It started with the genocide in Rwanda.
Fifteen years ago, nearly 4 million Rwandan refugees crowded into camps in eastern Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The United Methodist Church and its relief agency were among those who spent two years supporting the refugees. More than 200 church volunteers visited over that period, providing health care, distributing supplies, building a church and guesthouse, starting a primary school and renovating two health clinics. An orphanage, the United Methodist Children’s Village, was created in Goma.
But that mission work ended abruptly in the fall of 1996, when the area fell to rebels, and violence continues to this day. This time, it is the Congolese who suffer.
Eastern Congo is a place of darkness. Residents have been massacred, villages burned. And with a targeted, deliberate kind of violence, women in Congo have been raped by the hundreds of thousands, according to the United Nations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, visiting Goma on Aug. 11, announced a $17 million plan by the U.S. government to help Congo fight what she called “evil in its basest form.” Those who use rape as a weapon against civilian populations “are guilty of crimes against humanity,” she said.
All churches in Congo, and their communities, must acknowledge this violence, the Rev. Sam Kobia said last month when he led a World Council of Churches delegation there. Women asked the delegation how many stories of pain they needed to tell before the church began to listen.
The United Methodist Church’s resolution condemning “Rape in Times of Conflict and War” includes Bible verses referring to the use of rape as a weapon. That’s how ancient a tactic it is.
Until women’s lives are universally valued as much as men’s, bringing such hateful practices to an end – in Eastern Congo and anywhere else — will be difficult.