04 August, 2009

Countdown to the Congo

On August 7th I will be traveling to South Kivu in the Congo to spend a week with an organization working in the area. I am very excited for this trip - if you read this blog regularly you will know the DRC is a place very close to my heart.

I first learned about the Congo in 2002 watching a report Lisa Ling did on what was happening to the women there. If you don't know anything about the Congo may I recommend you read these posts (1,2,3,4,5) to start.

Essentially, the DRC has been caught in a civil war since the Rwandan Genocide ended in 1994. Members of the zealous Interahawme, the ones who planned and instigated the genocide, fled into the Congo after Kagame and the RPF took control of the country. Since that time they have lived in the Congo, making some cross the border attacks. After a time a branch of Kagame's army moved into the Congo, "in order to protect the Tutsi minority" living in the area. Some people doubt the validity of that claim especially since the commander - Nkunda - is wanted by the Hague for war crimes for his actions in the Congo. Not wanting to get too political I will just say that one act of genocide never begets another, and far more Congolese people than Interahawme have died since 1994.

How many people - 5.5 million. That's right - we are half a million people from the largest genocide since WWII and no one is talking about it. Not all of those people have died by machetes or bullets - some have died from starvation, dehydration, and other diseases - but if they are on the run and displaced because of the conflict does it matter whether it was a bullet or lack of water that took their life?

So what's the big deal in the Congo: Resources. Lots of them. Gold, copper, and many of the minerals that end up in our cell phones, iPods, and laptops. Now we are not only talking about the largest genocide since the 1940's but one that the world is involved in. 80% of these minerals are in the Congo so more than likely we are all carrying a piece of the Congo (a blood diamond if you will) with us at all times. The Congo is the size of the U.S. east of the Mississippi river, and most of it is not caught up in the conflict. But the piece that is is really caught up in it. (For a good background read King Leopold's Ghost then find a book on Mobutu  - the dictator the U.S. placed in power that just continued on the practices of King Leopold - to the tune of $4 billion when he fled the country... but I digress...)

And it's not just Rwanda that is involved, China has set up basically slave camps there to extract the minerals (read more here), as have rebel Congolese armies and the DRC army itself. And thanks to the recent pressure in Northern Congo the LRA has taken to Congo,
terrorizing villages and stealing children. In a word, the Congo is a multifaceted, intricate, deep conflict - with more than I can write about here.

What does this have to do with women? Everything. Rape is being used a weapon of war in the Congo. It is more than rape where men are searching for power and release (to be nice about it) but women are being gang raped, raped violently and mercilessly in order to create fear in the community, break apart families and establish control. Many of the women are so badly raped they get what are called fissures - tearing in their vagina - so they cannot control their bowel movement, meaning they go all the time, and they smell and it hurts and is humiliating. So now you have the community shunning these women because they were raped (as if they had a choice or it is their fault!) and they are further ostracized because of the physical effects of the rape - something else they cannot control. 

These women are being denied the basic value placed on a human being. Their rapes have all but been pardoned by the government of the Congo - hoping to "bring peace" by taking away punishment for certain crimes. Women deserve to be treated with respect, to not have to worry about being raped, to not be stuck raising children while men make war. They shouldn't be carried off into the LRA to be "married off" at 14 - raped by someone three times their age, forced to be a "wife" and a fighter and then left (or killed) when they get pregnant.

Ok, deep breath.

All this is to say - I care deeply for the Congo and could go on for pages (or days) about it.

Now let me put your mind to rest and say I am not going to Goma, which is is Northern Kivu, which is where the conflict is. I am going to Southern Kivu, which has been conflict free. There is a great community of development workers trying to help the rest of the country.

I am going to look at a longer term volunteer opportunity with one of the organizations there. I am also looking at a feeding center in the community that I would oversea while volunteering for 2-3 years. The feeding center (FC) feeds around 70 kids a day. This is pure relief - as my friend says - right now it is keeping these kids alive. But there is so much more that could be done with it! We could run medical clinics, health and sanitation classes, English classes for the parents, set up garden plots for the families... The possibilities are endless if someone would be willing to cast a vision and make it happen.

I am going to investigate - nothing is set in stone. I am going to see if this would be a "fit" for me.

So I need prayer:

  • Safety: I'll state the obvious first. But I will say that I go into the Congo fully aware of what could happen. I wish I had Through Gates of Splendor with me because there is a quote from Jim Elliot in there I love. When he was writing to his family about going to Ecuador he basically said, "I know God has given me this call, and so I go resting in His security. What will come, will come, but I will not shy away from what He has set me to do." I feel the same. That being said, I will not be stupid. If the organization feels it is not safe I won't go in, if something happens they will get me out. But there have been no issues in the area thus far and there are no indicators that the conflict is moving that far south. Just pray it stays that way :-)
  • Relationships: I will be there for 6 days and will be trying to surmise in that time if I am ready to make a 2-3 year commitment to the area. Pray for openness with the expats on the ground and with the Congolese who work at the Feeding Center.
  • God's Voice: Is this what He has for me? I love the Congo, but is this the right time and opportunity to be working in it? I don't speak French, I am single, I can manage the FC but would need to bring in people or resources to do all the extra stuff. Pray I would see past the joy of being in the Congo to really determine if God has me there long term.
  • Faith. I will spend a whole other post of faith in this area - but needless to say, the church could step up. I don't know the extent of its stance in the situation - but the church in America could be doing more. Pray that God would come into the Congo, for forgiveness, for justice, for healing to a land that has not known it in 100s of years. 

I still have a few days to go, but I am getting excited! I am anxious to pack but can't because I need what I would take with me. This has been a prayer of mine since college and now it's only a week away. Pray that nothing satan could do would thward my going. And that I would be open to His leading now, during and after I go.