Orphaned, Raped and Ignored

Every once and awhile a story comes along that breaks my heart again and again.  Please take the time to read this article from The New York Times.  Warning, the content is graphic and disturbing.  To give full credit, the original article can be found here.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs. The barbaric civil war being waged here is the most lethal conflict since World War II and has claimed at least 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake.

Yet no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.

That’s why I’m here in the lovely, lush and threatening hills west of Lake Kivu, where militias rape, mutilate and kill civilians with a savagery that is almost incomprehensible. I’m talking to a 9-year-old girl, Chance Tombola, an orphan whose eyes are luminous with fear.

For Chance, the war arrived one evening last May when armed soldiers from an extremist Hutu militia — remnants of those who committed the Rwandan genocide — burst into her home. They killed her parents in front of her. Chance ran away, but the soldiers seized her two sisters, ages 6 and 12, and carried them away into the forest, presumably to be turned into “wives” of soldiers. No one has seen Chance’s sisters since.

Chance moved in with her aunt and uncle and their two teenage daughters. Two months later, the same militia invaded the aunt’s house and held everyone at gunpoint. Chance says she recognized some of the soldiers as the same ones who had killed her parents.

This time, no one could escape. The soldiers first shot her uncle, and then, as the terrified family members sobbed, they pulled out a large knife.

“They sliced his belly so that the intestines fell out,” said his widow, Jeanne Birengenyi, 34, Chance’s aunt. “Then they cut his heart out and showed it to me.” The soldiers continued to mutilate the body, while others began to rape Jeanne.

“One takes a leg, one takes the other leg,” Jeanne said dully. “Others grab the arms while one just starts raping. They don’t care if children are watching.”

Chance added softly: “There were six who raped her. One raped me, too.”

The soldiers left Jeanne and Chance, tightly tied up, and marched off into the forest with Jeanne’s two daughters as prisoners. One daughter is 14, the other 16, and they have not been heard from since.

“They kill, they rape, burn houses and take people’s belongings,” Jeanne said. “When they come with their guns, it’s as if they have a project to eliminate the local population.”

A peer-reviewed study found that 5.4 million people had already died in this war as of April 2007, and hundreds of thousands more have died as the situation has deteriorated since then. A catastrophically planned military offensive last year, backed by the governments of Congo and Rwanda as well as the United Nations force here, made some headway against Hutu militias but also led to increased predation on civilians from all sides.

Human Rights Watch estimates that for every Hutu fighter sent back to Rwanda last year, at least seven women were raped and 900 people forced to flee for their lives. “From a human rights perspective, the operation has been catastrophic,” concluded Philip Alston, a senior United Nations investigator.

This is a pointless war — now a dozen years old — driven by warlords, greed for minerals, ethnic tensions and complete impunity. While there is plenty of fault to go around, Rwanda has long played a particularly troubling role in many ways, including support for one of the militias. Rwanda’s government is dazzlingly successful at home, but next door in Congo, it appears complicit in war crimes.

Jeanne and Chance contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Like other survivors in areas that are accessible, they receive help from the International Rescue Committee, but Chance still suffers pain when she urinates.

Counselors say that most raped women are rejected by their husbands, and raped girls like Chance have difficulty marrying. In an area west of Lake Kivu where attacks are continuing, I met Saleh Bulondo, a newly homeless young man who was educated and spoke a little English. I asked him if he would still marry his girlfriend if she were raped.

“Never,” he said. “I will abandon her.”

A girl here normally fetches a bride price (a reverse dowry, paid by the husband’s family) when she marries. A village chief told me that a typical price would be 20 goats — but if the girl has been raped, two goats. At most.

Thus it takes astonishing courage for Jeanne and Chance to tell their stories (including in a video posted with the on-line version of this column). I’ll be reporting more from eastern Congo in the coming days, hoping that the fortitude of survivors like them can inspire world leaders to step forward to stop this slaughter. It’s time to show the same compassion toward Congo that we have toward Haiti.

First in action, and supported by speech

Every week at Watermark, visitors have a section of our bulletin that they can tear off and let us know how we can serve them.  I love getting to hear what people think, and really love what one visitor shared this week.  I pray that we are always a church that is a church of action supported by our words.

“Speechless. I don’t really know where to start.  My first impression was “whoa, this place is big. The people all look nice and I don’t think I’ll fit in b/c I feel so dirty.” I was intimidated by its size and the appearance.  But when I heard the message, those insecurities dwindled.  The teaching is insightful, biblically sound and wise.  I am grateful that the Lord led me to Watermark.  This church is following the example set forth by Jesus Christ – First in action and supported by speech”

Thankful to be part of what God is doing through this little community of Christ followers.

Why Truth is better than Experience…

These are a few thoughts that Todd Wagner, Senior Pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, shared with staff today.  Some good concepts.

Why truth is better than experience:

Experience

  • Experience is inconsistent from person to person
  • Experience  can tell what happened but does not always explain why it happened
  • Experience can be “misremembered”
  • Experience can produce arrogance that isolates and separates us from others who have not endured or enjoyed similar events

Truth

  • Truth is consistent
  • Truth explains what, how and why
  • Truth is always there and can be tested
  • Truth unites and is available to everyone

Don’t let experience interpret Scripture.  Make sure Scripture interprets experience.

Oh the temptation…

Great video from our creative team.  Laughed really hard, especially since so many of my friends’ kids were the “actors”.

See the full message on Temptation at www.watermarkradio.com

The swine flu… and about being on the news

Yesterday, Canyon Creek students returned to school after missing nearly a week and a half due to the swine flu scare.  You would think that by now, this would no longer be newsworthy, but sure enough news crews were there yesterday morning as I dropped my daughter off for school.  As I walked back to my car, I was approached and they asked me a few questions.  First of all, it is never a good idea to asks me anything before 8am or before I’ve had a cup of coffee.  I answered the usual questions about whether I felt safe sending my child back to school (of course), whether it had been a hardship on my family (well, keeping three kids at home for a week isn’t really “hardship”, although my wife probably has a different opinion), and then the question I most wanted them to ask…  do you think this entire thing was overblown or am I glad the schools took the appropriate action?

This is the question that really gets to me.  Canyon Creek was closed because a student had the flu.  In Fort Worth, eighty thousand kids were taken out of school for a week because of a single kid with the swine flu.  Now, I don’t want to say that the school districts overreacted… had they done nothing and the flu had been more serious we would be outraged, but the bigger concern is just how worried we became about something we didn’t fully understand.

So how did I answer the question?  “While I don’t think the action was all that necessary in retrospect, my bigger concern was why this is so newsworthy.  Three thousand kids die EVERY DAY from Malaria in Africa alone, malnutrition is the cause of over half of the deaths of children worldwide… in fact 34,000 children die from malnutrition EVERY DAY (which is about the number that the flu kills every YEAR).

So is it wrong for us to be concerned about the welfare of our kids?  Certainly not.  But is it newsworthy while thousands die daily and don’t have a voice?  I don’t think so.

Imagine that… the quote about being glad my kids were back in school made the news.  The quote about the plight of kids around the world?  Not so much.