“I know that we cannot do everything, but whatever we are able to do—even if it’s rescuing a single soul—it is enough for the Lord.”
Those are the words of the Rev. Berthe Kalombo Nzeba, believed to be the first female Presbyterian clergy person in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is referring to her mission to help women and children as the current General Secretary of the Women and Families Department of the Church of Christ (ECC) in Congo, Africa. She’ll be sharing insights from her native country with other Presbyterians as part of the International Peacemakers initiative this fall. She will tour the U.S. to speak about improving women’s self-sufficiency, surviving sexual violence and helping communities to support orphaned children.
“I want to talk about strengthening partnerships so that the burden is not carried by isolated and abandoned individuals, but by everyone. With more hands we can offer solutions to help the most vulnerable,” says Nzeba in summarizing her U.S. agenda.
It’s believed the Congo Wars, which began in 1996, have resulted in the deaths of 5.4 million people due to starvation, disease and combat between government and rebel forces. Millions more have been displaced by the violence that ensued from the estimated 30 different militia groups that terrorized local populaces with killings and brutal sexual violence.
“Peace is a great challenge in our country,” says Nzeba. “We are faced with the question on how to help people recuperate who are victims to violence.”
According to Nzeba, dealing with war orphans and children of rape is, as one might imagine, a huge difficulty. Substantial means are needed to empower communities to help these children study, eat and sleep—in even “adequate” conditions—if they’re ever going to overcome the bitterness and trauma of their situation and eventually become leaders in the church and society.
“When the children sing of their suffering, vulnerability and not having anyone they can trust, it makes you want to cry,” she says. “But crying doesn’t respond to their needs.”
Nzeba’s experience with ECC dates back to 1978, when she trained women in building leadership skills. Most recently, she’s coordinated national and international efforts to support women and children impacted by the protracted conflict in Eastern Congo. In the last ten years her greatest concern is women who have fallen victim to sexual violence.
“It is shameful in our society to learn someone has been raped,” she says. “You find women who have lost their sense of dignity and live in humiliation; rejected by their own family members. Sometimes a woman is raped in the presence of her children and neighbors—even in the presence of her husband. I take this as my cause and pray to God that peace returns to my country so that these women may live in dignity and those who have not fallen prey will be protected.”
Her work also includes helping women fight poverty. Congolese women often lack schooling and property ownership, and it’s not uncommon that upon the husband’s death the husband’s family takes ownership of family property without any consideration to the wife and children’s needs.
“It’s not right for a woman to live in poverty all the time,” laments Nzeba.
The church is a great pillar for Congolese society, according to Nzeba. It has created schools to train and engage individuals in social action and is trying to advocate with the government, which considers the church a major partner. While it lacks sufficient means to be at the side of every vulnerable group, it’s doing its best. Nzeba points to what Jesus says in Matthew 25:35-36 to illustrate her faith:
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Nzeba and other Peacemakers will be traveling across the U.S. from September 25 – October 8. Visit the Peacemaker web page for more information. Peacemaker visits are made possible by your gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.