Congo Journal 21

A Blessed Trip

Early morning. Sitting on a little porch overlooking Lake Kivu. Listening to waves splashing gently on the rocky shoreline. The sun has just climbed over the mountain, writing a line of illumination across the water. Very peaceful.

I just learned last night that the World Relief staff did not believe this trip would actually happen. Up until the very day we arrived they thought they would have to cancel it for security reasons. In the weeks before the trip, WR staff informed us of the mounting security risks and described possible contingency plans. If Rutshuru were too unstable we'd stay in Goma. If the Rwanda/Congo border were closed and we couldn't get to Goma, we'd stay in Gisenyi, Rwanda, and focus on Congolese refugees fleeing the violence. If this . . . then that. But in their heart of hearts, they didn't really believe any of this would happen. 

Ha! You just can't mess with ten Dangerous Women!

I write that in jest . . . sort of. In truth, there was something in the way this Ten for Congo team came together—in an unexpected and seemingly random way—that gave me confidence that our Congo trip was a meant-to-be kind of plan. Now, as we near the end of the trip, I am completely convinced of the meant-to-be-ness of this adventure.

For all of us, the day spent listening to women who had survived rape and were on a healing path was all we needed to make this trip worth every dollar spent, worth every hour on a plane, worth every comment from those who thought we were foolish to take the risk or to waste our time on Congo. But we have been given gifts even beyond that extraordinary day. 

Here are some of my gifts: Sitting in a church service with a Congolese toddler snuggled on my lap, feeling overwhelmed by the energy, beauty and strength of the Congolese people and culture. Walking in the early-morning dewy grass in a backyard in Rutshuru, snapping photos of flowers that seemed like gifts from the Creator straight to my soul.

Crowding into a tiny mud shack with a tin roof, embraced by the joy and gratitude of the homeless widow who never dreamed she'd have a roof over her head provided by local pastors.

In a future blog I'll write in detail about the day we spent with the village Peace Committees—men and women appointed by their churches to facilitate reconciliation in the community. Broken marriages.  Conflicts between parents and children. Disputes over land ownership. Paternal neglect. Violation of the rights of widows. It was like sitting in a passage of the Bible.  "A certain widow had two sons..."  Except the story had unfolded in 2012 in Rutshuru, Congo, and the agents of reconciliation—who had the wisdom of Solomon--were the humble leaders seated before us.

We literally spent an entire day seated in a concrete church building listening to twenty stories of reconciliation. In each case, the disputing parties had tried every other option available—which basically means they had paid bribes to the local police and to the court system, trying to get someone to take up their cause. But bribes and justice seldom kiss. Finally, someone would tell the parties in conflict about the peace committees, who take no bribes and earn no salaries and seek only the benefit of all who are involved in the conflict. The favored technique of reconciliation is to engage in conversation with the disputing parties and slowly allow possible solutions to rise up out of the shared ideas. These solutions always involve compromise and they must be accepted by each party rather than imposed upon them. I will write more about this after I get home, and you will be amazed! 

Our last visit in Congo was to a center for grieving children. That experience, too, will require its own blog. Children who have seen their parents shot by soldiers with machine guns or hacked to death by rebels with machetes bury those visions of horror deep in their souls—like arrows stuck in their hearts, as one gentle Congolese man told us. Healing cannot happen until the arrow is removed.

But how do you get children to tell the stories that will slowly push the arrows out? Through drawings.  Through play acting. Eventually through sitting in a circle around a pretend fire, passing a pretend microphone from child to child and letting them finally put their stories into words. They are never told what kind of picture to draw, what scene to play act, or what story to tell. The goal is to create a safe place for whatever emerges from the depth of each child's awareness on any given day. 

At the children's center we added a new hero to our list. A seventy-three-year-old woman (from Oregon) who has served with the Baptist mission in Congo since 1985. Dear Anita, you have marked us! 

I have to end this post and send it ASAP in order to take advantage of a brief Internet connection. We have a few hours to spend in Rwanda before we begin our journey home tonight. Thank you for joining us and praying for us along the way. It has been a blessed trip. We'll be writing more in the coming weeks, so our shared journey is definitely not over!

On behalf of the Ten for Congo team and World Relief Congo: Merci Beaucoup!