When invited to minister God’s healing in the ‘rape capital of the world’, we had to look carefully at how our programmes could be adapted to meet this enormous and heart-wrenching need. Dr. Philip Lucas joined a team travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo and wrote this report in response to what he saw and the people he met.
I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo between 21st April and 4th May 2013 with Flame International for a week in Goma and then in Bukavu. Flame provided ministry and teaching to pastors in both cities. This report focuses on the Flame ministry to raped women and summarises what work was done with them. Flame are mindful of the new challenges they face when ministering into communities where rape is used as a weapon of war and have asked me to provide advice and recommendations so that they may tailor their programmes to meet this specific need.
The ministry team arrived at Goma to teach at the Anglican conference, arranged by the diocese for 40 pastors from Goma and the surrounding area. Most of the pastors were Anglican but a number of different denominations were represented. In addition there were about 20-25 women of whom a number had been the victims of abuse. At Goma we made contact with the Heal Africa Hospital. Three counsellors from the hospital, trained to support raped women and their families, attended our conference. One of them talked for 45 minutes to the delegates about the work the counsellors did with raped women and, in particular, talked about the definition of rape, its effects and the challenges the medical staff faced. She also gave practical advice on working with rape victims. The conference presented their teaching for the first three days, before spending two days in workshops, providing prayer ministry and counselling for each individual. The workshops were of great benefit to the delegates as they were taught how to minister to each other.
I visited the Heal Africa Hospital and met with the Hospital Director, Dr Joseph Lusi, to discuss the work that his hospital does and the aims of Flame International. Dr Lusi heavily stressed the importance of training and supporting the pastors as a key element of implementing lasting change. I was shown around the wards and met some of those women and children who were being treated. Later on, Flame International team member Theresa Doffe and I met and interviewed a woman who had recently been raped and mutilated. This gave us an insight into the challenges and pain caused by rape.
The Flame ministry team repeated the conference at Bukavu with a new set of delegates. I was able to take what I had learned from the counsellors at Goma and teach the pastors at Bukavu about the effects of rape on communities, the effect on the individual and the consequences of rape. The Flame team also learned more from the pastors and women about some of the abuses that had occurred, and prayed for those affected. While at Bukavu the team spoke at five churches, including the Anglican Cathedral. This was a good opportunity to spread some of the teaching to the wider communities. While at Bukavu, Jerry Doffe and I visited Panzi Hospital and met some of the hospital staff. This hospital has pioneered some of the surgical work for repairing vesicovaginal fistula – a result of the damage that can be caused by rape. We also visited a local Anglican health centre to see how local health-care is delivered.
The Flame team all worked hard to minister to and encourage all those they met in Goma and Bukavu. In particular they had a heart to reach out to those who were the victims of rape. The team encountered a fair number of these women; both through the conferences and in chance encounters. The Flame programme was focussed on teaching the pastors to be able to minister to their communities.
The pastors were also taught about medical referral for those who have been abused and every woman who attended was given a Congolese bible and taught how to minister and pray for each other. It was also notable that at both Goma and Bukavu, the wives of the church leaders were already heavily involved in the ministry and support of the victims or rape. The wife of Bishop Sylvestre Bahati of the Bukavu Diocese had many women she was helping through the provision of employment, land, micro-finance and mutual support. The team was able to encourage and pray for these ministries. My impression is that ministry directed to the church leaders here, as opposed to a specific ‘rape victims conference’, is appropriate. The teaching of both groups at the same time, with separate prayer and ministry, worked well as a model, particularly in allowing the pastors to gain a greater understanding of the problems these women face.
Flame International has been keen to introduce psychological and medical perspectives alongside the emotional and spiritual healing for rape victims and this has been achieved as described above in talking to the counsellors at the Heal Africa Hospital. Flame has been able to focus its efforts on reaching the victims of sexual abuse through training the local pastors who can then pass on to their congregations the importance of supporting those who have been raped. They have also taught the women themselves how to support each other and we have passed on the spiritual perspectives to the Heal Africa counsellors. I look forward to seeing Flame’s ministry develop and pray this will contribute to a lasting solution in the region.
Dr Philip Lucas MBChB RAF
Meeting with a rape victim
This lady lived in a village 100 miles west of Goma, Eastern Congo; her husband joined the rebel M23 resistance and left the village. Her husband returned along with two rebels and raped this woman. They then mutilated her, using a machete, and caused injuries to the crown of her head. They also caused extensive chest injuries, which have been grafted some time ago – possibly bilateral traumatic mastectomy or attempt of, along with stomach injuries, all with the machete. When I saw her, she was able to communicate with us quite clearly through a translator. This lady was probably in her thirties. She had eight children; two had come with her to Goma to care for her, the remaining children stayed in the village and she does not know how they are. It was obvious in her eyes that she was suffering from deep psychological pain. She explained her story with a good deal of anguish. I asked her what sort of message she would want us to give to the outside world about what has happened; she talked about bringing the rebel army to justice to stop this fighting. She needed further medical treatment, in particular she needed to go to Kampala for more surgery. She had received a message from her village from her husband that if she ever returned, “it would not go well for her”
Meeting with a rape victim, M, a 50 year old lady
About five years ago some people came to the village and attacked it, so she fled to the fields to hide from them; she had seven children. M and her daughter hid in two groups with the children. Her daughter was seven months pregnant – she hid with two children. They were discovered by the rebels and the rebels wanted to rape the daughter. She refused to be raped so was killed along with the two children with her and her unborn child. M stayed hidden and subsequently looked after the four other children and also grandchildren from her daughter who was killed. At a later time her husband, who was a nurse, was killed by rebels when he did not give money when asked. At that time M herself was raped by three people. She went to hospital after this and was found to be HIV positive. At the hospital she had good support and treatment, everyone was very kind and looked after her and paid for her treatment. Her issues are that her grandchildren cannot afford to go to school as she cannot provide for them, also she is victimised in the street for being HIV positive. She says people call out to her in the street. She now has AIDS. When asked how she feels about men, she says that she cannot hate all men, however it is soldiers she hates and she feels bitter whenever she sees soldiers, although now she has forgiven the soldiers who have raped her. Her big problem is now no money for schooling.