This is the week! #MaybeICan2013 for Congo!
Yep, this is the week. Water bottles and energy bars are stashed in the dry hatches of my kayak. I've got a nice blue waterproof cover on my iPhone. Tonight we'll be checking the radar weather reports to determine which might be the best day for our "adventure." #MaybeIcan2013 is suddenly feeling very real to me. VERY. REAL. In case you've forgotten why I'm kayaking 38.5 miles this week, here's a little reminder...
My friends Stephan and Belinda Bauman, and their two boys, just returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They visited our Congolese friends in Goma—local pastors, church volunteers, and World Relief Congo staff—who are the hands and feet of God in that troubled country.
Here is a photo of Belinda talking with a woman in an IDP (Internally Displace People) camp. Those plastic-covered hovels are the only shelters available now for thousands of Congolese who have had to flee for their lives from the violence of warring rebels and state militia. In the weeks to come I'll be sharing some of the stories Belinda gathered from mothers and grandmothers trying to care for their families in situations like this.
Many people give up on Congo because its problems are chronic: a totally ineffective government, corruption on every level, virtually no rule of law, and an ongoing war for control of the vast mineral resources of the country. But the vulnerable people who live there can’t give up. They go on, day after day, trying to live normal lives against the backdrop of unimaginable violence and fear. So, the Congolese churches and World Relief Congo staff refuse to give up too. And I refuse to give up on Congo. I choose to stand in solidarity with the people of Congo, helping them live as best they can, and maybe giving them enough hope to keep going one more day.
Belinda is one of the best hope-givers I know. Stephan wrote in a blog recently about her: “My wife is a natural in Africa. She says she feels more African than American. Her African sisters say the same.” A year ago I saw Belinda in Africa, so I know what Stephan says is true. Belinda was made for Africa. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Belinda emailed me this morning:
I woke up at 5:30 this morning and knew it was “that” morning. That morning when it all catches up with you. That morning when images of actual armed UN trucks and children who aren’t getting enough calories and mothers with no way to provide for them and grandmothers choosing which child to feed—that morning when those images flood every corner of thought. The television images of IDP camps in Syria are messing me up. In Congo I visited three camps in four days and let myself feel only when I was looking into people’s eyes. Now everything I took in subconsciously on the periphery is crashing in.
I have been here before. I know you know days like this. It is not the day you talk to a lot of people. It is the day you write. Just get the thoughts out and describe the crashing corners. Not an easy day. Stephan knows what “this” day is like too, but the boys don’t. I will still make pancakes with blueberries, I will finish the laundry, and water the lawn and write, and we will still go to our little 5:30 mass tonight. But I will have the smell of volcanic ash in my nostrils and burning eyes all day.
I understand the kind of day Belinda is having. I experience it every time I return from a troubled place. You get to know people and their stories haunt you. Our friend, Congolese pastor Marcel, was planning to host his second daughter’s wedding this weekend. Did he have to cancel it because the battle between UN forces and rebels was heating up this weekend and moving closer and closer to his home? I don’t yet know the answer to that question. But that's the reality for our friends living in a war zone.
You can find out more about what’s currently happening in Goma by reading Stephan Bauman’s latest blog. My recent article on Congo offers a broader overview. This is a critical time in a country that has been suffering for a long, long time.
But there’s much more to Congo than suffering. There is also great joy and great beauty. In fact, a year ago when my friends and I left Congo, all the way home we kept talking about Beautiful Congo. Beautiful landscape. Beautiful red soil. Beautiful flowers. Beautiful mountains. Beautiful fabrics. Beautiful spirits. Beautiful resilience. Beautiful perseverance. Beautiful people! People whose suffering has made them great: mothers, fathers, pastors, children, families, communities serving one another with joy and nurturing seeds of hope.
This week I’ll fulfill my #MaybeICan2013 challenge by kayaking 38.5 miles to “earn” $10,000 for Beautiful Congo. Funds will support existing World Relief Congo programs in micro-enterprise, trauma response to gender-based violence, and training for grassroots peacemakers, and will also provide basic supplies for displaced families living in refugee camps.
$10,000 is a great start, but I’d love to raise more. You can donate $10 to World Relief Congo simply by texting Congo to 505-55. If 1000 people do that, we’ll have another $10,000 for immediate, on-the-ground use on behalf of Congo!
My new friend, Allie, will be kayaking with me, so we can cheer each other on. Because the waves on Lake Michigan seriously impact our paddling, we'll choose our kayaking day at the last minute, based on weather. We'll keep you posted via Twitter!
(In the weeks to come, I'll provide #MaybeICan2013 updates regarding Syrian refugees, victims of human trafficking, and grassroots peacemakers.)