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Telling stories of gender injustice begins healing

Stories about life around the world made abstract ideas addressed at the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly real.

Women in Village Listening process
Maake Masango, right, explains village listening process to Aruna Gnanadason and a leader of India's National Council of Churches

“It’s time for the church to embrace those damaged and broken by violence, abuse and marginalization,” said the Rev. Maake Masango, a professor of practical theology at the University of Pretoria and author of  Pastoral Care in the Midst of Violence: A South African Perspective.

He believes healing can begin as people share their stories of pain with people who listen, receive the stories and have their consciences stirred to inform others and build a basis for reconciliation that includes commitment to end violence and advocate for people broken by violence.

During the pre-assembly on the community of women and men on Oct. 29, he arranged six chairs in a small group for a global village listening experience.

Maake, a psychotherapist who formerly served on the WCC’s Executive Committee and was former moderator of the Uniting Presbyterian Church of South Africa, was involved with the South Africa Council of Churches’ Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s listening and healing process.

WCC 60 years
Panel discusses 60 years of WCC efforts to end patriarchy and violence.

He and three others sat in the small circle, leaving two chairs open for people to enter the circle to share their stories of trauma.

Maake, who has visited Whitworth University, uses this model to educate people on gender-based violence, as it has been used to address racial violence.

“Gender violence is a global issue,” said a leader of the National Council of Churches in India. “Churches know how serious the issue is.  We need to do more than pray for gender justice.”

Often churches pray, Maake said, when they do not know what to do.

Several women church leaders took turns coming into the circle to share stories of gender violence from their own lives and from people in their communities:

• An Indian woman told of seven men raping a woman on her way home from school.  She died.  When the pastor learned, he and community members visited the rapists’ families, but not the family of the victim.

• A woman from Zimbabwe said an HIV/AIDS initiative seeks to transform boys so they learn to respect women. She said that in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe there is a crisis about masculinity and how to respond to cries of women so there can be a community of men and women as God intends.

• A woman seminary teacher in Bangalore said the church told a religious sister who was gang raped in 2008 to be silent.  She reported the crime and identified the perpetrators, but the police did not record it.  She left even more shamed.

• A British woman is disturbed by the chasm about masculinity.  “Some expect men to sort the problem out for women, rather than for women to sort the problem out for men,” she said. 

After allowing women to lament, she said men need to see their own vulnerability and ask for forgiveness.  It’s too easy for the church to think of forgiveness first, before the long journey of walking together in lament.

• A woman with the Ugandan Council of Churches said that two years ago there was no staff on the gender desk.

Then they learned that a father had impregnated three of his four daughters after his wife left him.  One daughter stabbed him one night.  In court, she was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to six hours, in recognition that the trauma she had experienced was more than life in prison. 

After that, a bishop asked the council to do something about gender violence in families. 

• A Nigerian woman asked the church to support people like her aunt who suffered abuse, stigma and exclusion by the church after she was raped and conceived a daughter.  Even though her aunt remained bonded to God, she was no longer welcome in the church or community. 

• A Thai leader in World Day of Prayer gave a prayer of lament:  “Bless every child in the world.  Protect them, especially those with no home, no food, no school.  Bless every child.  Every child is our next generation in the churches.    Every child needs someone to care for him or her.  Bless every child in the world.”

• A Indonesian university student in South Korea learned that when a friend was five years old, Indonesian soldiers took her from East Timor to Indonesia.  At 18, she tried to find her parents in East Timor.  She found a mother longing for her child who was taken.  They claimed each other.  She knew the woman was not her mother, but she met that mother’s longing.  They became mother and daughter. 

When the student heard the story, she realized her father had been in East Timor as a soldier.  “Not knowing how many children were separated from their families,  I felt I needed to repent,” she said, wondering if her father had separated families.

• A woman from Congo told of a blind woman raped by five men and told by her brother to go live with other women because God did not intend for her to have sex.  Now living with HIV, she does not believe in God.  We need to repent to women like her.

Maake received the stories, shared in the hope that as the stories were embraced by the “village,” held in the hearts of participants, and told to others, the violence would not be repeated because people would be aware.

He told participants to carry the stories home to keep their consciences stirred and to share the stories so women and men in congregations around the world will have their consciences stirred and will join in work for gender justice.

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Copyright © December 2013 - The Fig Tree