Most of us in America are given to hyperbole in our everyday conversations.
"Traffic was brutal."
"The meeting was horrendous."
"Yesterday was a nightmare."
"You won't believe what happened."
It isn't a big deal that we tend to speak this way. But it does create a problem that I can't figure out how to overcome.
When you use the word "brutal" to describe an extra 15 minutes of commuting time, what word is left to adequately describe the repeated violent rape of a 15 year old that leaves her unable to walk and unable to bear children?
If we casually refer to a meeting as "horrendous," what word can we use to express the actual horror of a woman watching her child get abducted while she herself is attacked and her husband killed?
You get my point. And while our desensitization to these words will undoubtedly hinder my ability to communicate the depth and breadth of the trauma that has been inflicted upon the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during decades of conflict, I'll press on and try to get my message across.
The United Nations has called Congo "the rape capital of the world." Others have called it the most dangerous place in the world today to be a woman. Think about that for a moment. Of all the brutal back alleys and byways in the world, of all the places where peril is ever-present, this one spot in Africa has topped the list. The brutality that women in the Congo have repeatedly endured is actually unfathomable and indescribable.
How does a person heal from a trauma so personal, brutal and life-altering? How does a community, a nation, heal? Is it even possible?
Eschewing all hyperbole, I am thrilled to say that healing isn't just possible; it is happening through a remarkable global initiative.
She's My Sister is a collaborative effort of organizations from around the world dedicated to providing Scripture-based trauma healing and practical aid to the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the surrounding region. When American Bible Society brought together this coalition of concerned organizations, we quickly discovered that the greatest need in the region was not going to be easy to deliver... or even easy to define.
You see, in many of the tribal languages in the region, there is not even a word for "rape." How can a woman heal from something that she cannot name? Once again, words failed us.
A second hurdle that quickly emerged was the prevalent, but mistaken, belief that to express outrage over heinous acts showed weakness, or worse, a lack of faith. We discovered that many Congolese believe their obligation as Christians is to paste on smiles and ignore their pain. This thinking led to the creation of communities suffocated by the weight of emotional pain, misplaced shame and unacknowledged grief.
Fortunately, the answer to overcoming both of these obstacles came from the same source: the Bible. Through a Scripture-based program, She's My Sister is helping women to identify trauma, grieve its impact in their lives and begin to reclaim authentic hope for the future. Seeing in Scripture that God doesn't just tolerate lament but uses it to heal their heart wounds, women are beginning to loose the bonds of their traumatic history. Gradually moving from forced joy to authentic lament, rape victims in the Congo are finding their way forward to life after trauma.
While my words are inadequate to convey the need for and hope offered through Scripture-based trauma healing, a Congolese woman participating in the She's My Sister initiative succinctly expressed what is at stake for the region. "A community is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground," she said. "Then it is finished." Through the She's My Sister initiative, the hearts of the women of the Congo are being lifted.
One of the most profound lessons of the work of She's My Sister is that while our words may fail us, God's Word will not.
This summer, eight amateur cyclists are biking from Florida to Maine to raise awareness of the plight of the women of the Congo and support for the She's My Sister initiative. To learn more, visit bike.americanbible.org.