Goma. It could be the most dangerous city in the world for a woman to live. To the north is a smoking volcano named Nyiragongo. The last time it erupted in 2002, a lava river as wide as ten football fields flowed through the city, taking the lives of 150 and leaving 120,000 homeless.
To the south is Lake Kivu, its deep waters saturated with methane and carbon dioxide gases. Under the right circumstances, the lake could violently erupt like champagne out of a shaken bottle, releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide that could asphyxiate a million people within minutes.
There is, however, something much more threatening than a temperamental volcano or a chemically-unstable lake lurking on Goma’s outskirts. Over the past few decades, armies of men have been fighting in East Africa’s wars, taking millions of lives and displacing millions more who’ve found themselves fleeing to cities like Goma. (But Goma itself has not proven to be a safe haven. Even as recent as last November, rebels temporarily captured the city.) Appallingly, for many East African troops, rape has become a strategic weapon of war. Young girls, and even babies, are not exempt. The brutality has become so epidemic that Eastern Congo has been labeled the “rape capital of the world” by a U.N. Special Representative.
I will spare you the sickening details of the violence of methodical gang rape and its physical consequences. But the unspeakable damage done to bodies is only a harbinger of the horrific harm inflicted upon the hearts and minds of those who survive to suffer the aftermath.
Many victims find themselves pregnant, carrying offspring of the “enemy,” or later discover they’ve been infected with AIDS. Married victims are cast off by their husbands. Unmarried victims are marked and spurned for life. All find themselves rejected by their families and local communities, casualties of war.
My husband, Bob, and I met many such casualties when we first visited Goma two years ago. Sitting in the Women’s Wellness Center of Goma, a ministry directed by our friend Pastor Simeon Muhunga, we listened to story after tragic story as we wiped our tears. The face of one young woman, whom I will call “Deborah,” continually haunted me since that day. She had been violently raped at age 8, leaving her with serious injuries. In the years that followed, Deborah was raped multiple times, resulting in two pregnancies. Her face seemed to be a frozen mask of misery, as if her entire future had been stolen from her.
We visited Goma this past March and again met Deborah, along with other women, at the Women’s Wellness Center. I’m relieved to report that she had been receiving biblically-based trauma counseling, medical treatment (for the physical wounds she suffered from being violently abused), food, clothing, and vocational training. Although rejected by so many others, Deborah has been learning how much God loves her through Jesus. Unlike the last time we met, this time she was smiling.
I’m so happy that we’re partnering with Pastor Simeon Muhunga and the Women’s Wellness Center through Heaven’s Family’s Victims of Sexual Violence Fund. Although the facilities of the Center are insufficient and in need of repair, it shines like a diamond in the midst of the black lava rock that defines so much of Goma. To join us as we continue to care for victimized women, see my note below.