Tuesday night’s premiere of the HBO documentary, “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” was hard to watch. Basing herself in Bukavu, filmmaker Lisa Jackson traveled through South Kivu last year to make a movie about the victims and perpetrators of this brutal war against women and girls that most of us know little about.
It is always a strange experience to watch a movie about a place you know and love so well. During the screening I hosted, we paused the film several times so I could answer questions or tell a story about a place or a person.
I was especially excited when Jackson visited the Centre Olame, a wonderful place of hope, love and life (which is what “olame” means in the local language of Bashi). My friend–and favorite interview subject ever–Mathilde wasn’t featured, but you can read more about her and the Centre Olame here.)
Jackson did a great job of showing the scope of the rape epidemic and the range of ways people with limited resources are trying to combat it. But the all-encompassing sadness of the situation of women and girls in South Kivu and the overwhelming odds against those who are trying to fight this epidemic permeates the film. She showed elderly women, young mothers, teenagers, little girls, all of whom have this one horrible experience in common.
I was reminded once again to pray without ceasing for Dr. Mukwege and his staff and those at Heal Africa and everyone else who helps these women, because they see the results of so much evil every single day, and they don’t get much opportunity to forget what they have seen. They carry a heavy cross, and they need our prayers to sustain them.
There’s no way around it. You can be an activist, or run a hospital that helps these women repair their bodies and souls, or a lone policewoman working out of a wooden shack to try to bring some semblance of justice to the perpetrators. And make no mistake; these people help women, one by one by one. But it’s hard to avoid the feeling that in the grand scheme of things, they’re fighting a losing battle.
When the movie ended, K, a former student and pre-ministry major who has a passion for the Congo, talked about remembering that despite the fact that this situation is so overwhelming and that a real solution seems so impossible, God is always in control.
God is always in control. I do believe that. But I also believe that a situation like that in the DRC poses a valid challenge to that contention that rests on the definition of what exactly it means to be “in control.” We talked about how people use this to dismiss uncomfortable situations, as in, “Oh, God is in control, it will all work out.”
As I told K, I cannot believe in a God whose grand plan means that a 4-year-old girl has to be gang raped.
This is where the theology of my childhood is inadequate. Simple answers to impossible questions just don’t work. But this is also where the challenge is. For as I told K, I really believe that the call we have to answer as Christians is the figuring out of how God would have us answer prayers.
If you think about it, if you look at the biblical examples, when people pray, sure, there are times when there’s a supernatural occurrence or a gift of some kind of guidance as to what to do next. But more often than not, prayers are answered because somebody does something. They don’t sit around on the comfortable side of the road (or the world), assuming that God will take care of that broken, beat up person who’s lying in the ditch. Instead, they go out of the way, and they make things better. Responding to God’s call, they participate in the work of redemption and restoration.
Remembering that I am called to be the hands and feet of Christ is the only way I can believe that God is in control of the eastern DR Congo.
Laura Seay is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and member of First Baptist Church in Austin, who has studied and lived in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. This column appeared previously on her blog, Texas in Africa.
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Laura Seay is an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College. She studies African politics, conflict and development, with a focus on central Africa.