Image used for illustrative purpose only

Leonie, 45, is a widow from Central African Republic’s eastern town of Bangassou. When her husband passed away in 2017, Leonie hoped to find some solace with her late husband’s family. But as a Christian she outrightly refused the traditional mourning rites her in-laws tried to impose, which invited alienation and total separation from those she hoped would care for her.

Leonie’s husband, Pastor Aimé Kombaneya, served the apostolic church in Bangassou. The couple had five children. During his life, even though he came from a very traditional family, he regularly preached against Christians maintaining traditional rituals, unaware of the heartache it would cause his own wife later.

During the 2013 rebellion and subsequent war, Bangassou was affected heavily by Seleka attacks.  Pastor Aimé was hypertensive and his body simply could not cope with the added stress of the insecurity. On Jul 7, 2017, the 63-year-old collapsed and sadly died on his way to the hospital. Leonie was pregnant with their sixth child.

“I decided to return with our children to my husband’s village near Ngarakpa on the way to Bema. I did not shave my hair as required of widows, but plaited it. I also dressed normally, not in the usual mourning attire.

“My arrival was disastrous! As soon as I set foot in the compound, my sister-in-law shouted loud condemnation about the way I looked.”

Leonie and the late Aimé are from the Yakoma tribe that have, among others, extensive widowhood rites. “I was supposed to undergo a year of mourning, requiring that I do not change my clothes, do not greet any man and do not drink or eat without the accord of a family member appointed over me. The family was supposed to have paid for each of my needs until I had received the ritual bath and married my husband’s younger brother. That is because a dowry had been paid for me – I was bought at a non-refundable price. Because there is no younger brother, I was supposed to marry Aimé’s nephew.

“When I told my sister-in-law that I could not marry her son, she promised to make it like hell for me. She insulted me and cursed me and tried to make it difficult for me at every opportunity. She would often tell me, ‘My brother paid your bride price. You ate with him in the days of plenty, but you refuse to mourn him? Will you vomit up everything?’

“There was no one to support me. Though they may not have agreed with the pressure their daughter was placing me under, my parents-in-law could not resist the traditions because they feared the curse of the ancestors.” Thankfully though, their stance did help prevent her from being forced before tribal judgement.

“As Christians we believe these rituals are not Biblical and I could simply not allow them to put me through it. I chose to obey God rather than men, because He will judge us all one day.”

The situation became unbearable and Leonie returned to Bangassou in May 2018 with her children – the oldest is 12 and the youngest 18 months old. Her local church rented a house for her. To make ends meet, Leonie started selling firewood and locally-made soap.

“There is no giving up for me, even though things are not easy for us. Even as we were heading to the hospital with my husband after he collapsed, some unknown men broke in and emptied our house. Now, I need to fend for my family singlehandedly in this insecure area. I have no one else now apart from my Christian family. I thank God for using the church to support me. If they hadn’t been here, where would I have been today? I will never leave this Jesus. Pray for me please,” said Leonie, during a visit with OD in January 2019.

CHANGE THEIR STORY

You are probably aware of the persecution against Christians in many parts of the world. But did you know that Christian women are two times more susceptible to persecution because of their gender? Leonie is one of them.

Will you join us in changing the stories of persecuted Christian women, and give to support them?

Your gift will enable us to hold trauma counselling workshops for those who have experienced violence, provide a safe and encouraging space for women to share and grow together, provide necessities to widows, as well as train them to minister to other women.

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