Finding a balance of spreading awareness and also avoiding exploitation of a person’s pain is a fine line. I have spent the past week processing a trip I took into the bush. I knew this woman's story before going to meet her, but meeting her in person, hearing it from her, seeing all that she has accomplished despite the violence she has suffered… seeing the joy and passion she has for helping others was the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced.
We left Goma with an SUV packed full of sugar, cornmeal and medicine (antibiotics, worm pills, basic pain relievers). Although we are in the same country, there are multiple checkpoints along the road. As we drove into Virunga park, we have to go through a military check point. It is sad to know that the entire park was once teaming with animals. As refugees fled Rwanda in 1994, camps were set up in the park. Eventually all the animals either left or were eaten. Now, although beautiful, it has no animals to go and watch.
we're off! Vicky, me, Dieudonne, & Michael
people living on the side of the road in Virunga
We passed a lake, called “green lake” the water is a funny green color (creative name, huh?). It’s obvious that this lake is the crater of an old volcano. There are a lot of these in this area.
the green lake
Now, keep in mind that here in Congo, there are no paved roads to get from one city to the next. The paved road (which is new) ends halfway through Goma. Most roads in Goma neighborhoods are not paved. The first check point asked who we were. We replied “Un Jour Nouveau” and we were waved right through; no problems. We were stopped outside of Masisi and Raj’s (our logistics coordinator) license and the car paperwork was scrutinized for at least 5 minutes looking for something expired or not correct so we could incur a fine. We didn’t. The 3rd check point… after at least 15 minutes, they tried to say that my visa is a “tourist” visa and I need to pay $100 cash to the ministry of tourism to come “tour” the countryside. This was fixed with another 10 minutes of discussion between Raj, Esther and the official. In Congo, to go into another province, you have to submit identification and state your business. It felt like going to another country. The official actually got in the car and rode with us to Minova so make sure we were going where we said.
a displacement camp. We passed a few along the way
The check points were certainly a learning experience. But enough about that! We were met at Mama Masika’s with drumming, excited, curious children and singing. The kids that are part of the orphanage put on a show for us. They formed a cultural performing group. Now… for the part I’ve been processing. The reason we went out there was so Micheal, a pastor from Orange Co, Ca could bring gifts from his church. Masika is a rape survivor. Multiple rape survivor. Rather than committing suicide, she chose life. Life for her, life for her and her daughters (impregnated by their rapists). She chose to be a light in such darkness for others that didn’t find the strength she did.
the beginning of the performance.
Eventually I was dragged out to dance with them!
There is life. There is hope. There is joy. There is love. There is Jesus.
selfies with the kids is always popular
The details of her story are very graphic and I will refrain from sharing everything. Mama and her husband were attacked in their home. Rebels tried to force him to rape her. He refused. The rebels began to cut up her husband. They forced her to chew and swallow his genitals. Her husband was alive to see this. They eventually made her gather up his pieces and raped her on top of them. The rape was so violent she fell unconscious. When she finally came out of her coma, her daughters were both pregnant. They were 9 and 13. They were also violently raped by her husbands killers. Her in-laws blamed her and disowned her. She was stuck, homeless, hopeless and penniless. Rather than give up, she decided that she had to help others. Since this first incident, she has been raped 3 more times. The last time, she was dragged into the street, publicly raped by militia men. She was very badly beaten. She did not give. Many times she wanted to give up. Many days she says she wanted to end her life. But pressed on to help others. She came to Esther (Un Jour Nouveau) and said she couldn’t do it anymore. Her story was being exploited and she wasn’t receiving the funding promised from her story. She was tired. She just couldn’t do it. That is when rather than just being friends, Esther and Mama partnered together to continue her work, and Masika became part of Un Jour Nouveau.
The day we went, there were two new additions to the family. We are not sure how old they are. Their villages was raided by rebels. Their mothers were raped and murdered and the children were found clinging to their moms… two weeks after the attack. TWO WEEKS!! The children were in the hospital for a week before being brought mama. They do not smile, they are physically present, but right now they are still so traumatized, there seems to be no spirit behind their eyes. It is heart wrenching.
mama with the two babies.
She has shown me the meaning of “the joy of the Lord is my strength”…
more of the kids in the center
Last Thursday Mama came to the center. It was a surprise. I was so excited when she walked in that I literally jumped out of my chair to run over and give her a big hug. Mind you, She’s barely 5’ and I was in heels. She laughed at how excited I was and she also lite up at her welcome, even though I’m the newbie. It’s so strange how someone I’ve spent only a few hours with can have such an impact on my thinking and my heart. Later, I was able to talk to her alone. I gave her my “hope” bracelet. A bracelet I got in Israel from two very special women, when my life didn’t seem to make sense. The bracelet has been a reminder the past 2 years. There have been times that I felt hopeless. Very hopeless. I know the work Mama does is not easy and she struggles with maintaining the hope and joy that I saw in her. Who wouldn’t? She teared up and hugged me again. This will be the last time I will see her on this earth.
I started to write this after processing the life of a woman and how much Jesus has given her the strength to get through TRAUMA on a level that I still can’t even imagine…. Now, it has become a tribute to her life. Mama died yesterday afternoon in a hospital in South Kivu. We are all in such shock, and heartbroken. I only knew her for 2 weeks, and I only spent a few hours with her, but my life and perspective will never be the same. My understanding of Gods goodness even surrounded by such evil has been forever changed.
She is an inspiration to me.
Jesus said to his disciples before he was arrested and later crucified,
“In this world you will have trouble. BUT TAKE HEART!! I have overcome the world” (NIV, emphasis mine)
I think Mama Masika took considerable heart in the midst of trouble.
Rest in peace bold Masika.