Congo Journal 23

Beauty and Violence in Rutshuru, Congo

Yesterday morning I had intended to write a new blog post about summer on Lake Michigan, where I’m vacationing with my family.  We’ve had a glorious week and I will write about it—with gratitudeeventually.  But yesterday I was ambushed by horrible news from Congo: intense fighting had broken out in the region the Ten for Congo team visited just weeks ago, possibly threatening the lives of some of our new friends. As the day went on, the news became increasingly grim.  Last night, the World Relief staff in Goma—people I know and love—waited in the darkness of night under the threat of violent attack.  Thankfully, the Congolese soldiers and rebel fighters en route to Goma were strangely “diverted” during the night, so the worst did not happen. Our friends in Congo don’t know whether the fighters have actually retreated or are just “regrouping,” so they ask for our continued prayer.  In the coming days, I’ll provide updates as information becomes available. In the meantime, please read the following guest post by my friend and travel companion, Christine Anderson.  Most of the Congo photos you’ve seen on my blog were taken by Christine.  In this post, Christine gives a lovely behind-the-scenes account of the day we spent with a group of women in Ruthshuru who had been victims of brutal gender-based violence (see Congo Journal 17). This will help you understand why our hearts are so entwined with the dear people of Congo.

Guest post: Christine Anderson

 

On the day we met with the women, I took over a thousand photos. About half of them are portraits.

One by one, the women sat on a narrow wooden pew next to an open window. With smiles and gestures, I tried to put each woman at ease. Sometimes there was a translator nearby and I could use words. “Tell her she is so beautiful,” I said again and again. And I meant it every time. The women captivated me. I had heard their shattering stories but the privilege of taking their portraits allowed me to see so much more—life and spirit and goodness.

After every three or four shots, I lowered the camera for a few seconds. I see you, I wanted to say without the camera coming between us. When I had fifteen to twenty photos, I went and sat next to the woman on the pew. I want you to see what I see. Leaning in close, I held up the display on the back of the camera and scrolled slowly through each shot. Do you see how beautiful you are?

We laughed and smiled and admired together, none of which required translation. This was pure joy—to give back to each woman a small piece of herself and call it beautiful.

Through the translator, the women asked if they might have copies of the photos. I promised I would send them. How am I going to get prints from Chicago back to Rutshuru, Congo?

After returning to the States, I discovered that a friend would soon be traveling to Kigali, Rwanda, on a month-long business trip. I immediately conscripted him into delivery service. The World Relief office in Kigali could easily get the photos to the World Relief staff in Congo. This weekend, I picked up nearly 900 prints and sorted them into envelopes, one for each woman.

Tragically, as I was packing the envelopes into a box, I got an email about a fresh outbreak of violence in Eastern Congo. In the very town in which we met with these women, Congolese soldiers and rebel militias faced off. Eventually, the national soldiers left in defeat, but looted shops and homes as they departed. As so often happens in conflict, civilians suffered most and have been forced to flee for their lives. Are “our women” on the run right now? Are they suffering—again?

Those of us who sat and listened and prayed with them just weeks ago are stunned and deeply grieved. Please join us in praying for the protection of these dear, beautiful new sisters from Rutshuru, for the Congolese pastors and other church leaders who serve so faithfully in the midst of very real dangers, and for the World Relief staff in Goma.  If you’d like to donate to World Relief Congo mobilization efforts for the victims of recent fighting, please click on the link below.