A letter from Christi Boyd serving in Central Africa, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
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Chance (age 16) instantly caught my attention. Her gaze impenetrable with eyes reflecting a troubled soul, she shyly moved among her rowdier peers who had just arrived for a children’s camp in Goma, East Congo.
More evident in some than in others, each of the 50 youngsters had come burdened with wounds of trauma. Aged between 7 and 17, they had been selected by local churches to partake in a weeklong program as part of a training seminar for facilitators in trauma healing for children. The curriculum was developed by the Trauma Healing Institute (THI) of the American Bible Society with the participation of Presbyterian World Mission, tested in several countries worldwide, and embraced by the Women’s Department of the Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) as a Bible-based approach to help child survivors of violence. The ECC is the umbrella organization for over 70 Protestant denominations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rev. Nzeba, a Presbyterian pastor and the national General Secretary of the ECC Women’s Department, had identified 27 prospective facilitators from 10 denominations in 6 provinces to be trained by the Bible Alliance of the Democratic Republic of Congo during a nine-day intensive course. The trainees included ECC women leaders, school directors and teachers, community-based social workers, and a clinical psychologist.
It has been well established that unhealed childhood trauma increases the risk of developing personal problems and a tendency toward violent behavior in later life. In the words of Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, “Pain that is not transformed is transferred.” Healing children’s wounds of trauma is therefore a way to break the cycle of violence, trauma, and behavioral disorders, a first and necessary step for peacebuilding in conflict zones such as the volatile region of East Congo. For the 80 percent of Congolese who identify as Christians, spirituality concerns every aspect of life. Faith plays therefore an integral role in the healing process of reconstructing relationships with God, others and self. This is how the THI’s interactive curriculum weaves a broad variety of crafts, stories, games and Bible lessons into a child’s journey to understand grief, gain self-worth, let go of revenge, and ultimately forgive those who inflicted his or her wounds. Also in Goma the holistic approach proved an effective way for the children to engage the healing process of their trauma.
In the following days, however, Chance opened up, and so did the others. Chance’s compulsive laughter ceased, the boys started to show an interest, and in general the children started to confide in the facilitators about events that had caused their emotional wounds. They wrote letters of lamentation to God, and in a final session each noted down the pain from which they wanted to be set free. Each of the children brought their slip of paper to the Cross, where it was consumed by flames as Christ assumed the burdens on their behalf.
While the organizers were getting ready for the closing ceremony, children and facilitators volunteered to personally share with me their stories: Enok, a teenager who recently learned that he was born out of rape; Rachel, a church leader from Beni who came to the training leaving behind a terrified community after rebels hacked to death 50 children, women and men just days before; and Chance, who is a survivor of sexual violence and living with HIV/AIDS as a result. She was only 8 years old at the time of the assault.
Three months after the training the facilitators are going strong. Paired up in their respective settings, most have completed the curriculum and graduated a first class of children. Their reports have started to come in, detailing rigorous lesson plans and including keen observations, success stories, letters to God, and photographs of the activities. In a resource-deprived environment their accounts also convey the challenges they face amidst an overwhelming need for trauma healing in children.
According to the THI’s requirements for certification, the first training session of last August is to be followed by a second session, preferably nine months later. The trainees who meanwhile are effectively applying their skills and reporting to the Bible Society on their activities will then become THI-certified facilitators of trauma healing in children. The two sessions constitute the first phase of a larger plan of the ECC Women and Families Department for this core group of facilitators to go on and become THI Master Facilitators. They will then be able each to train new facilitators in their province, expanding the program as an ECC ministry that reaches children throughout Eastern Congo.
The training sessions are not possible without champions in the U.S. like the Congo Mission Team of Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church (LOPC). After a yearlong prayerful study and accompaniment of the ECC women’s initiative, LOPC held a blitz “Healing Hearts” campaign during the 2016 Lenten season, when over 200 individual members and affiliates of the congregation donated the funds needed to organize the first “Healing Hearts” training session of last August in Goma. The LOPC Mission Team dedicated a prayer of blessings for all involved in the event, which I was invited to pray on their behalf in Swahili during the closing ceremony.
Jeff and I are thankful for all your ongoing support in thoughts and prayers, through correspondence, and by financial gifts toward our mission and sending accounts. We invite you to continue your accompaniment with us in the New Year. In the name of the ECC women, I would also like to invite you to come alongside them, praying for peace, for healing, and for the ability to realize the plans for subsequent trainings. If you feel led to contribute to the “Healing Hearts” Campaign, you can make a donation to E052171 – ECC Dept of Women and Families with the designation “Healing Hearts.”
May 2017 be a year when Peace and Justice are established across the world, and in Congo particularly.
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