Camille and Esther Ntoto, founders of Un Jour Nouveau, continue their riveting challenge to the Church as they describe what it is like for girls and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is the second of a 2-part interview.
First Fruit: Why is the Church sometimes complicit in the problem of gender inequality?
Camille: First it has to do with the ignorance. The UN and the government are there, and so it’s very easy for the church to say there are people that are paid to do that.
It’s very easy to ignore the passages of Scripture that talk about dealing with injustice, but because if is not necessarily specifically talking about gender inequality, we excuse ourselves and say, well, our mission is different.
I also think it has to do with lack of courage.
Our responsibility as a church is to be able to provide perspective on social issues and be like Jesus was.
The first evangelist was the Samaritan woman. Jesus allowed woman in his company, and he was able to have that perspective that most Jews didn’t understand towards woman.
The lack of courage has to do with the fact that it’s easier to go along with what society accepts, but it’s more difficult to be counter-cultural. For a pastor, for instance, to tell a parent to quit saying to your daughter that she needs to find a man, but rather to give her options. If she wants to go to school, let her go to school.
When a girl is coming to church in a car and being able to give her offerings and tithe, it is much easier to not even ask where the money comes from – where girls who know they are attractive are selling themselves to powerful men who can provide for them financially.
First Fruit: What can the Church do?
Camille: One is to prepare boys and girls from as early as we can. For example, our Generation Hope program provides an education regardless of gender. All the resources are equally available for girls and boys.
We also help women who have gone through some of the most horrific situations, survivors of rape, to get medical care because of the severity of torture they endured. Then we help them with literacy for those who can’t read or write, and provide language classes. We also teach vocational skills. We believe that for far too long it’s been easy for NGOs and sometimes even churches to say if you want to help a woman, just try to find something easy for her to do. Don’t give her anything complicated. So in other words don’t ask her to go to school, just teach her how to patch some stuff or sew. They have confined the kind of things women can do. We are against that. We want to give them as much as many opportunities as any man can get.
Our fight has also been on a preventive end. It’s kind of ridiculous to only deal with women and girls. You have to change the mindset in society.
You have to talk to the man now.
They have grown up in the kind of society where they have all the privileges and very few responsibilities when it comes to how they interact with women. We help them understand that we are different but we are equal, and we need to treat each other as in the image of God. So for us to mistreat, diminish, devalue, violate or hurt a woman is actually touching part of the image of God.
It’s beautiful to watch how the church is now changing and developing. In our church, for instance, Esther has many opportunities to speak, and sometimes it’s hard to stop her. [Laughter] It’s the same with other women in our church. We want them to feel free to actually use all the gifts that God has placed in them. You know it’s interesting, we focus on those passages that somehow have a tendency to create confusion as to whether or not women are even allowed in a ministry, we forget God’s overall plan.
The overall message is a message of love. In the book of Acts, Jesus says that you will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the bible does it say, when the Holy Spirit comes in the man he’s allowed to do this and that but when it comes in a woman there are a number of things that the Holy Spirit now is not able to do within a woman. Now how do you explain that theologically?
Esther: That’s a good one. I never thought of that.
Camille: What we are saying is that we are doing our part, let the UN or NGOs or the government do their part. Our part stems from being the “called out”, the ecclesia, set apart to be able to show an example of what heaven looks like. Heaven has absolutely no discrimination, no segregation, no inequality. In heaven we will all be equal – equally sons and daughters of God. So I think to be able to reflect that image of heaven here on earth, to be able to be the ambassadors of a kingdom that is perfect here on earth is what we need to obtain.
Earlier I was talking about Charmante. You should see some of the things that Charmante has written –the poems about the beauty of a future of a country that she believes in. Now she has not only access to education, but she knows her future is bright regardless of the experiences she has gone through. Terrible circumstances, the loss of both her parents, and yet she knows that she still has a chance. We want to create that space, that environment where those dreams can be nurtured and ultimately fulfilled.
Esther: We have to change the mindset in both men and women.
In our context, when we have elections, if you’re a woman and you’re running for office, it’s the woman who will discourage you and not vote for you. Why does she want to run into this office, what is she going to do with her children. This is why men are not faithful because woman are not taking care of their husband anymore. This can define the destiny of a woman.
I’m not saying every woman should run for office, or that every woman should do whatever in any ways. But everyone should have the opportunity to do what she thinks is right in her calling and her mission in life. That’s where true happiness is. When you answer the call of God, when you do what you’ve been created to do – men or women. Our programs in Congo were birthed out of the frustration and pain.
Why is it with everything we are doing, all these international organizations, all the force of the UN, everyone is pouring money, effort, energy to help stop sexual violence, and yet the numbers are increasing?
We were focusing on the consequences of sexual violence and not on the root cause. [To reach] the root cause of the problem is first to ask the real questions – who is committing those abuses? 1% of sexual violence has been committed by women. That’s what God gave us as a burden to take on and in our little ways to try to bring a solution.
We put together a curriculum that speaks about men’s issues – their identity, their responsibility, their destiny, sex, money, relationships with daughters, wives, sisters. They gather in small groups over a minimum of 16 weeks and do homework, which they are not use to.
After a few weeks, they trust each other and they start sharing difficult things. We’ve seen miracles happen. Men come to Christ. Men crying and consoling each other. We’ve seen fathers going back in their homes, kneeling down in front of their wives and children to the amazement of the family.
The most rewarding for me was just a few months ago. I love to ask men what did you get from this training, are you ready now to start your own discipleship group, because that’s the goal – to have at least 4-10 disciples and go through the curriculum and report about the 4-months journey. You couldn’t stop their sharing. At that time we happened to have a crew who came to film the program because they are fascinated by it.
In front of the cameras, I said to these men, “All of what you are sharing is wonderful but I haven’t heard any of you say that you’ve changed your mind about sexual violence. Let me remind you that this program came in place because that’s our way to fight against sexual violence. If we believe the UN reports, 50 of you in this room have been victims or abusers, so I want to hear has any of you repented from sexual violence.
If you have raped a woman, I’m here to represent all the woman in Congo, and I’m ready to receive your forgiveness. So is there any one of you that will make me believe that we’ve reached our goal.”
I left 1 minute purposely on my watch and then I said, “I know you’re thinking this woman is crazy.” Then one guy stood up sobbing and confesses and repents for the way he organized a rape with his younger brother and friend. A second stood up and told his story. A third, a fourth.
The fifth was one of the 19-year-old boys from our children’s program, and I felt very uncomfortable to see him standing. He said, I represent the result of sexual violence. When I was 13, my grandmother told me why my mother was not living with me, taking care of me. My grandmother would yell at me because I was asking who was my father. And she said don’t you ever ask that question again because your father ruined my daughter’s life and you are the result. And I said I understood that day why my mother is that way with me.
This boy is an activist. He’s doing an amazing job at our center, helping other kids, but I didn’t know that was his story. It gave me hope to understand that something is changing in the hearts of men in Congo. And then realizing because they have a space where they can be themselves, they have the opportunity to repair. They have the opportunity to make things right. And this is what we are giving through our men’s program – the opportunity for perpetrators, young and older men, to become real men.Header image courtesy of Andre Thiel