The whole hillside was just graves.
Corinne Gunter saw them, across from the South African orphanage where her group was staying. It was about 18 years ago, and she was there visiting organizations with whom her church at the time was partnering.
“The AIDS epidemic was still really ravaging the country,” she recalls. Each night she saw people bringing more bodies to place in the hillside trenches, mass graves for those who couldn’t afford a more formal burial.
Seeing those trenches cut into the hillside, she felt the weight of all the suffering that can go on in the world, suffering she hadn’t known about but now did. She wanted to shut down, but instead she prayed to be able to see the things God sees and hear the things God hears.
“It was too much,” she said, but “I can totally shut down … (0r) I can ask God, ‘Would you break my heart for the things that break yours?’”
‘A NEW IGNITEMENT’
Fast-forward a few years. Gunter was again in Africa, this time in the country of Rwanda, where she was invited back to start a women’s leadership training program.
“It was just this new ignitement … the door opened to go back to Rwanda and come alongside. And I’m so grateful.”
These efforts to come alongside eventually took shape as a non-profit, Rise Up Woman International. It seeks to empower women through leadership development, business training, a secondary boarding school for girls, and other programs.
Projects are inspired by what local leaders say is needed in the community; Rise Up looks for respected organizations in an area looking for partnership. For example, it partners on a number of programs with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), founded by a pastor who survived the Rwandan genocide.
“We really defer to that local organization that’s already embedded in the community,” said Gunter, now associate pastor at Mercy Road Church Northeast in Fortville. She traveled with a team that recently returned from a trip to Rwanda and Kenya in January to gather with ministry partners and see several of those programs in action. She hopes to take a group from Mercy Road on a trip later this year.
‘POWERFUL TO SEE THE EAGERNESS’
The team in January watched Rwandan facilitators, chosen from among the 2018 graduates of the Women’s Leadership Training Initiative, lead a new class of women through a portion of the training. Listened to teen girls at the STEM-focused boarding school share their dreams of being doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists and more. Saw piglets, part of a livestock initiative, gobbling green plants in their wooden pen. Traveled a couple of countries over, to Kenya, to launch a leadership training class in a community that had invited them.
“Word spread across the community. Well over 100 attended,” Amanda Feller said. Feller lives in Dallas and works as an administrative contract manager, but she volunteers as director of engagement with Rise Up. “It was really powerful to see the eagerness that the women had.”
In the rural areas where Rise Up works, women often have little access to formal education or training. The leadership program is popular and the students enthusiastic. Some women at the training in Kenya could not read or write but brought their Bibles, and classmates who can read helped them find the chapter. Still others brought audio Bibles that Rise Up had helped provide in 2022.
“You would definitely see a sense of them caring for each other, even if they’re complete strangers …,” said Judah Holland, a founding board member of Rise Up who lives in Fishers. “It’s a learning environment for sure … every person in that room is there because they want to learn. They want to move into a place of trauma healing … or they want to know the right leadership skills to take to their church or communities.”
The training has nine modules of subject matter. There’s a Bible study, “Meeting God in the Bible,” about the overarching theme of the Bible and one’s place in that story. Other topics in the training include conflict resolution, leadership development, and a “women’s realities” unit on the biology and stages of women’s bodies and health.
‘FIRST TIME I SHARED MY STORY’
Also, women in the leadership program in Rwanda are survivors of the country’s 1994 genocide. That’s when, amid ethnic tensions, hundreds of thousands of people were killed over a period of about 100 days. So trauma healing and awareness is one of the nine modules in the leadership curriculum.
One woman who’s gone through the leadership training shares her story through a translator on the Rise Up Woman website. She was in third grade during the genocide.
“After they killed all my family members, I was sexually assaulted and abused,” she said. During the leadership training, ‘I started opening up … that was the first time I shared my story.”
‘I ALSO BEGAN TO LEARN HOW TO HEAL’
The leadership graduate, named Candide, said being able to share her story has helped her, from deepening her relationship with her husband to helping her grow as a mentor of other women at her church.
“When I learned about meeting God in His Word, I also began to learn how to heal my wounds …,” she said. “I became a different kind of leader …”
“I thank God so much. He has done something special in my life.”
FIND OUT MORE
You can help a tailor start out with tools for the trade. Or help a girl stay in school for another year. Or send a woman to training that will help her develop as a leader in her church and/or community. Or care for a litter of pigs that will help a family have income.
Find out more at riseupwoman.international.