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Written by Quinn Needham, Neelley Hicks, ed. Special thanks to Lynn McAlilly, Bishop Gabriel Yemba and Judith Osongo.

Turning a Dream into a Reality

In June of 2016, the East Congo Episcopal Area officially teamed up with the Tennessee, Memphis, and California Pacific Annual Conferences and began developing the Mama Lynn Center for Congolese Women. Now, just two years later, the three annual conferences have raised enough money to surpass the center’s initial fundraising goal of $350,000. These funds will finance programming for the center’s residents and the building’s construction.

A Call to Compassion

Since its earliest stages of conception, the Mama Lynn Center’s mission has always been clear: physically and spiritually heal female sexual assault survivors throughout East Congo. Lynn McAlilly, the inspiration for the center’s name, notes that the violence against women has been pervasive in the region for over twenty years: “Since 1998 more than six million people have been killed. Goma, the principal city of North Kivu province, has been called the rape capital of the world with rape and sexual violence being used as a weapon of war.  At the height of the conflict, in 2006-2007, 48 woman were being raped every hour. The U.N. estimates that more than 200,000 Congolese women are rape survivors.” These sexual assault survivors not only face emotional and physical distress from the attacks themselves, but also intense stigma and exclusion from their families, friends, and communities afterwards. This isolation leaves the women without any sources of income or support, and damages their overall perceptions of their self-worth.

By providing shelter, healthcare, Bible classes, counseling, and training in income-generating trades like sewing, The Mama Lynn Center will be a strong and nurturing community for rape survivors who have been labelled as outcasts by society. McAlilly explains, her “vision is that God will use the people of United Methodist Church to restore hope and help these women and girls claim their true identity as beloved and wonderfully made by God.” McAlilly’s passion for female survivors is evident as she adds, “It brings me great joy to be a part of a church that is playing a role in helping build a new life for these women and girls… [They] will have a chance to arise from despair and stigma. It is truly an honor to be associated with this Center and with this ministry to care for vulnerable women.”

Bishop Gabriel Unda Yemba of East Congo shares McAlilly’s sentiments, and thanks God for the center’s founding: “I glorify God because what was a dream is becoming a reality. I am proud of this partnership because this center will receive several women coming from several places in Congo and Africa to be trained. These victims of sexual violence who have lost hope of life will find new life through the teachings they will receive in this center.” He further praises the work of the Annual Conferences, noting that “the efforts made by our partners are very commendable, and we will be very happy to receive them here in Kindu during the inauguration of the Mama Lynn Center.”

Rev. Neelley Hicks and Rev. Bill Lovell served as co-fundraising chairs for the project. Hicks is ecstatic with the overflowing support the center has received: “Bill and I are overjoyed at the enthusiastic response to the Mama Lynn Center, and invite all supporters to keep following Congo Women Arise through Facebook. This is a global effort that will continue to bring light to the lives of women and children for years to come.”

Setting the Example

Leaders like Lynn McAlilly and Bishop Yemba have championed the cause of these female survivors because they believe in empowering and educating women. By giving rape survivors a safe haven to rebuild their lives, the Mama Lynn Center is effectively investing in not only the futures of the women who seek council there, but their entire communities by setting a compassionate example for others to live by. This center will amplify the voices of sexual assault survivors, advocate for the human rights of women, and continue to fight against stigma and adversity.