Rachel's Story

Rachel is in the second grade and the oldest child in her family. She’s intelligent, bright and has an ear-to-ear smile that can melt anyone’s heart.

But something tragic happen in Rachel’s family recently. Her Dad was digging latrine, which required him to dig 10 or more feet deep into the ground. We live next to a volcano, which means there are patches of deadly gas in the ground. Rachel’s dad was unfortunate and hit some toxic gas just a few feet short of completing.

He called for his co-worker to help pull him out of the 10-foot-deep hole, but when his co-worker tried to help, he too fell in the hole. The two men probably yelled and screamed, but nobody heard them. They were found dead later that evening.

Left behind was Rachel, a younger brother and sister and her pregnant mother. Rachel’s mother, like many other women in our community, has never been to school and has no skill that can generate income for the family. She knows only basic farming techniques, but the family doesn’t own any land to farm on. She was taught to cook, clean, farm, be a wife and be a mom.

But what happens when a husband dies?
The results are more tragic than you think. The custom in Congo (DRC) is for the wife to return to live with her parents when her husband dies. This is because wives usually aren't financially stable enough to support the family.

Rachel’s family fled from a warzone to have a better life near town. Her father's death will send them back to the warzone. This time more vulnerable then ever. Rachel’s position as the first child in the family leaves her to carry the weight of caring for her brothers and sisters.

“We will get Rachel’s report card and bring it to the schools in Kichanga (the village where her mom is originally from) She will return to school when we get there.” Rachel's mother said with strain in her voice. She smiled hopefully as she wiped the sweat from her face. She was so pregnant that even walking a few steps made her sweat at this point.

The principal of our school ended classes a few minutes early so that the students with their teachers could walk to Rachel’s house and give their condolences: some money they had collected, a bag of clothes and prayer.

The school principal and I looked at each other sadly. We knew the reality. Rachel is a statistic that was being made right before our eyes.

Rachel is goes to school for no cost, because our church believes that education is a human right. Children shouldn’t be denied an education based on their financial status. Education is their best shot at a better future.

The place that Rachel is going will not have a school that allows its children to study for free. She is going to an area highly affected by war and sex-trafficking. She is going to live with her widowed grandmother who does not have means to support or protect her in that area. If a miracle doesn’t happen in her life, Rachel will become the sole provider for her family. She will raise her younger brothers and sisters and (if she’s clever) maybe give them a chance to go to school. But it is unlikely that Rachel will ever step foot in a classroom again.

Rachel sat next to me. She had a blissful confidence in her eyes.

She has no idea what is ahead of her. 
I told her the story of Esther.

“Whatever you do, don’t stop studying. Even if you have to sell peanuts by the side of the road. Don’t stop studying. When you feel that there is no one who can help you, pray to God. He can do miracles for you and he can hear your prayers.” I told her. “And if you ever get lost and can’t find your way. You can always remember that there’s a church in Mugunga that will always accept you.”

We all prayed together and the children from our school sang a few songs to the family. And we left.

Rachel never picked up her report card from school.
She never came back to church.
Today, I passed by her house again and found it empty.
They were gone.

Another statistic, right before my eyes. Another girl who will be denied her right to education, because of a situation she didn’t choose to live in. Another girl who will probably get pregnant early and be in the same situation her mom is in now: entirely dependent on other people to survive.

This is a sad story, I know. But it also helps me to remember why we do what we do.

Our primary school is putting girls (and also boys) into school that would not have been able to go any other way. The Esther Project teaches women (that could find themselves in the same situation as Rachel’s mom one day) a working skill that can support a family. We teach them sewing skills that generate income so that they don’t have to be completely dependent on other people. They won't have to take their children out of school.

Our work is to stop cycles of injustice. The worst injustice is to watch statistics happen before your eyes day-by-day and say that you’ve done some thing because you told them about Jesus.

I believe that it is possible to tell someone about Jesus and yet not bring the Gospel. 
The Gospel is the Good News, it is something that lifts people up from where they are and returns their value. It puts a spoke in the cycles of injustice and sets the captives free: captives of poverty, captives of loneliness, captives of shame, captives of oppression, captives of sin. It sets the captives free.

That is why we believe that pencils and books are more powerful than guns and missiles.
That is why a sewing machine has more power than an rocket propelled grenade.
Those things have the power to destroy. Our arsenal has the power to rebuild.

Rachel might have been one statistic we saw pass us by. But how many statistics are we preventing by building this community? How many children could suffer her same fate if it weren’t for our school? How many Mama’s are becoming more financially-independent? And how many families are being transformed through the counseling and member care offered by the church?

"Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?" 
--Isaiah 58

A Letter To My Old Boss

Dear Phil,

It has been almost twelve years since I joined Overland Missions. I was 17-years-old when I started to work for OM. I worked there for three formative years in my missions career. I did a lot of small things like taking out the trash to coordinating trips to Indonesia or fetching food for the staff. I lived in my car for a couple of weeks. I sold cell phones and stood up all night studying for my university degree. When I was in Zambia I spent days and days just carrying rocks to make paths around the Rapid 14 Base. I peeled garlic, arranged laundry-washing schedules for missionaries on the base, washed tables and sat in the back of AMT classes to try and listen in as much as I could.

My old boss, I may not have left you with the best taste in your mouth about me. I was really unpolished… I didn’t know how to be quiet. I had so much more to learn. Still do actually. 

But maybe I should have left you with this report instead. OM inspired me more than you know. From age 13-19, OM was my only connection to the hope that I could possibly become what I wanted to be: a missionary.

I’m not sure if OM's missionary recruiters will ever know how much hope it gave me when they called me just to follow up or to invite me to the mission conferences. I’m not sure if Dave P------ or Dan H---- will ever know that if it weren’t for them, I’m not sure that I would be who I am today. There was point in life where almost every girl I knew wanted to marry Dave Philips. I never wanted to marry him. I wanted to be him. 

I went to the 2004 OM Conference at age 14. Pastor Vaughn Jarrold was speaking about marriage… and it was there that the Lord spoke to me that I would meet my husband through OM and that I would be launched from there into our destiny. Little did I know that only 4 years later, I would have my wedding in the same church where God spoke that word to me… and I would have one just the same way Pastor Vaughn described.

 I don’t know if I ever told you that.

I didn’t know than how much it means to a founder to hear what kind of impact their work has made on someone else’s life. I didn’t know that these stories of how the Gospel became real through the work they are doing can be like a petrol in the engine of a visionary.

I didn’t understand.

I now understand how hard it is to start something from nothing; to gain people and to lose them; to see a vehicle break and it feel like its your insides that broke down with it. I now understand what it feels like to have so many people tell you how they think you should do things; and to see young, passionate people come fresh into the ministry and feel like they can run everything having not walked on the road that you walked on and not having one ounce of understanding of some the realities that can only be understood through life experience.

I didn't fight in the Angolan Bush Wars like you did. But eastern Congo (DRC) shows me more about life and death than most. And honestly, I don't like to talk about the things we've seen either.

There are so many ways I saw you behave: so many things you said. I never understood it, really. But today …I do. I now have an appreciation for it.

You have been through so much. I know that you lean on God and you are a person of Hope, so you’ll always have more stories of God’s goodness than the pain. But it was your decision to work through the tough stuff that made you what you are today.

I remember when you got the news about Maverick flipping over.
When Peter H----n lost the tools in the sand.
I even remember when you and Sharon weren’t ready to have kids. I remember you talking about it. You are way passed that stage in your life. But I understand how you felt now. I feel that way now.
And I remember when your spiritual son left you… I wasn’t in the details. I don’t know the details. Maybe its not even my right to say who left who. All I know, is that the separation had to have hurt so much

My hindsight is clearer to me. And seeing your pain has made you a hero to me.

Thank you.

Andrew and I have been working in Congo for almost nine years now. I have been in ministry for 11 years. You used to say that I should talk to you when I get to twenty years into ministry, because hardly anyone makes it to twenty years in ministry. But I wish I could talk to you before than. I want to make the right decisions, but as the ministry grows I see that I sometimes lack the life experience to answer some of the questions I'm facing. Degrees are one thing, but when I look around and try to find someone else who has done what we we are trying to do (or at least some version of it), the crowd is pretty thin. I don't have many people in my life who've founded great ministries or built big bases. So, when I have questions about the practical mechanics of it, I struggle to find someone who can speak from a place of authority on some issues.  

Andrew has been my most trusted advisor—and I him too.
I have a partner and a father here in Congo who is an invaluable relationship in my life. He’s mentored us in life, marriage and ministry.
I’ve got some great pastors (back in U.S.) who have been in my corner since my beginning. Their advice is so right on.

But there are some organizational things that I really wish I could to talk to someone about. Someone that has done it before.

I once read that poverty is ultimately a result of broken relationships. People often have ceilings because their relational capital is limited to the circles they grew up with and it is difficult to break out of those circles and enter into new circles.

I would not like for the people who work with me to be victims of my own relationship poverty. I have to seek God, seek out good counsel for how to make decisions that won’t just benefit us for today, but for a better tomorrow for this nation and this house that God has given us the grace to build…

But it means anything to you. I'm sorry that I didn't understand and may God forgive me for any judgements that I may have passed on you in my heart.

All the best,
Amethyst A. Roth

My first trip to Zambia in 2006. Overland Missions
uses ex-military vehicles to reach some of the most
neglected places on the earth.

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.