DALLAS—Afrika Community Church in Dallas brings hope and empowerment to sexually abused women in eastern Congo through its Dorcas Project.
The vocational program for vulnerable women—known as Dorika in Congolese—trains them to sew and knit, provides English literacy classes, teaches simple business principles and introduces them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Healing from trauma
Seth Simisi, pastor of Afrika Community Church, discovered the need for the project when he visited his homeland in the Democratic Republic of Congo more than three years ago to participate in leadership training events made possible through the Baptist General Convention of Texas Intercultural Strategic Partners initiative.
“In Goma, we were invited to do a seminar on healing from trauma,” said Simisi, who also is founding president of Africa Outreach and Relief Ministries, a not-for-profit organization related to his church.
He met women who had been victims of sexual violence perpetrated during armed conflict. Military forces used rape as a weapon to terrorize and demoralize, he explained. As a result, young women were traumatized by their assaults and often ostracized when they bore the children of their attackers.
Support from Texas Baptist Hunger Offering
Simisi presented a proposal for a vocational training and micro-enterprise program to Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission and received financial support for the Dorcas Project from the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.
“We wanted to bring single mothers together and train them how to sew, help them acquire job skills on sewing machines and share the gospel with them,” he said.
Simisi envisioned a six- to seven-month residential program in Goma. At graduation, each woman who completed the program would receive a sewing machine and material so she could set up her own business to support her family.
Once the women successfully established their sewing businesses, the Dorcas Project would encourage them to pay back the program a little each month, so another student could receive the same benefits, he explained.
First group to graduate this spring
Currently, 46 women are enrolled in the Dorcas Project. They anticipate final examinations in March, when instructors evaluate their handiwork and other skills. After graduation in April, another group of women will begin the program.
“We want to continue to expand the program, but we don’t know how,” Simisi acknowledged. Members of Afrika Community Church contribute financially, but resources are limited in a congregation composed of refugees from Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
“When refugees come to settle in the Dallas area, the lucky ones find a job right away. Others may move on after seven or eight months when they find work somewhere else,” Simisi said.
Those who find employment typically work in warehouses, supermarkets or discount centers. Some have found jobs at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Others work as custodians in hospitals.
“They don’t make much at all,” Simisi said.
The church—one of seven congregations that meets at Gaston Christian Center in northeast Dallas—also fluctuates in size as members move on to higher-paying employment elsewhere, he noted.
“It’s always challenging, but we’ve come to accept it and to say to them, ‘Go with our blessing,’” Simisi said.
Committed to making a difference
Even though the congregation faces challenges financially, members want to make a difference in lives locally and globally, he said. For instance, during the holiday season, the congregation worked in partnership with GracePoint Church, a Texas Baptist congregation in Coppell, to distribute food baskets and gift cards to refugee families in northeast Dallas.
“We were telling them: ‘We love you. We are here to assist you,’” Simisi said. He noted the church has established meaningful relationships with several Muslim families in the area that he hopes will make them more open to the gospel.
Afrika Community Church has an ongoing relationship with Christ Apostolic Church of Winterton in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, South Africa. Last summer, in conjunction with the Baptist World Congress and with support from Gaston Oaks Baptist Church and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Simisi joined a team of volunteers who taught South African Christians biblical leadership principles and discipleship.
‘Lives have been changed’
But Simisi and members of his congregation are most encouraged by the impact the Dorcas Project already has made in Congo.
One woman whose family was involved in witchcraft became a Christian, he noted, and others who come from Muslim backgrounds have taken bold steps to choose Jesus over family ties.
“Lives have been changed,” he said. “These women were hopeless. Through this project, women have come to Christ.”