Nothing adequately prepares one, nor is one ever the same, once exposed to the savageries of war. The hidden scars of Simeon Muhunga bear witness to that chapter of his life. But today his life tells a different story, one that has altered the destiny of many, a tale of redemption that is still being written.
Simeon grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a Central African nation some remember as Zaire. An end to colonial rule and external exploitation came in 1960, but a greedy scramble to control the nation’s rich resources—including gold—ensued, plunging the fledgling nation into alternating periods of unrest and civil war to this day. Over 5 million have died during the last 50 years and 600,000 have fled to surrounding countries. Millions more have become civilian casualties of violence, including rape, causing many international
observers to label DR Congo as the “rape capital of the world.”
Now 63, Simeon’s formative years were riddled with horror. Such as watching the devastating rapes of his older sister, his brother’s wife, and other women in his community. Or witnessing his father’s murder by militia forces. These torturous events carved deeply etched scars, and although these raw memories threatened to consume his life, Simeon cried out to God.
For the next 18 years he fled to escape the violence in DR Congo, but he despaired of ever breaking free from the flashbacks that haunted him. “I went through sleeplessness, anorexia, fear, backaches, headaches as I traveled from Kinshasa [the capital city] through some foreign countries for recovery… I completely failed, and many times I pleaded with God to take away my life.” The Lord finally liberated him through a passage of Scripture that now helps fuel his life’s purpose: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
Years later, God settled Simeon in Goma, an eastern border city where many civil war refugees have flocked for safety. There he found scores of discarded women and their children—victims of rape, casualties of war. “Through decades of trauma I learned on one hand what being rejected, emotionally grieved or discriminated [against] are all about—and on another hand— the power and God’s grace that are attached to recovery after the Lord’s dealing with me through the decades of the dark night of my soul.”
As Simeon observed how women who suffered the atrocity of rape were shunned and, in many cases, held responsible for the violence perpetrated against them, his heart broke. Babies conceived as a result of rape compounded the shame, and some individuals were even expected to marry their assailants.
These women, already held in low esteem in much of African culture, were made to feel utterly worthless. Many plunged still deeper into despair when they saw how their innocent children were also labeled outcasts by society. Simeon knew he was called to bring comfort through what he had suffered, so he counseled the victims who sought him out for help. Simeon realized these women needed life skills to help them earn a living and benefit their children. Though no one else would care for these “untouchables,” he would.
The Women of Wellness Center was born from that compassion. In that place of refuge and love the piteous, self-hating yokes of slavery that often bind these women are gently stripped away and replaced by a new identity: “Beloved daughter of God.”
Simeon has long understood that the most valuable resources of his country lay not in the ground but in her people, and he’s determined to dig up and polish the precious gold God has created in the broken hearts and lives of each of the women Jesus brings his way.