By the Rev. Antoine Otoka*
KINDU, Democratic Republic of Congo (UMNS) — It was an incident that shocked her heart: watching a man forced to sleep with his daughter in public because of a refusal to give the daughter in marriage to a rebel chief.
Afterward, the rebels killed the man and shot a gun into the girl’s genitals, recalled Madame Furaha, who recounted the tragedy during a seminar sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. “That horrible scenario has never given me peace in the heart, and I wonder why I was born a woman,” she told the group.
United Methodists in East Congo communities ravaged by war, diseases, rape and insecurity welcomed the denomination’s social justice agency for a July seminar on issues such as conflict resolution and management, social justice, violence against women and the fight to end malaria. Undergirding the seminar was a focus on the denomination’s Social Principles.
Addressing the daily circumstances of the people in East Congo has been a struggle for the church as the region continues to play host to numerous armed groups and limited development.
Seminar participants drawn from clergy and lay leadership, including men, women and youth, came to a deeper understanding of the church’s social justice ministry and ways in which they can work locally and regionally to address the questions they face.
Church and Society staff members leading the discussions were the Rev. Neal Christie and the Rev. Clayton Childers, director of advocacy for Imagine No Malaria. Activities were coordinated by the church and society organizer, Omakinda Odimba Ado.
The Rev. Hilaire Kibatuli said he appreciated how to take a problem-solving approach to the challenges they face. “There will certainly be a change of behavior, so that love is manifested unto all members of our society, and we look forward to a continuation of the program so that our wishes and teachings are realized,” he said.
Starting at the grassroots level has proven over time to be the most effective way of addressing social issues, Christie noted. “Lay and clergy commitment to prayer, healing and community is a witness for the rest of the DRC and The United Methodist Church in Africa,” he said. “We will continue to build relationships and lead trainings on how to begin ministries that respond to the causes and effects of sexually-based and gender-based violence.”
For the Rev. Benoit Ngereza, using a faith perspective allows for a different starting point in addressing concerns about security, health and violence. “It has given us a new angle to consider our ministry and feel challenged to move forward in saving our communities,” he noted.
Women who participated in the seminar were eager to see a change in the way women are treated, especially in the conflict zones of East Congo.
Nyande Westshomba pointed out that the de-valuation of women dates back to the initial colonizers of the eastern part of the country. Women face inequality in education and economic status, she said. They “are beaten without consideration, infidelity of women is lashed at while that of men is accepted and tolerated, and only women are subjected to dietary restrictions.”
The suffering of women has increased as armed groups have used women as shields and rape as an instrument of war.
Church representatives also met with the government minister of gender, family and children to show the denomination’s concern regarding the experiences of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its support for programs that promote the welfare and safety of women.
The East Congo Episcopal Area was created by the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body. The area covers the north and eastern part of the country, which has been experiencing recurring violence since 1998, with millions left dead or displaced from their homes. Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba is resident bishop of the area and was elected at the 2012 Congo Central Conference in Kolwezi.
*Otoka is the communications director in the East Congo Episcopal Area.