Our Real Masisi Story

11/17/2017 10:32:00 AM sendtheroths 0 Comments

Masisi Territory

I remember typing the words “Democratic Republic of Congo” and “North Kivu” into my computer for the first time. I was 18-years-old, sitting in the living room with Jean Ngirwe and his wife Eva. They were Congolese refugees who had gotten a visa to immigrate to the U.S. with their family.

An image of vast rolling green hills popped up on the computer screen.

“Masisi Centre,” it read.

The former Congolese refugees, now a U.S. citizens and also board members for Rally International NCE gasped.

“We know that place with our feet!” They exclaimed—a funny way to say that they remember walking in the same place where the picture was taken.

My then future-husband, Andrew Roth talked to them while I continued reading about the place where the picture was taken. It spoke about rebels, land conflicts, war crimes and political instability.

The description of Masisi seemed so contrary to picture that I was looking at. The picture told a story of peace, tranquility and magnificent beauty. But the words told a story of a hopelessness that seemingly had no end to it.

I decided in my heart from that moment on, I would go there. I would work in the same place that Google image showed me.

But the Cost
Masisi taught Andrew and I more lessons then anyone could ever know.

It taught us that world was beautiful, but not kind.
It taught us that the best intentions are not enough.
It taught us that it takes a lot of faith to fear.

It also built our skills and capacity to a level that makes our resumes particularly attractive. We’ve gotten job offers all over the world in places where other people don’t know what to do. It is humbling. It is also sobering.

We bought a piece of land that we thought could be a refuge for children and youth around the community who were constantly under the threat army recruitment or being taken as child brides. We also supported the education of nearly 100 young people trying to recover from recruitment into the war. But the more we worked, the more we saw that it wasn’t enough.

Nothing was ever enough. Not prayer. Not training. Not jobs. Not education. And definitely not the best that we had to give. It was a vicious cycle of giving, never receiving and finding that whatever we gave never even touched the root issues that existed in the hearts of these youth.

Education is powerful, but it doesn’t heal.
Programs can be effective to a certain extent. But they don’t fill voids.

These children had huge voids. And the longer we worked there, so did we.

They needed to belong somewhere.
We needed to belong somewhere.

The same belonging (or lack thereof) that led the people we worked with to destroy each other was the same yearning for belonging that lead Andrew and I to nearly destroy each other and ourselves.

There is a war inside of us all that makes us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves. When we live in an environment where the conquerors' voice speaks louder than the voice inside of us, we end up becoming the conqueror.

Letting Go
We stopped working in Masisi almost four years ago in an effort to become a part of a local church where our spiritual and mental health could be nursed and nurtured. On the outside, people could say that the church needed us—but the truth is we probably needed them a lot more than they needed us.

Our marriage was crumbling.
Our finances were underwater.
And our mental and health and stability was almost gone.

Honestly, I just wanted to go home and lick my wounds. Or escape...

Traveling in Convoy to Masisi in 2013.
We didn't know that we were bringing
people who one day help us return today.
I considered killing myself.
I also had a period where I thought about Andrew dying. I thought if he died, I could just make a generous donation to the Congolese (in his name) and then move to Spain, get a new identity, new life and no one would ever know I tried to pursue the ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, there were parts of it that we loved. We loved living on the frontlines, we loved being stuck in the mud and recovering vehicles. We loved the chaos of it. We also made some our most valuable friends and relationships through it all.
But it took a toll that I don’t think either of us can really explain. And we took a toll on each other that I don’t think either of us can explain either.

A piece of me died when we decided that we weren’t going to continue projects in Masisi. We needed to invest in the church we were joining in Goma. And though we may not have admitted just then, we needed them to invest us. I felt like that was the end. We would never get back to Masisi—other things would take the priority and ten years later, Masisi would be like a passing dream.

That’s really what I thought. And I was so angry about it. I felt like we failed.

“I came here because of Masisi, and I’m stuck doing what I didn’t even want to do… a building at the bottom of a volcano—literally.” I would tell God.

Life has an interesting way of turning things around
We are going back now. This is after three years hardly ever visiting there.

This time with a peace that we never had before.

We belong somewhere.

A picture when we were in missionary burnout
recovery period. We participated in a marriage
conference, which was planned by Andrew's
team at Samaritan's Purse. Our guest speakers
included Euclide and Lilian Mugisho. (2014)
Andrew is not a missionary in the same sense that he was before. He holds a high position within Samaritan’s Purse and is internationally recognized as a logistical expert within disaster situations. People who I never dreamed of knowing, now know who I am-- just because of my husband's position. The rich and the powerful; the ones with residuals.

In some ways, he owes so much of that to Masisi. His work in Masisi was his Bootcamp that prepared him for what he is doing today.

Rally International NCE has a beautiful team of foreign workers who are incredibly committed to the Congolese people and to the church. They are also incredibly equipped with unique skills and strengths that neither I nor Andrew has.

We have the church, while not perfect (what community is?), it is a safe place where neither of us feels like we have to perform. We can visit with whoever we want to, have lunch at anyone’s house, go to prayer and sit on the ground, walk around or lay prostrate, doing whatever it is we want to do. We can go to Sunday Service and come-as-we-are. If we want to raise our hands, that’s fine—if we don’t that’s fine too. I can even wear pants to church and I’m not afraid of being judged for it.

Every individual needs an environment where they don’t feel pressure to perform, especially leaders. It is invaluable.

Finally, we have Pastor Euclide and his family, our most precious partners. Congo is a place of little assurance. A person can do everything right and still end up on the bottom. But there is a sense of peace to know whatever we get into, we are not alone. If we feel screwed over, at least we feel it together. If we’ve one a victory, we feel it together. That’s the best reassurance in an unassured world.

Masisi Centre also has something that it didn’t have before. It is more stable than it was before. The war still rages in Congo, but it has moved farther from the small village where we bought the land, Mukohwa, giving its people a chance to breath; a chance to start thinking beyond dodging bullets. Aid agencies have also reduced the amount of aid to the area, leaving the people forced to start thinking about rebuilding rather than living hand-to-mouth on foreign help.

Returning to Mukohwa was not met without hardship.
The old chief died during our time away. His son (who we didn’t have a relationship) inherited the throne. We had to start a new relationship with him.

We were also met by land conflicts. A large part of the war in Congo is over land conflicts—we can’t expect this not to also affect us.

But after settling those issues, we are now building a little wooden building on our 4,000 square meter property by the river. Its not much. In fact, by now we thought that we would have a big cement building on our property. None of that worked out the way we had planned.

This wooden building is even more exciting than the big one we planned. It symbolizes a new beginning— not alone, but together. The people in the village still know us. They are genuinely happy to see us back.

They thought we were gone forever.

So did I.

But God works in his mysterious ways.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." John 14:12 

An old but sweet memory from 2012. We were visting caretakers from our children's education program.

Our most valuable memories together were those on roads like this. This was actually our favorite part about Masisi: getting there!