Within one week in 1997, all three of Calliste and Fransisca Duabo’s children were dead from malaria. The first died on Tuesday, the second on Thursday and the third—just an infant— was dead by Sunday. Days earlier, the couple were parents of two boys and a girl. Now their beautiful “blessings” were gone.
“We were in total shock,” explains Calliste in French, through a translator. “They all got sick and started dying, one after the other.”
Reflecting on their terrible loss, Fransisca explains how after already losing their oldest two children a few days earlier, she travelled 57 km on poor roads in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo—while pregnant—to get better medical help for her remaining child. But it was too late.
“I took the dead corpse of the third child back to my husband and I arrived there without him knowing yet that it had died.”
Blamed and Abandoned
Fransisca and Calliste were devastated by their loss. They could not control their emotions, openly weeping in front of the congregation, where Calliste was a pastor. They wondered aloud how God could allow something like this to happen to them.
This mournful questioning was not acceptable to their church. Calliste and Fransisca were told that “true pastors” don’t cry. They were expected to be strong and good examples to the congregation. Their children were in heaven and Calliste and Fransisca were told they lacked the faith that their children were really saved.
“People who were supposed to comfort us from the church, they turned against us,” says Calliste. “I felt really forsaken by God and that God stopped loving me.”
The couple’s families turned against them as well. Fransisca’s family tried taking her away from her husband, and Calliste’s family told him that he should have never gotten married or had children.
“They put pressure on us that we should divorce,” explains Fransisca.
“During that time I stopped praying. I even stopped attending church. . . . I lost all my energy and I even couldn’t motivate myself to sleep in my bed. So, I would just sleep on a little mat on the floor.”
Surrounded by opposition, they withdrew from the village to live in a house that Calliste’s deceased uncle left for him. It had been Fransisca’s dream to work as a pastor alongside her husband. Now they were being banished by their congregation.
“I started to have serious headaches,” Fransisca explains. “It felt as if my nerves were no longer working and I felt like I became a crazy woman. I really was devastated. I stopped taking care of my body. I didn’t wash my clothes anymore. I thought, well if I don’t take care of myself, I am more likely to catch some sickness that will kill me so I can be reunited with my children.”
Calliste was also in a desperate state. He was close to abandoning his faith.
Then, after a month of retreat at Calliste’s uncle’s residence, a gesture of compassion changed their trajectory. The president of their denomination offered Calliste a teaching position at their seminary.
Understanding Calliste’s state of mind, the president had him teach non-Bible courses such as psychology, music and French. The work gave Calliste routine and stability. But often he’d still have moments where he would fall into despair.
“During those five years, I would be overcome and start to cry,” he says. “I lost the joy of living or I fell into rage. If I even saw children of other people, it hurt me at the time.”
The Path of Healing
The couple needed healing. They couldn’t replace what they lost; the birth of more children didn’t fill the hole in their hearts. Only God could give them peace. The path toward healing took an important step when Wycliffe’s Bettina Gottschlich, a German-born trauma healing facilitator, visited their church and introduced Calliste to the book Healing the Wounds of Trauma: How the Church Can Help.
Reading the book had an immediate impact on Calliste. But it wasn’t until he attended a 2011 trauma healing workshop in Goma, the centre of the nation’s civil war (see Word Alive, Fall 2011), that the healing process accelerated. At the workshop, Calliste was given the opportunity to share, without shame or fear, what was truly on his heart.
“I had grown up never really sharing what was deep inside me with anybody else,” explains Calliste. “But that was a real focus during that workshop in Goma. And during those five days there was opportunity in the morning and in the afternoon and in the evening for people to really share about the bitterness and torment that was in their heart, and I did that too. And that brought lightness to my soul like I had not experienced before.”
Calliste was also encouraged by the exercise of taking his burdens to the cross.
“That day, I felt peace in my heart,” he explains. “I understood that God had given a solution to my suffering with Jesus Christ. So it was no longer worth it for me to continue to carry my suffering. I needed to give it to Jesus Christ.”
Calliste left the workshop inspired to share what he learned with Fransisca and his community. When he returned home, he told Fransisca that she could also lay down her hate against those in their former church who hurt her, and that she could find healing.
When Fransisca attended a workshop for herself, she found that Calliste was correct. Through the 11 lessons of the workshop, she went from bitter and broken to a place of restoration. And she began to trust that God wasn’t indifferent to her suffering.
“I was pregnant during that time. And the baby in my womb during the teaching started to leap in my belly. I felt joy coming and I really felt like God was reconfirming that He wanted us to be in ministry.”
Through the course, she learned the importance of forgiveness, and slowly but steadily, let go of her anger toward those who abandoned her at her old church. Just like Calliste, essential to Fransisca’s healing was the practice of bringing her pain and worries to the cross. Writing down all her deepest problems and thoughts on a piece of paper, she burnt it at the base of the cross. She found she could finally trust Christ with her life.
“I had never found anyone that I could trust in this world—not in my family, not my pastor—nobody. That was the moment of complete healing for me.”
With a new sense of wholeness, Fransisca looked to share Christ’s healing with others and began using what she learned in the course to counsel those around her. Soon after attending the workshop, Fransisca began training to become a trauma healing master facilitator and Calliste became the co-ordinator of the Isiro region’s trauma healing program.
On any given day, the couple can be found with the most destitute residents in their region. Each week they bring a meal to the 50-plus prisoners in their city’s jail—many of whom are incarcerated unjustly. It’s one of only a few meals these men and women receive each week unless they have family providing for them.
In January of 2017, Calliste and Fransisca once again visited the prison to share a weekly meal with the prisoners. The group cell smelled of urine and was dimly lit by air vents between a tall roof and concrete walls. As these hungry men waited their turn for a bowl of rice and cassava, Calliste and Fransisca led the group in a prayer.
A blank look was on many of the prisoners’ faces. They appeared lost and hesitant. While praying, most crowded around Calliste and Fransisca. Some, though, stayed along the back wall or near their dusty worn-out mats that serve as beds. One prisoner raised his arms high into the air to worship, but most were subdued.
“Jesus is the solution to your problems,” Calliste told the prisoners. “Jesus is the victory!”
Earlier in the day, the couple also visited the hospital where Fransisca works as a nurse. The wards were clean, but the patients’ circumstances were desperate. Medication for HIV patients is provided, but food is the responsibility of the patients’ family members.
“Before getting sick, these people were healthy and financially stable,” explains Fransisca of the many patients who have HIV. “They were doing prostitution and were sharing money with their family. But when they got sick, their family abandoned them.”
Fransisca and Calliste believe that despite the dire circumstances of these patients and prisoners, God is still with them. They believe this because they’ve experienced this truth in their own lives.
“This course of trauma healing is like medicine that healed my broken heart,” says Fransisca. “Now that I am healed, it’s time for me to bring it to the oppressed, who have the same problems as me.”