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Good Neighbors in the Congo

Panzi, for vaginal rebuilding after rape. Dr. Mukwege continues to train nurses, obstetricians, and doctors to serve the growing number of patients in need of this treatment. Thanks to the work of Panzi Hospital and Dr. Mukwege, numerous women and children have a chance I’d like to introduce you to two men to regain some normalcy in their lives who embody Christ’s definition of what after the trauma of rape and the severe it means to be a good neighbor. Both are injuries that result. Both men serve in the country of medical doctors, and both live and serve in the Democratic Republic of Congo their birth, where hope has been too (DRC), sometimes called Congo-Kinshasa often scuttled by the greed that follows after its capital, in contrast to Congo- the nation’s vast riches in copper, gold, diamonds, uranium, timber, coltan, and Brazzaville, its neighbor to the west. Joseph Lusi is the founder of HEAL cassiterite, the latter two necessary eleAfrica. Born and raised in the eastern ments of laptop computers and mobile Congo, “Dr. Joe” is a surgeon who spe- phones. This greed has produced great cializes in orthopedic repair but whose atrocities over the millennia, from the work is ultimately shaped by his faith in height of the Kongo Empire in 1000 the redemptive power of God. Thirteen BC to the Atlantic Slave Trade, from the years ago, led by their Christian faith, war of resistance to Portuguese colonial he and his wife, Lyn, established HEAL incursions. From 1885 to 1960, under Africa to train doctors and nurses who Belgian colonial rule, up to 15 million would stay and serve in Congo. Today, Congolese died. Then, in June 1960, Congo’s first HEAL Africa provides an extensive outreach program to victims of rape. democratically elected president, Patrice Specialists train local doctors in how to Emery Lumumba, stood to deliver his treat victims of sexual violence, nurses inaugural address to a watchful and excitprovide medicine and post-rape kits, and ed crowd of millions.Yet only 10 weeks counselors work with families and youth later, Lumumba was deposed by Mobutu conducting HIV prevention training and Sese Seko, a military officer supported counseling. HEAL Africa has become by the US, France, and Belgium, and an internationally recognized teaching Lumumba was later assassinated. Mobutu hospital where women, children, and would rule as a powerful dictator for families can find not only physical treat- the next 40 years, plunging the country into the depths of poverty while he sold ment but also spiritual succor. Another good neighbor is Dr. Denis its riches to the highest bidder, stashing Mukwege, founder of the maternity his profits in numerous offshore accounts. ward, operating room, and specialized Mobutu was finally ousted in 1997, and services for female victims of sexual within a year a war erupted among violence at Panzi Hospital in the DRC’s Congo and seven other African countries. South Kivu Province. A project of the Finally, all countries and rebel groups 8th Community of Pentecostal Churches signed a peace accord in July 1999, and in Central Africa (CEPAC), Panzi Hospital the people of the Congo elected a new serves on average 10 new women and president in 2006. Yet atrocities continue. Today, the girl patients each day. Thirty percent undergo major fistula repair surgery at Congo has one of the poorest national

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economies, in which the average annual per capita income is $100. Since 1996, nearly 6 million Congolese have lost their lives, 10 times more than those killed in Darfur, yet this resource war continues in silence. The war has created a culture of barbarism focused on destroying families, community, and ultimately hope. It forces children to become soldiers and miners. Females of all ages, from infants to senior citizens, are routinely gangraped and sexually tortured. Every day, 40 women are raped in the DRC. However, Drs. Lusi and Mukwege offer hope as good neighbors. Like the Good Samaritan, they are unlikely helpers. In a culture where it is inappropriate for males to even discuss “female issues,” they treat women who have been sexually violated. Both men could have chosen to pursue personal gain through corruption, like so many of their compatriots. Educated abroad, they could have easily made a profitable life far from Congo and its many woes. But they chose instead to seek out those who are lost and suffering, to stay, and to serve. If you would like to support their efforts in Congo, you can (1) learn more at FriendsoftheCongo.org; (2) sign a petition and/or make a contribution to support women’s groups in Congo (see Congolese Women’s Campaign Against Sexual Violence in the DRC at RDC ViolenceSexuelle.org; (3) support HEAL Africa (HealAfrica.org) or Panzi Hospital (PanziHospitalBukavu.org); (4) support the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA–S. 2279, HR 5927), designed to incorporate solutions for reducing violence against women into US foreign assistance programs. n Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe is department chair of the School of Leadership and Development at Eastern University, where she teaches leadership (NGOLeader.org) and church politics.


Good Neighbors in the Congo