Women

The Church in Congo

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Life-giving Water in Darfur - A Mother's Story of Survival

World Relief is on the ground in the midst of unstable communities in West Darfur, where the lack of natural resources can easily increase conflict between communities. Not only do we help to reconcile inter-communal conflict, but we also provide important resources like water, which can be lifesaving in cases like Batol Mohamed’s. Batol, a 34-year old mother of six, lives in Kongok village of West Darfur. Just one week after she delivered her youngest child in November 2014, conflict erupted when her village was attacked. The village was looted, homes were destroyed and Batol’s own family experienced the violence first-hand. While many chose to flee to safer areas, Batol stayed. She was concerned that if she left her home, both she and her child would get sick. So she remained in the village despite the conflict that was happening around her.

Because so much had been destroyed and everyone had fled, Batol had to find a way to care for her family all on her own. And she had no water to cook and worried her family would go hungry – it’s dangerous to venture too far out of the village in search of water, because she had just given birth and some of the attackers remained close by.

Thankfully, the water tank built by World Relief had not been destroyed when the attackers moved their animals into the farms around the village, and she was able to retrieve water for her family. “I was able to cook breakfast for my children and I thanked God for this gift,” Batol told our staff on the ground. She said that the availability of the water in the center of the village helped them survive for six days until the conflict was resolved and people were able to return back to the village. She said “our life is spared, thanks to World Relief, by the water the organization provided to my village.”

World Relief partners with local churches and organizations to empower the vulnerable to pursue peace and have access to tangible resources. To learn more about World Relief’s work to build peace and save lives in West Darfur, visit www.worldrelief.org/WagePeace.

Celebrating Human Rights Day: Yalala's Story from DR Congo

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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.

Women must be leaders of peace-building in West Darfur

World Relief deeply believes that sustainable peace-building without involvement of women is impossible. In Sudan, particularly West Darfur, deeply rooted socio-cultural issues prevent women from being involved in many decision-making processes. Usually, women assume lower positions in the community and their voices are neglected. However, women constitute a large proportion of the society and are actively involved in economic activities.

In 2011, World Relief launched a peace and reconciliation project aimed at tackling the root causes of conflict and enhance co-existence among the different tribes in the operational areas. To achieve this objective, World Relief launched community-based peace-building initiatives. Peace and Reconciliation Committees (PRCs) oversee and promote peace at the community level. Sub-committees focus on things like crop protection, water supply area protection and more.

Through these committees (PRCs) and the subcommittees, World Relief has worked to ensure participation of women by confronting the cultural practices that exclude them from leadership.

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Recently, World Relief organized workshops on peace-building and gender awareness. At first, World Relief staff and volunteers trained 150 women on the issues of gender equality and peace-building. Next, men and women were brought together and taught about the importance of women’s involvement in the peace-building process.

Following the training, 73 women joined the existing peace committees. Today, those women are working alongside men in their community to actively restore peace.

"This should not happen to people"

In honor of International Women's Day, our Country Director of Indonesia, Jo Ann de Belen reflects on those close to her heart and why she wants to be part of changing the world. I once knew a leper. He was close to me. Apart from his leprosy, he was just like any one of us. A creation made in the image of God. Without touching me, he taught me music, math, and how to laugh at myself. He contracted this dreaded illness when he was a child, at a time when there was no definite cure for it.

The stigma of the illness was so great, that his own family was ashamed to tell others. And so his parents kept this dark secret to themselves while they can. The teenage boy did not enjoy what others enjoyed. He was kept inside the house, not brought to big family gatherings or to be “displayed” publicly. He wore clothes that would conceal his open lesions.

Even when he was in a crowd, he felt alone. He suffered all this by himself, not understanding what it was. His parents, perhaps not knowing what to do, just pretended to the world that he did not exist. He grew up to be an adult and married and had children and tried to live a normal life. But the world wouldn’t let him. He died a lonely man, alone in a room, visited by only a handful.

As I remember this friend with leprosy and feel his isolation and pain, I remember the people we serve in the highlands of Papua. The ones infected with AIDS. What could they be feeling? Whatever it is, it couldn’t be much different from what the leper felt. Alone, isolated, shunned.

The stigma against AIDS is so strong, the oppression against people with AIDS so overpowering, that I ask…. What can we do? How can we change all this?

This should not happen to people, God’s own creatures made after His image and likeness.

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This is why I feel so strongly about God’s children learning to love those that the world has shunned, ridiculed, thrown away, isolated.

I long to see the church in Papua embrace back those who are afflicted with AIDS, to care for the children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS, and to make sure that this disease is wiped out of Papua.

I pray that God makes this happen soon. So that no one will have to suffer, and suffer alone.

Transformation through Savings for Life™

In June, Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, TN took a Vision Trip with World Relief to Mozambique and Malawi. One team member, Cory Brown, an attorney at Rainey, Kizer Reviere & Bell, PLC reflects on his trip: Our small team traveled to Malawi to explore a potential partnership with World Relief.  On our second day in Malawi, our World Relief hosts led us to a small village in the Ntchisi district to meet with staff members, local leaders, ministry personnel and volunteers.  We were introduced to numerous village program participants, dined with a local pastor and toured a small livestock operation.

However, the initiative that made the greatest impact on me was a small group of village women engaged in micro-finance.

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Gathered around the edges of a large blanket sat about a dozen women of varying ages.  The group’s leader opened a wooden box with multiple locks.  Inside the box were account books belonging to each member that recorded the respective member’s investment.  With the account books was a small stack of cash representing the collective investment from which the group gave out individual loans.

As we watched, the members engaged in a myriad of transactions: applying for loans, granting loans, rejecting loans, inquiring on the status of existing loans, detailing foreclosure rules and discussing interest rates.

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It was not only encouragement or hope that struck me - customary emotions for an outsider witnessing such an event - but humility.

As a transactional attorney, I often spend days drafting complicated agreements between sophisticated parties memorializing complex arrangements, purchases and sales.  The ensuing legal fees incurred by those parties are often substantial.  But here were a dozen parties, unrepresented by counsel, buying and selling shares in a business entity of their own imagination, borrowing funds, and paying back principal and interest all without lengthy contracts or corporate authority.

Fortunately, once back at home I was able to convince myself that business attorneys perform an indispensable service for the companies they represent, but I could not help but think that maybe the ladies of that particular village were better off without “advice of counsel.”

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Savings for Life™ works by educating trainers to mobilize and train groups of community members in how to build and manage their own savings fund.  As the savings fund accumulates, group members access small loans from the fund to finance business or consumption needs.  Loans have fixed terms and are repaid with a service fee, which is retained within the group in order to grow the group’s savings fund and provide a return on their savings.  Groups are self-managed and set their own policies for their operations. To support a Savings Group, click here.

Recycling to Beauty: Un/Plastic Project

Ibu Aci is an Indonesian woman who is part of World Relief''s up-cycling program in Indonesia. This program, The Un/Plastic Project, teaches women to turn their plastic waste into beautiful products and income.Here in her own words, she shares how she gained confidence and pride in her work:

Fifty percent of Indonesia’s population lives on less than $2 per day. The Un/Plastic Project is a livelihood project that re-purposes plastic and paper into jewelry and household items.

World Relief volunteers teach young mothers skills such as beading and plastic yarn crocheting, but also important life skills. As products are sold, these young women are empowered with incomes that help support their families while surrounded by a faith community.

Check out World Relief's Catalog of Hope to find products made by Ibu Aci and other gifts from around the world.

Lynne Hybels in Congo with World Relief

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.

A trip in Burundi

by Michael Beeman I have a card from my grandmother, on the front of which, it is written, “Grandson, life will take you to some faraway places.”, and on the inside, “Know that wherever you go, love goes with you”.  It is true.  During a trip to a Care Group outside of Gitega, southeast of Bujumbura, I witnessed the power of community and God’s love.

In the Kibuye Health District, World Relief manages a Child Survival Project.  Through the Care Group Model, promoters train a group of volunteers on issues pertinent to Child Health, like malaria, diarrhea, and nutrition.  These volunteers in turn visit approximately 10 households to share this information.  The program is quite effective; malnutrition rates in children under 5 have plummeted to 8% from 36%.

With a few from WR offices, I recently journeyed from Gitega to the Care Group Meeting in neighboring Itaba commune.  For one hour, we traversed a severely rutted road.  Surrounded by hills of banana plants and coffee fields, we drove through heaps of mud and deep puddles of rain, only to reach narrower roads.  Along these roads were men and women coming and going, students at the end of their day, and toddlers who would stop playing and stare at the large, white Land Cruiser slowly making its way over bumps and around bends.

With the help of Lucie, the Care Group supervisor, we eventually made it to the school grounds where the Care Group met.  Once there, the welcome was naturally genial; greetings exchanged and a short song sung for an opening.

For this day’s meeting, the topic was nutrition.

They discussed the best practices to nourish children.  A couple acted out two skits: one showed the preparation of a meal low in nutritious ingredients, while the second showed the proper preparation of a meal that meets babies’ nutritious needs.  The subsequent discussion drew out the importance of a meal rich in micronutrients important for their babies.  The participating parents identified the problems in the skit and the solutions, which they in turn would apply themselves and share with their neighbors.  The discussion was successful; everyone actively participated and supported their peers in preparing the distribution of this knowledge.

Our departure hardly meant a disconnection.  Rather, the exchange strengthened the connection, in the spirit of turikumwe: although separated, we are together.  During the ride back home I thought of my Grandmother’s card.  Here, in the Itaba commune, the strength of community and the love of God were present.  In the beauty of the hills and the energy of the Care Group, the health and strength of families, World Relief, and myself were being restored.

Michael Beeman is a Program Research and Development Intern with World Relief in Burundi.

Photos by Marianne Bach

(1) A few of our World Relief health promoters in Burundi.

(2) Care groups are places of knowledge, learning, and relationship building.

(3) Mothers and children alike benefit through World Relief's care group model.

International Women's Day

By Larissa Peters, Asia Church Engagement Specialist at World Relief We don’t celebrate International Women’s Day in the United States, but my World Relief co-workers in Cambodia have a day off as the government has declared it a national holiday – a well-deserved one in my opinion.

A little over a week ago, I attended the Justice Conference in Portland – two days of intense conversation with over four thousand people passionate about responding to poverty, slavery, and oppression.  When Walter Brueggemann spoke, he talked about the “walkers” and the “talkers” – both necessary for a response to injustice.  And just a little over a year ago, I had the privilege to meet some of the “walkers” – amazing Cambodian women who, against all odds (and reason), are making a significant difference in their communities.

In honor of Women’s Day, I want to honor two of the many “walking women” I met in Cambodia:

As Nari shared her story, she stood with her arm protectively around a young woman, who seven years earlier had been rescued from a brothel.  This young woman’s own family had sold her in order to pay for their own survival.  The woman’s story broke my heart – she was very close to my age, and I just couldn’t imagine spending my formative years in sexual slavery.

No girl should be dispensable like that, and Nari’s words could only give me hope for those still in bondage: “I do what I do because God has given me compassion and love.  It’s hard to explain.  I know that this work is encouraging other women, so I want to be instrumental in reaching other women.  Often there’s a lack of education and knowledge … and I love them very much.”

These communities need preventative education and awareness when it comes to human trafficking.  Sara is one who ministers to the youth in the villages.  I got to be part of the crowd of children who attended one of the puppet shows in Kandal province.  Through these Sesame-street type shows and skits each week, hundreds of children and teenagers not only become educated on prevention messages but learn that they are loved and have a hope for the future.

Sara’s love for the youth she works with is evident, and she is affecting change exponentially – “It’s very important for them to have a good future, but also so that they reach out to the community.  Teenagers, especially the poor ones, are at risk – and also in the area of trafficking, so I want to tell them and protect them from that.”

Between Nari, Sara, and the puppets, I saw first hand the full circle response to these issues. These women are not only addressing the immediate needs of their neighbors, but they are responding to systemic issues of injustice, transforming the community both in the present and for the future.

And as a “talker”, I’m humbled.