How the Congo is Healing Me

I witnessed a drunken man flailing around a stick of dynamite in his hand a few days ago on the beach and a thief attempting to snatch my purse and run with it (I kept holding on until he attracted too much attention to himself) today. Just a few weeks ago, I woke up to the earth shaking to a 5.7 magnitude earthquake and the sound of gunfire literally all over the city, including just down my street.

There are things that would be news in one person’s household for years, ‘Remember that time when...’ We have fond memories that are told over and over again that happen here but remain unshared with our followers because there’s just so many things that happen. And so many things have happened.

I walk with friends that I have known for years and suddenly a memory comes to mind. “Once there was an old man that said,” in reference to a saying I heard about sleep. “He said that the time to sleep will be when we are dead.” My friend went on to explain that the rebels came and chopped him up with a machete leaving him for dead. “When night came and the cold air woke him up, he crawled to the village where people could treat him.” My friend's point was that that old man wasn’t ready to sleep yet.

But the gruesome details!

I shared a Coke at a small restaurant with another friend once. “My family’s bones are buried under this restaurant,” she said in a matter-of-fact way. She told me about how cholera killed more than 10 members of her family in less than a month.

“They threw them in a mass grave, which is where this restaurant sits today.”

Congo has been referred to as the heart of darkness in the past.
I have seen news articles describe Goma as an apocalyptic city.
Foreigners are discouraged to come here and instead visit Congo’s neighboring countries and mission organizations close their doors to young missionaries who want to move here.
Aid organizations share the stories of mass rape, traumatic fistulas (when the wall between the anus and vagina breaks) caused from soldiers raping women with objects like the barrel of a gun, ransoms and other strange injustices.

But somehow… this country is healing me. And I can’t imagine not being here.

Matthew 25:31-46 "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me."

I came to Congo thinking that I would feed the hungry, but instead they took me in and gave me their food: goat belly, curdled milk and yucca leaves.

I thought that I would give living water to the thirsty, but instead I’ve found wells of joy and springs of life to quench a thirst for family, brotherhood, son/daughtership that I’ve had my whole life.

I was the foreigner, unable to know the difference between a liar and person telling the truth—ignorant and helpless who could easily be taken advantage of—and they took me in, protected me from thieves and con-artists—taught me how to live and be a part of them.

I was naked before everyone… in my pride and inexperience. A typical young adult fresh out of college with so many ideas and full of words that were well thought out, but idol nonetheless. The Congolese taught me to clothe myself in humility and the wisdom not always to speak, but instead let the group come to viable conclusions.

I was in prison.

In the prison of my own loneliness and sick with isolation. They rescued me. They gave me a family—they father and mother me. They teach me about living in community everyday. They are healing me.

I can’t say that I haven’t brought anything to Congo—because I have. But Congo has turned Matthew 25 upside-down for me. Sometimes you have to be humbled enough to be on the receiving end before you can have the privilege of being on the giving end.

Christ loved us first. Though I loved the Congolese before I came here, I didn’t know what it was like to be loved by them. I didn’t know what it was like to be healed by their love, or shielded by their protection.

Today, I do.

 And that only deepens this river of life that I’ve been swimming in.

To Love at all is to be Vulnerable

I used to think that there are favorites—one's inner-circle. People you let “in” with careful concern. They are few. They are family. They are constant.

Real love doesn’t work that way.

“Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?” (Nouwen, The Wounded Healer)

Real love doesn't stand just far enough away to stretch its hand down to its constituents. It flows horizontally and not vertically. And when one pours his or her heart into people; when one sacrifices for people and when one's time is spent on a certain group of people, it is almost impossible not to be vulnerable to them.

Attachments form.
Memories are made (good, bad and ugly).
You become a part of each other. The most unlikely relationships can be produced out of just living together with people.

This means that hiding myself behind a computer screen, a degree, a face full of makeup, a podium, a passport or an office desk will never replace transformative power of vulnerability over my life and the lives of others.

The richness of life is an outflow of giving everything that we have to give for the time that we have with the people who God gives us. The obstacle is not to fear what costs that come with this kind of giving.

In my short-lived life, I’ve left so many people behind and likewise, so many people have left me. Faces. Faces. So many faces.

Faces of people that I thought I would change the world with.
Faces of people who I thought would change the world.
Faces that melted my heart. Faces that gave me courage and bravery to go on.

And although I've prayed for those faces; I've even wrote songs for those faces; the faces come and they go.

The greatest miracle of God is not that he loved me in my sin. It is that he loves us all and continues to love even when we come and go. Always loving with the same passion, the same fervor—for generations, though there is nothing new under the sun that we as humans can do. He still chooses to make himself vulnerable to the freewill if humanity.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the people I’ve left behind over the years and also the people who have left me. I loved those people. I really loved those people. And sometimes when I go to bed (or when I wake up in the morning), I can just lay my head in my pillow and cry. I cry because I miss them. I cry because they walked away with pieces of my heart. I cry because I wonder if nothing will be left after X amount years in the ministry. I cry because I thought that life wouldn’t look this way. Why can’t families stay together? Why do the systems of this world and the hearts of people force people to choose sides? Did I know that living such a transient life would require my heart being poured out and carried away over and over again?

It will only be in the day when the streets are paved with gold and when the lion lays with the lamb that we'll finally be in one place, one 'house' working together. Until that day, I'll have to embrace the invisible-- believing that we are together even though we are far from each other.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (Lewis, The Four Loves)

I'm convinced that when we are willing to live with the costs of interdependence and vulnerability, it brings a little more of His kingdom down to this earth.

Love and Anger

I’m not sure where the line between when anger ends and rage begins, but I know that I’ve found myself dancing on that line more often than not as an adult.

I would even say that my anger has been more frequent and more intense as I have matured in love.

I love my husband.
I love my country.
I love the Church.
I love my pastor.
I love the underdogs and the misfits in this world.
I love equity and justice.
I love deep, real and raw talks.
I love words.

But yet these are all things that I have gotten particularly angry with or about, even to the point of rage. There is an interesting paradox to being a person who works to end violence in a region (that has been plagued with violence for more than 20 years) and yet has a temper that can easily (if left unchecked) erupt into violence.

I have prayed, confessed and have even been angry with myself for being angry at times. Praying away my anger has never helped. Hiding my anger has never helped.

“In your anger, do not sin. ” Ephesians 4:26 

I’ve come to the conclusion that anger is often an outflow of love that most people (even myself) have struggled to control.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Galatians 5:22

It’s okay to be angry about the young mother who died early because the hospital didn’t have the proper materials to deliver the baby.
It’s okay to be angry about when the Church makes rock stars out of people, while leaving others who really need love and attention sitting in the back row.
It’s okay to be angry about the fact that something can be inhibiting my ability to understand (or be understood by) the people I love most in this world.
It’s okay to be angry enough to want to show that bully what it feels like to be in another person’s shoes.

Anger is not a sin. Anger is instead like gasoline. It can be used to fuel an engine or it can be used to destroy an entire building. Anger and love are two sides to the same coin. It is an emotion that occurs when true love is being inhibited. …by injustice …by miscommunication …by mistrust anything.

There are days that I get so angry that as they say in Congo, I can “burn the whole house down.” The worst part about it? Sometimes it’s hard for me to even process where the anger is coming from.
But I’m learning that the root of anger is love. Some of the angriest people that I know are the most passionate people who feel deeply, think deeply and love deeply.

This is a gift and not a curse. It is necessary that we know how to use this gift though—to channel this anger into positive action and rather than violence and coercion.

Yesterday, I was angry because I want to understand the people I work with and I want to be understood by them. But that doesn’t happen overnight. Instead of hurting them with harsh words (Proverbs 15:1)--I must channel that anger into taming my tongue, thinking from other perspectives and continuing to try no matter how misunderstood I can feel—or how much I can misunderstand others.

Anger is a tool. And when used correctly, one of the most powerful tools that I have. Because the same rage that fuels riots and terrorism is also the same rage that moves people to peaceful protest, to stand up for the oppressed and end injustice.

Fires and Planes Shot

I woke up today to this photo and an iMessage from Pastor Euclide.
“Can you believe what is going on here? Fire, fire fire!”

It brought back the memories of 2010 when his house was burnt down along with the church. It was devastating to their family and to the church.

My immediate thought after thinking about everyone’s safety was the church: the instruments, the projector and other equipment that we all have saved to purchase. It would be devastating to start from zero again.

I splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth, threw on some clothes, hopped on my dirt bike and drove to Birere, the little slum in Goma town. Fires occur regularly in Birere for numerous reasons: a stove is left on, poorly installed electrical lines and other preventable reasons. One fire can easily leave more than one hundred already struggling families back at zero.

This is life in slums without building codes, where people live day to day, without running water, overcrowded and unprotected by their government. Yet, in Birere—the Goma slum— it is often safer than living on the outskirts of town where people are more vulnerable to war and violence.

I met men and women standing outside of pastor’s small compound when I arrived. They stood watching things that were moved out of the house in the midst of the chaos. I entered the compound, and to my relief (and of course everyone else's too) pastor's house was fine. But stuff was scattered everywhere… the fire came all the way to his neighbor’s house and burnt everything to the ground. But people from the community came with jerry cans of water and machetes to cut the electrical chords and put out the fire.

If it weren’t for the community, his house would have been completely burnt, just like his neighbor's. 

It was God’s grace working through people in the community—some members of the church and some not.

Just as I began helping to put things back together in his house, Andrew called me with bad news. He was supposed to travel home to Goma from Bunia that morning, but when shooting happened at the airport this week—the plane that he was supposed to fly in was shot! Therefore, his flights were cancelled and he was unable to leave!

Just yesterday, I thought that Lilian (Pastor Euclide’s wife was coming over to bake bread with me), I thought that we would prepare for a gathering that was going on at the church to announce some of the new developments in the New Hope Community: land, Esther Project and other important items to communicate with people. We were planning on having a reception afterward where we can welcome Andrew back from his journey. Then … fires, shooting, canceled flights.

I wish I could say that things like this are abnormal. But they are not.

There’s a dynamic that is often difficult to measure when one studies the life of the ‘poor’ or the ‘forgotten’ within our world. But when one walks with them, it’s easy to see. Life is harder when you are in situations like this—where hard work and faith doesn’t usually measure up.

George Monbiot put it this way, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

People who live in Birere (and in places like this, no matter where in the world) face higher degrees of uncertainty and higher risks.

It can take 6 hours to get a couple hundred dollars out of the bank.
You can slowly build your life and it burns down in one day.
One can make plans and work to inform the community and then a catastrophe hits.

My friend who also works with another organization recently told me this, referencing the book Walking with the Poor.

“The community already has a survival strategy. The community has well-established patterns for making sense out of its world and staying alive in it. How often do we think of the poor as experts in their own circumstances? As well-adapted and wise, considering the resources they have to work with? Wouldn't that radically redefine our perspective?”

The governments, the non-government organizations, the powers that be, did not save Pastor Euclide’s house. It was God working through the hands of ordinary people in the community.

I make plans all the time in Congo that are interrupted by crazy things—people dying, bombs, bullets, fires and other things that would be catastrophic for other communities, but are relatively ‘normal’ here. It’s a part of life that has taught me so much and the Congolese continually help me learn to be patient and trust God in the midst of such uncertainty.

This week, the elders of the church visited Pastor’s house and my house to pray God’s protection for us. They believed that some trials would come our way and wanted to dedicate our families and homes to the Lord.

The elders were right. And I wonder… what if they didn’t hear? What if they didn’t pray?

Euclides house did not burn down.
Andrew was fianlly able to find another flight and was home by lunch-time.
Lilian came to my house (after fixing her house) and we baked bread together.

 …because Hope wins …and Hope won again today.

Stark Contrasts: Hope and Violence

We bought a beautiful 80x80 meter plot of land on the outskirts of Goma today. It was just after church members experienced a night filled with heavy gunfire around the church. People were killed, but none of them were members from our church.

I received a text message from Andrew just as we signed the documents for the land.

“Don’t go by the airport today. Lots of shooting and panic.”

I told my Congolese teammates about his message. They said that the shooting and panic already happened. They were there for all of it. But I told them Andrew’s message made it seem like it was ongoing.

When we arrived in Birere, a bustling slum area in Goma where the church is located, the streets were empty. More people were killed. I was even told a story about one of the local prostitutes who was working during the night of the shooting. She was with the soldiers in their camp. When other soldiers came to infiltrate the camp, they took the prostitute and cut her up into pieces.

I can’t help but think that that prostitute did not deserve such a death. She deserved to live, to learn and to love. It makes me more passionate about the Esther Project—a ministry for intergenerational women to learn about their identity in Christ while also learning practical skills training, so that they don’t have to go into a life of prostitution.

Indeed, this was another day of stark contrasts: a day of joy and also a day of sadness. But that’s what hope looks like. It looks like great accomplishment in the midst of suffering. It looks like rejoicing in the midst of mourning. It looks like envisioning an alive and vibrant community in the future, despite that people are sawing off parts of the other peoples bodies presently.

We can’t live ignorant to what is going on here. People are dying and it doesn’t make the news. That prostitute won’t be talked about on CNN, even though she was also a beautiful young woman who was created in the image of God.

But she’ll make it on this blog. She’ll be remembered here. And the thousands of other women who have suffered similar deaths, but never once had it written about. She was someone’s daughter: Someone’s niece: Someone’s friend. Most importantly, she was God’s beloved—and we lost her.

But in the midst of this loss, there is a gain. If we can reach young ladies like her with this land, even before they are forced into such a lifestyle… it will help end a cycle where ladies are so vulnerable that they have to go to work for sex and then end up chopped up like animals.

Hope sees an end. And we see an end to this. This is why, despite the atrocities that surround us… we can go to bed at night with a sigh and say, “I thank God for today.” #TheNewHopeCommunity

How did Rally International Grow Up?

Rally International’s first conception was during Andrew Roth’s second year in college at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Andrew had a heart for adventure and justice along with a renewed passion for Jesus. He also had a background in technical off-roading and a fascination with Africa. He nearly idolized the Land Rover Camel Trophy, the most popular and difficult off-road competition of its time.

During his college years, he had an idea with a number of his college buddies. The organization was called To the Ends of the Earth Ministries - Rally Around Sub-Saharan Africa (TEOTEM-RASSA). The idea was to utilize Land Rovers for technical off-roading and fundraising across the continent of Africa. Similar to run-walk fundraiser, this drive-a-thon would raise money for worthy projects in geographically neglected regions across Africa. He had contacted Land Rover, World Vision and others to gauge interest.

But this idea eventually evolved into Andrew’s time with Overland Missions, which so happened to be founded by the Camel Trophy trainer. During his time there he met his wife Amethyst and they formulated a plan to enter the Democratic Republic of Congo where soon after being married, they left Overland Missions to pioneer a new work in the Congo as independent missionaries.

It was at this newlywed time in their lives that the idea of starting an international nonprofit organization began to resurface. They both decided on calling it “Rally” and use it as a vehicle by which to start the new ministry in Congo. The Roth’s spent two weeks in the fall of 2009 writing governance, a vision statement and strategic plans for the new organization. They also bought website domain names and hosting.

But there was never a true sense of peace.

The vision, even after being written down, seemed incomplete and could not capture any other identity except for that the identity of the writers, which was something that they both didn’t want. The confidence and capability to start the organization wasn’t there. They were too new and lacked the base funding and contacts to really make the organization run well. So, the Roth’s stored their ideas on a hard drive and kept the domain name. They decided that while their decision to start an organization could be the Lord’s voice, the timing was a bit off.

The Roth’s continued to pioneer the work in Congo and eventually found other organizations to work with and channel funding through. All the while, pursuing graduate level education studies, networking and gaining more experience on the field.

During their fifth year of their service overseas, the Roths began brainstorming with foreign and local members of their team: some interns, staff, advisors and financial supporters. There was ongoing talk about forming an alliance between the relationships that were in formation, especially between independent or entrepreneurial ministries. There was also a good deal of talk with western short-term teams about creating options for long-term service in areas like eastern Congo.

After six years of service alone in the Congo, the network in and outside of Congo became particularly large and consisted of notable people. Covenant relationships became an ongoing conversation between the Roths and others who worked alongside them, both stateside and internationally.

One of the most notable relationships was a partnership with a Congolese pastor who had been co-laboring with the Roths for a number of years. But there were always blockages until the end of 2014. All the pieces were put together and the very prayer was, "God close the doors that need to be closed and open the ones that need to be opened."

In the end God did open the doors! He made a way that in less than one month Rally International was set up and registered as a 501C3 in the USA.

We are reminded about the truth in Nehemiah, "Though the vision may tarry, wait for the appointed time and it will surely come to pass."