil serves on the Lausanne Movement Integral Mission leadership team as well as a board member of ACCORD Network. Gil and his wife, Elmarie, were born and raised in South Africa. They have three adult children and five grandchildren.
Cyprien Nkiriyumwami is World Relief’s Africa Director for Integral Mission, Church Empowerment and Peace Building. Trained as community development facilitator and working in that capacity since 1984, Cyprien has designed and led programs that lean on local churches and grassroots structures of volunteers in reconciling people and communities in the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo and in Pakistan.
Damon Schroeder is the Director for US Integral Mission at World Relief. Springing from his experience as a missionary kid from Cyprus, he has worked for 17 years, equipping churches in the US to holistically welcome and build community with newly arriving refugees and immigrants.
By James Misner and Marcel Serubungo In the Democratic Republic of Congo, some say that you can find all of Africa’s problems: weak national leadership, eroding rule of law, HIV/AIDS and protracted tribal conflict. Warring militias use rape as a weapon of war and perpetrate other human rights violations. Children are stolen, forced to become soldiers and used as proxies between fighting groups.
Congolese civilians are caught in the vicious cycles of conflict and disease. Millions have died as a result. Refugees and internally displaced people number into the millions.
But even in the world’s most war-torn regions, the power of Jesus can overcome the horrors of conflict. After years of warfare, the Church in DR Congo is the only social structure standing. It is the only hope of true peace for survivors of violence.
This is the reality of the Church in DR Congo:
- The Church is traumatized. Many people in the Church have been displaced from their homes. They’ve fled as refugees, survived grave atrocities, lost entire crops and ran through the night in search of safety. Our Christian brothers and sisters in DR Congo face the same situations that their greater communities face — they’re not immune from struggle.
- The Church is resilient. Even in the midst of adversity and unspeakable hardship, the church in DR Congo stands strong! Despite ethnic divisions within the nation, the church builds unity and reconciliation. They’ve refused to give up the pursuit of peace. They continue meeting together, praying together and worshiping God together. In some of the worst poverty and injustice on the planet the church gathers to proclaim the greatness of God! We have much to learn from them as they restore their communities.
- The Church is redeeming suffering. None of us can explain precisely why God allows suffering. But we do know that God redeems it — through his hands and feet, the Church. When a woman survives sexual violence, the Church will take her in, provide food and shelter and help her to care for her children. When cultural norms say that husbands should abandon their wives after rape — the Church works to debunk this lie and to reconcile marriages. The Church stands in the gap and speaks out against this injustice — teaching boys and men that women are created in God’s image and are to be respected and treasured.
Wherever there is suffering in DR Congo – the Church is right there, too. And World Relief is there to empower the Church to fulfill its mission: to bring hope to the hopeless and restore justice to the oppressed. As the people of the Church endure suffering, they faithfully follow in the steps of Jesus – bringing healing to their communities as they themselves are healed.
Would you consider making a gift to empower local churches to prevent further gender-based violence and care for women survivors? All donations will be matched by One Day’s Wages. Your gift will be used to provide medical care and trauma counseling for the victims of sexual violence and to raise community awareness about violence against women. Give today at onedayswages.org/worldrelief.
James and Marcel are both members of the church team at World Relief. James serves as the Global Director of Church Partnership. Marcel serves as the Director of Church Mobilization and Peace Building in DR Congo.
After years of violent warfare, a fragile peace shrouds the beauty of the Democratic Republic of Congo – but this peace is often shattered as conflicts continue to flare up. Over 2 million Congolese women, men and children have been forced to flee across their country, and more than 400,000 have sought refuge in countries like the United States. Both here and there, World Relief is committed to walking with the Congolese people as they rebuild their lives alongside local churches. When fighting broke out in Christine’s village in eastern DR Congo, her family had no choice but to flee into an overcrowded camp. Here, food shortages threatened Christine and her five children every day. And when they finally returned home, hunger came with them. Everything they’d owned was gone.
But Christine’s hope began to grow when she joined a World Relief farmers’ association. Here, she was trained in the latest agricultural techniques and studied God’s word with other farmers. And after the sale of her first harvest, Christine’s profits changed her whole family: for the first time, they were able to eat three meals a day. Her two daughters attended school. Christine purchased a new roof to cover their home and saved up seeds for next season. After years of chaos, stability slowly returned to their lives.
“For all of these things, we praise God for his blessings,” Christine said.
Phenias and Jacques’ journey began much like Christine’s – violence forced them across the border into a refugee camp in Rwanda. Here, they raised their eight children, but the tent they lived in was not home. When they were resettled into the US by World Relief, Phenias and Jacques looked forward to living in a place of stability and opportunity – but they’d also face great difficulty. Once again, they’d leave home and adjust to a brand new language, culture and lifestyle.
After several years of living in a refugee camp and 35 hours of flights, volunteers from churches near and far welcomed this Congolese family in their own language. When they reached their new apartment, Phenias and Jacques got down on their knees and sang a song of praise to God. He had fulfilled his promises to them, and at last, they were safe. They joined a community of fellow Christians and refugees who would walk with them through the challenging transitions ahead. Now, Phenias and Jacques await the day when they can warmly welcome other refugees into their new homes.
In the US, DR Congo and beyond, World Relief works alongside the local church to provide trauma healing to survivors of war, prevent conflict, reconcile relationships and restore livelihoods. The love and justice of God have no borders – and that’s why we’re standing with the most vulnerable both here and there. To learn more about how you can welcome refugees from countries like the DR Congo, get in touch with one of our US offices.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is one of the poorest places in the world. In a country where more than 70% of the population live below the national poverty line and war has led to over 5 million deaths, hope can seem lost. But resilient Congolese women, men and children are working for hope. And Eperance Kayitesi is one of them.
A widow living in eastern DR Congo, Eperance is a mother using what she has to prepare for a better future. Since the conflict erupted in the region almost 20 years ago, life has been hard for her family. With no help from relatives, she singlehandedly supports five children in her home, but can’t afford to send them to school.
Joining the Amani (“Peace”) Savings for Life Group in her village has empowered Eperance to fight the overwhelming odds of poverty. This small group of mostly women subsistence farmers meets together regularly to save, give small loans and make sure each member has what they need.
As a savings group member, Eperance took a small loan to purchase potato and bean seeds, which she planted in her small field. Eperance says that God blessed her yield and her family was able to grow nutritional food to eat.
More than just benefitting from the loan, Eperance was also able to save money. She used the savings to buy two goats for the family – generating income as well as providing nutrition for her family. Eperance considers this a miracle, saying, “I was saving only the small amount that I could, but I received so much. My life is improving because of savings, something I didn’t understand in the past. I praise God for this.”
This month, we’ve discovered the incredibly powerful meaning Savings for Life has for women and men in some of the most vulnerable places on earth. And you can be a part of this - stand with us today as we pursue lasting change through economic development.
As the world commemorates Human Rights Day today, we want to honor women around the globe who have survived horrific violations of these rights. And many of these women go on to propel enormous good out of the evil that was done to them. These women are everyday heroes living in our midst and they’re changing the world one testimony at a time. With local churches, World Relief comes alongside women here in the United States and around the world as they recover from sexual violence, human trafficking and other cruel injustices. Our staff, volunteers and churches befriend these women and provide trauma healing trainings so they can heal and pass along the knowledge to their friends who have been through similar experiences.
At World Relief, we get to meet many women like this who are overcoming injustice and being empowered to have a positive impact in their communities. One such woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is Yalala. Yalala is a mother, a wife and a survivor of trauma. She and her family have lived in the crossfire of a violent conflict in eastern DRC that has continued for nearly two decades. Infamous for the use of rape as a weapon of war, the conflict has also been the cause of millions of deaths. Yalala and her family have seen the worst of humanity, but they have also seen the best.
Though she and her family have suffered, through World Relief trauma healing trainings, Yalala is now helping herself and others. With what she has learned, she uses to comfort other women who have survived terrible violence. Feeling empowered by these trainings, she says, “Now I am a leader worthy of the name. I help many women and many receive Jesus.”
To celebrate Human Rights Day and empower heroic women like Yalala, visit https://worldrelief.org/donate.
What does it mean to volunteer? Most of the responses to this question revolve around the idea of giving of yourself, your time and talents, to serve others. The notion of volunteering is timeless and understood globally. Throughout history, people have served the underserved, supported those in need, and provided relief for the disadvantaged.
by Larissa Peters, World Relief Communications Liaison I don’t know about you, but I have an especially good feeling about 2013. I admit, I keep a journal, and on the first of every year, I wonder what will fill its pages. The same is true in managing this blog – what will be the stories, reflections, and prayers that fill this year?
So many things are happening at World Relief, and so many great things we get to be a part of this year as more and more stand for the vulnerable! So I thought I would share 13 of the ones that I’m personally excited about and that others could even join:
In no particular order, here they are:
- Immigration Reform: From publishing the book Welcoming the Stranger in 2009 to speaking at Willow Creek Church and the G92 Summit, Jenny Yang – Vice President of Advocacy & Policy and Matt Soerens – US Church Training Specialist are truly affecting change for the immigration system. We believe this is the year for reform. Want to keep up to date on the issue? Follow Jenny and Matt on twitter at: @JennyYangWR and @MatthewSoerens.
- Peace building in the Congo: Village Peace Committees are changing their communities in the DR Congo. Conflict still abounds, but the grassroots movement of the Church is transforming lives. This is something to be a part of! Follow updates and watch our video.
- Our partnership with Pure Charity: if you haven’t checked this organization out and you shop online or use a credit card (which should cover most of you), click here now. Here is a creative way to raise funds: shop and the stores you shop at will give to your charity of choice. World Relief has a few projects of their own there, and you’ll find Pure Charity at the Justice Conference. I already wish I knew about them earlier – I have to admit I’ve become slightly addicted to online shopping.
- Fighting the battle of slavery: more and more people are taking on the cause of anti-trafficking. Currently, there are 14,500 people trafficked into the US each year (this is a low estimate). But our offices in Spokane, Tampa, High Point (and even internationally in Cambodia) are fighting to prevent that number from going up. Follow World Relief’s efforts on twitter and find out how you can promote awareness through races, workshops, or advocacy.
- Church Partnership: Churches around the US have partnered with World Relief with a commitment of investing in a country or program for 3 to 5 years. Building relationships with the field and giving opportunity for long-term sustainable development, partnership is about wholistic mission. More and more churches are signing on, and we are excited about the changes it is bringing! Want your church to be part of this?
- Catalog of Hope: This year, our Catalog of Hope has a new section: fair trade items that benefit refugees in the US, empower women in Burundi, Rwanda, and Indonesia, and provide a monster for children in the US. A monster? Yes! See what this is all about.
- Stand Together Project: The premise is simple: Empowering women who are heroes in their own communities around the world. Check it out here: www.standtogetherproject.org.
- Savings for Life: A woman in Rwanda had never held a 5000 Franc note (worth $8 USD). For the first time in her life this year, she saved up SIX of them because of her Savings group! How much more exciting can that get? Savings for Life is making credit available to those even the microfinance institutions can’t consider. Watch a video on what Savings group is here: www.savings-revolution.org .
- Reviving and strengthening marriages in India: There is a quiet and unique program in India. One that is saving marriages, helping couples to be faithful to each other, and actually preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Check out the story on India.
- Volunteering with refugees in the US: more and more people are asking, “What can I do?” Our US program with refugees provides tangible volunteering. I can promise you that your 2013 will be incredibly enriched by befriending a refugee and welcoming them into your home and life.
- Volunteering with refugees in Indonesia: you have to check this unique opportunity out: living in Indonesia and ministering to refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Sri Lanka. You can read about some of the volunteers’ experiences here: www.worldreliefindonesia.com .
12 AND 13
Tis the season for conferences! So I’ll have to just wrap them all up into the last two: Churches and organizations are stepping out and bringing awareness to issues of injustice, educating their communities on how to respond. World Relief is privileged to be a part of these conferences with other Justice advocate hall-of-famers:
- Passion Conference 2013
- Ignite Justice: www.ignitejusticeconference.org
- International Wholistic Missions conference www.wholisticmissions.com
- The Justice Conference: www.thejusticeconference.com
- Mission on Our Doorsteps: www.missiononourdoorsteps.com
My hope is that these 13 (and then some) inspire and encourage you. And may this year be full of all that is more than we can ask or imagine!*
By Allison Schroeder In just a matter of days, World Relief in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will welcome a team of women led by Lynne Hybels. Lynne has been an advocate for the Congo since she traveled there with us in 2010. This time, there will be six women joining Lynne on the trip; three others are traveling in spirit, adding their voices to the journey. I am honored to be one of the three -- you can read more about the "Ten for Congo" team at Lynne's blog: www.lynnehybels.com. Here's an excerpt to give you a taste:
Together, we are calling ourselves Ten for Congo. Our goal is to raise awareness about the DRC. Most Americans are like I was just a few years ago, totally clueless about what’s happening day after day after day in Congo. We women of Ten for Congo want to change that. We want to provide a voice for the voiceless people of the Congo. Actually, we want to shout for Congo! We want to be loudspeakers for Congo! We want to bellow for Congo!
Will you join us?
With your help, our ten voices can become 10 x 10 voices, or 10 x 10 x 10 voices, or 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 voices.
Imagine 10,000 voices bellowing on behalf of Congo!
A pretty awesome vision! I’ve travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo several times in my work with World Relief. Each time I’ve been undone, outraged by the violence and poverty, the cruelty of the circumstances. But I’ve also been inspired by beauty and humbled and encouraged by the perseverance of local churches that are empowered to respond. I've been awed by the simple clarity of Christ’s presence around me as churches come together to build peace and care for those who have been ravaged by war. Each experience has changed me, and I have no doubt that the women who are traveling there next week will be changed as well.
Our prayer, though, is that this trip will do more than change a few women. Our prayer is that it will change thousands of women -- in the U.S. and in Congo. May all those who read about this team's experiences be outraged, inspired, humbled, and moved to speak up -- loudly! -- on behalf of the most vulnerable.
Follow Lynne's blog or go to www.worldrelief.org/lynnehybels to find out more about how you can add your voice to the Ten for Congo team.
Allison Schroeder is World Relief's Church Partnership Director based in Baltimore, Maryland.