Twenty-two-year-old Solange sits quietly at a sewing machine, concentrating as she carefully mends a seam. Her work helps her forget, at least for a time, all she has suffered during her short life, and it gives her some hope for her future. Methodically pumping the treadle with her feet, Solange advances the fabric one small stitch at a time, an effort that is, for her, emblematic of her dreams.
Solange is one of a group of women who are learning to sew at the Women’s Wellness Center in Goma, DR Congo, a ministry with which Heaven’s Family partners in East Africa (also highlighted in our June magazine). Like all of the other women who benefit from the ministries of the Center, Solange is a victim of the scourge of sexual violence that characterizes the Goma region. Soldiers from both sides of recent conflicts are systematically raping women and children, to the degree that Eastern Congo has been labeled “the rape capital of the world” by a U.N. Special Representative.
Solange was first raped by a soldier when she was just 16 years old. She found herself pregnant, carrying an offspring of tribal enemies. Thus “spoiled,” Solange was disowned by her family and shunned by her community. With no family, no job and no skills, she was on her own in a dangerous war zone. Just feeding herself and her baby girl, whom she named Rochelle, became a daily challenge.
A few years later, Solange set herself up for more troubles. Thinking she’d found love and a Christian man, she ultimately discovered that she’d been used, and the result was another child, a baby boy whom she named Elisha. The father abandoned them, leaving Solange with another mouth to feed. Times grew even tougher. Many days, Solange and her two children ate nothing. Elisha became severely malnourished.
By the grace of God, Solange learned about the Women’s Wellness Center in Goma. On her first visit, she found not only food and a place of refuge for herself and her children, but also a caring, loving family who demonstrated Jesus’ love to her. They gave her counsel and shared the gospel. She believed. And, although the Center is a long way from where she and her children live, they’ve returned just about every day to receive a simple meal—often their only nourishment. With every visit, Solange has soaked in the solace and camaraderie of other women who have suffered similar nightmares as herself. Together, they are growing in their faith and learning marketable skills such as sewing.
Solange has recently seized an opportunity to give back, and she now runs the kitchen that prepares meals for the other struggling women who gravitate to the Center with their children. Thanks to contributions to Heaven’s Family’s Food Fund, the Women’s Wellness Center can provide life-giving nutrition for many like Solange, Rochelle and Elisha, who seek refuge there, and who find eternal life.