Countless people have been traumatized by the violence engulfing the Central African Republic (CAR). Christians faced brutal victimization through murder, rape, looting, arbitrary arrest and torture. The impact of this trauma will be felt for many years to come, but the church is ill-equipped to help victims cope. Open Doors embarked on an extensive program to equip the local church for this important role.
Open Doors provided trauma awareness training for pastors and caregivers so that they might care for victims, specifically victims of rape. It is well-known that rape is used as a weapon of war, but the trauma team was unprepared for what they encountered on their first trip.
“We had planned to spend time debriefing 30 victims,” shared one team member. “But on the first day, 130 women showed up.” Open Doors trauma counselor Martha adds, “We were reminded of how Jesus had compassion on the crowds. We simply knew we could not turn these women away, so we divided them into two groups and began ministering as best we could with the resources we had.”
Over the next few days, the team was confronted with many heartbreaking and devastating stories of brutality. The team listened to their expressions of desperation, anger, hopelessness, rejection, fear and bitterness.
“I asked one of the groups to draw a picture of a woman displaying the feelings of the group,” shared Martha. “The pictures expressed intense sadness, anxiety about the future, loneliness, shame and depression. One picture showed a woman with eyes closed, trying to shut out the horrible memories. Most of the women not only lost their dignity with the rape, but also all of their earthly possessions.”
After the women drew their pictures, they were led in Bible studies. The women were encouraged to pour their hearts out to God. The negative thoughts they had about themselves were contrasted with a study on how Jesus sees them. “Arriving the next morning, I found the women singing with joy,” shared Martha. “When I asked them why they were singing, several women jumped up to tell me that they were feeling relieved and joyful. The training helped them to no longer felt isolated. In sharing their stories and pouring out their hearts to God, they felt great relief.”
The ministry team helped the women understand symptoms of trauma and the different stages of healing. The road to recovery consists of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing.
“The women learned that by taking care of themselves physically, renewing their minds, understanding their emotions, pouring out their hearts to God and supporting each other, they could regain dignity and respect. This gave them a lot of hope,” Martha continued.
The women took the pictures they had drawn on the first day and tore them to pieces, singing a hymn to celebrate their newfound freedom. “We are free now!” proclaimed one participant. “Today, we were set free!”
*Representative names and photo to protect persecuted Christians