Accused. Guilty.

I live in a country that has long history of being oppressed (DRC). I come from a country that has a long history of being an oppressor. But within the U.S., I’ve always defined myself as one who has experienced oppression. I never had enough power to oppress anyone.

Sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. Its an essential element for taking people out victimization and into a place of liberation and eventually activism.

When my Congolese friends practice social imagination, it comes with grief and anger—both essential for a person's healing and liberation. It comes with recognizing the pain of their missed opportunities, their subhuman existence that the world forces them to live in and the unfairly stacked odds against them. You see, its easier to live a life not knowing what you missed, living ignorant enough to the world around you to never consider what your passport, skin color or religious denomination has cost you. And that’s how many people live. But the contemporary leader cannot live that way. In order for the Congolese to transform the world, they need to reconcile what the world is and the reality of where they are in it, no matter how painful it is.

The agonizing part is with that recognition comes a clear understanding that I, Amethyst Roth, their friend, their daughter, their co-worker: I represent one of the two parts of the society—and its not the part they represent.

I represent the oppressor. I am the oppressor.

I’ve never represented the oppressor before. I used to be the girl in school that got paper balls thrown at me for praying in the courtyard. I used to be the girl with the not-so-ideal body image. I used to be the one with no family connections that could promise me a better future. I used to be the girl that got ‘lesbian’ written about her all over the bathroom wall (back before being a lesbian was cool).

I thought I was Puerto Rican.
I thought I was on the ‘oppressed’ side of social imagination.
But I’m not. I’m the oppressor. I’m the white privilege. I’m the one who they are fighting for justice against.

Everyday, I walk the shaky tightrope of my own insecurity of being left alone, abandoned or isolated and their insecurity of being controlled, being taken for less than what they are, being colonized.

Both insecurities equally valid according to our histories and personal experiences, but both equally destructive to wholesome trusting relationships. Maybe there is something that is wrong with me and I have a deeply oppressive and dominating nature, which stems from my own past oppression. Paulo Friere said that “...the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” Maybe I’m not without guilt.

I constantly feel accused of being something that I’m aware I represent and I try so hard not to be.
An oppressor.
A controller.
Another hypocritical missionary that says she cares about justice but is really the antithesis of it.

But if I defend myself, I run the risk of being a colonizer. If I don’t, I run the risk of facing my own greatest insecurity—isolation. Its a deep, deep battle that I face everyday. A battle that I can’t win with my words. I don’t even know if I can win it with my actions. Will I always be the person that the people I love most must protect themselves from?

I’ve heard it said that the best way to love someone is to serve their best interests, even at your own expense. What do I have to lose? Being alone? Being abandoned? Being accused and misunderstood? Or even being guilty? Its nothing that I haven’t been through before and God vindicated me then. I have to believe that even if I hate it; even if I don’t want that to happen, God is the one who will be there to hold me even if I get the bad end of the stick. They've certainly felt the sting of vulnerability. Why not me?

 I have to believe that. And I have to accept it. Nonetheless, some cups are never easy to drink—even if they are given to us by our fathers.

My Congo Christmas Story

Christmas Eve this year in Congo (DRC) started with me almost losing my most cherished gift from Andrew, a mini Martin guitar (the Ed Shereen edition!) that was returned to me by a stranger who made no more than probably five dollars per day. It continued with walking and singing for a couple of miles with our family to baptize 14 new believers and setting up the Jesus film for families in our community while we all peeled potatoes and prepared food for our celebration the next day, then driving home on a motorcycle with my husband at 8:30 p.m. and just barely escaping an armed robbery by FARDC soldiers next to a dark, empty field while the rest of our friends spent the night in the church. 

When Andrew and I came home, we held eachother and shared memories about what Christmas was like when we were young. We dreamt about what it will be like for our future family. We chose to make this country our home almost seven years ago, but it took just under seven years to finally feel like this was our home. That night, as I helped cook food for 300 people over coals with ladies from our community while talking about the birth story of Jesus, I couldn't help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog, a quote by Yancey.

Home is where the heart is and for awhile, my heart felt very displaced. Andrew used to say 'Home is where we are together, and it grows as we grow as a family,' I didn't understand it then. But now I do. 

My three days of Christmas celebrations were some of the best ones yet. We woke up very early to a heartwarming Christmas service that was lead by children in the church. We gave simple gifts like crayons and coloring books to the more than 100 children in the service. It was the first time for some of them to get their own set of crayons and coloring book. We ate beans, potatoes, cabbage and beef for Christmas dinner. Nothing special. But yet so incredibly special. 

The day after Christmas I felt like the luckiest lady in the world as I sat in between my husband, Andrew and my spiritual father, Pastor Euclide. They both hugged me and told me how much they loved me. Our familes opened presents together and laughed. 

I didn't have a Christmas tree this year. 
I didn't have Christmas lights. 
In fact, I didn't even hear many Christmas songs. 

But I had one of the best Christmas's I've ever had. 

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.