Category Archives: Africa

When You Feel All Mixed Up

This article is part of the “What Will Make a Difference?” series for your spiritual nurture and growth.

Musanze

Do you know that “all mixed up” feeling? Your stomach is churning, and you’re just not yourself. You’re feeling a lot of inner turmoil, and you don’t know what to think or what it all means. You realize you’re getting a signal that something important is happening within you, but you’re not sure what to do with the feelings or how to go forward.

Maybe you’re feeling that way right now.  I am.

Since returning from Africa a couple of weeks ago, I have felt all mixed up inside. I feel like I have gotten in way over my head, and am being called to go even deeper.

Seeing firsthand again how much suffering is still going on in Rwanda is very upsetting. The genocide ended in 1994, but thousands of orphans, widows, violated women, and maimed individuals have had to carry on, often with very little help or resources.

Now that Jill and I have informally adopted one of these surviving orphans (pictured above with me), we are learning more and more about how difficult life truly is for some people. I feel increasingly disturbed and unsettled by Théoneste’s plight (https://spirit-ledleader.com/?s=Theoneste), and I am desperately trying to work through my emotions.

In my distress, I can feel myself being drawn to God. I need comfort and I want help. So, on the way home from Rwanda, while in Chartres to drop off our “Africa suitcase” for our trip to Congo this winter, I found my way to the Cathedral to pray.

Chartres Cathedral

I sat awhile in front of Jesus of the Sacred Heart statue, contemplating Jesus’ compassion, and asking God to alleviate the suffering of the Rwandan Christians. I stayed even longer in apsidal chapel (pictured above), contemplating the crucifix. Surely “the Man of Sorrows” had something to say to me that might help.

What was I supposed to learn from everything I saw and experienced? Is God calling me to do something? What?

Many thoughts and ideas raced through my head. However, the most powerful notion was not of any specific heroic act of service.

Rather, what I sensed in that quiet place of prayer was simply a call to keep going. The Holy Spirit was saying, “Take the next step of faith. Don’t stop now. Don’t be afraid, and don’t worry about what I might ask of you. Let all that you are experiencing penetrate your heart as deeply as you can, and let it change you. I am taking you deeper and deeper in our relationship, and I will show you what I want you to do for these people….”

There are countless reasons why you may be all mixed up inside today. However, why you are upset is not as important as what God wants to do in you through your distress. Your turmoil is an opportunity to draw closer to God and to be transformed in some way.

Jesus’ life and death shows you the way forward. God may be allowing you to suffer with others, or even unjustly at the hand of others, so that you might become more willing to suffer for others. The Holy Spirit is teaching you to love.

We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:16-18, NRSV)

The Point: In the midst of all of your inner turmoil, God is certainly at work in you, even if you feel all mixed up at the moment. Keep looking for how God may be transforming you through your distress and teaching you to love. As you increasingly embrace the suffering of others, say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit, and keep going in your day-by-day, step-by-step, walk of faith.

Prayer: “Loving God, please help me to trust you in the midst of my turmoil, to embrace better my own pain and distress, and to not be so afraid to see and feel the depth of others’ suffering. Grant me grace to feel the fullness your compassion, to respond more and more fully out of your love, and to take whatever steps of faith you are placing before me now.”


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Forgiveness Beyond Belief

Agnes and Tim

Agnes and Tim

Survivors of Genocide

Survivors of Genocide in Mother's Union

Her husband and children had been killed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, along with over 800,000 others. Hacked to death actually. In this case, by her next-door neighbor.

The killer was sent to prison, but his wife and children still live in the same place. Every day for the past 15 years, “Sarah” has had to walk by their house and be reminded of the horror of that night, of all she has lost, and of all that she must continue to suffer because of what happened. On top of it all, the killer’s wife resents Sarah for causing her husband to go to jail, and is cold and rude toward her.

Then, about two weeks ago the unthinkable happened. Sarah decided she couldn’t take living under this cloud any longer. She took a friend from her church and knocked on her neighbor’s door.

When the woman saw Sarah standing there, she screamed. She left the door hanging open, ran into the interior of the house, and locked herself in the bathroom. When her children begged her to come out, all she would say was, “Run away. Run away. Don’t you know they’ve come here to kill us!”

Sarah and her friend sat down inside the living room and waited. Yet, when the woman refused to leave the bathroom, they decided to come back later with a different friend who knew the woman well. When Sarah returned the next day, this time the neighbor nervously let them in.

What happened next is beyond my comprehension.

Sarah fell on her knees and began pleading with the woman. With tears streaming down her face, she begged for forgiveness. Sarah was sorry that she had been so judgmental of her neighbor. Could she forgive Sarah?

At this, the neighbor dissolved into tears. “No, no! I should have been the one to go to you to ask for forgiveness,” she cried out. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me!”

A miracle was happening.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Sarah to live next door to the family of the man who killed her husband and children for all those years, let alone comprehend living with the memory of their brutal murder. But going to ask the man’s wife for forgiveness?? What in the world?

Yet, there she was. She did it. And in an instant, years of hatred, guilt, shame, fear and grief were transformed. I don’t think for a minute that all of their pain is now gone forever, but real healing took place in a way that I have never experienced or heard of before.

I heard this remarkable story from Agnes (pictured above), one of the participants in the Pastors Leadership Training Conference I was leading in Musanze, Rwanda, last week. Agnes runs a ministry to promote reconciliation between about 200 Hutu and Tutsi women, and offers in-home care for many of those who are especially struggling, some of whom are HIV positive due to being raped at the time of the genocide. Her face was literally radiant over what had just taken place the week before, and she kept bubbling over with joy as she told me all that God was doing in so many different lives in the community.

I, on the other hand, was absolutely speechless. I wanted to run out of the room and find some place to weep. I don’t cry that easily, but I had been hearing so many tragic stories of human suffering from the genocide. What few seem to realize is that the nightmare is still going on for thousands upon thousands of orphans and widows living in poverty, struggling to survive without their husbands and fathers, and constantly being reminded of the massacre in myriad ways.

I had been working with 50 pastors for the week, and I was feeling the unimaginable heaviness that each pastor carries from the ongoing legacy of the genocide. The traumatization was evident in their tired eyes, grim faces, and slumping shoulders. Many of them clearly bore deep scars, and perhaps deeper secrets they could tell no one. They were clearly people of faith and dedication, but I didn’t even know if true healing under such circumstances was possible.

But apparently it is.

Sarah’s authentic expression of longing for healing collapsed a seemingly impenetrable wall of judgment and mutual hatred. And in the face of such humility and vulnerability, the neighbor woman refused to cling to her defensive denial and projection of her guilt and shame. Their heartfelt response to one another made real repentance and reconciliation possible.

I still don’t really get it. But I want to learn from these women. And I want to spend more time with people like Agnes and many other men and women I’ve met in Rwanda, who show Christ’s love in such practical ways, and who work tirelessly to help survivors and perpetrators alike to build new lives post-genocide.

And I want to never forget that the unimaginable is not only possible on the side of darkness and evil. God also does unbelievable works of grace in the lives of those who look to Jesus Christ for healing and help, who cry out to him in their longing and despair, and who obey the leading of the Holy Spirit and step out in faith.

I realize now that my flood of emotion when Agnes was speaking was only partly due to all the pain and suffering I was seeing. My heart was breaking because I suddenly knew I had given up on God too easily. Some part of me had stopped believing that such miracles were still possible. I was in Rwanda to inspire, teach, and encourage pastors and leaders, but I needed to hear Sarah’s story to break through my own despair and to revitalize my own faith and hope once again.

Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Agnes.  Thank you, Lord.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:13-18, NRSV)

The Point: Just because we can’t imagine how God can help in certain dire circumstances doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit cannot exceed our imaginations.  We serve an unbelievably compassionate and powerful God, who can do unimaginable works of grace in the lives of those who depend on and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Prayer: “Loving God, please forgive our lack of faith and despair when we cannot imagine how we might forgive others, or experience healing and transformation. We believe, yet we need your help to dispel our lack of belief. Please do in us what we cannot do in ourselves or by ourselves. Thank you.”

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Filed under Africa, What Will Make a Difference?

“What can anyone do?”

This posting is the third in a series stemming from our recent trip to Rwanda and Congo.

Coaching session with Chaplain Bolingo

Coaching session with Chaplain Bolingo

To say the situation is bleak in Congo understates the horror and impending catastrophe there. Since leaving Goma (the capital of Northern Kivu, on the border of Congo and Rwanda) a few weeks ago, the situation has deteriorated rapidly, with a sharp spike in displacement, hunger, rape, and deaths. The rebels have routed the government troops and sent tens of thousands of people running for their lives without adequate food or medicine.

As many know, somewhere between 800,000 and 1.1 million people died in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. What much of the world does not seem to realize is that the death toll has continued to mount just over the border in Congo, in an extension of the hostilities stemming from the genocide.  Since 1997, a staggering 5.4 million people have died from fighting, starvation, dehydration, and disease. Currently, up to 1500 people are dying per day in the region of North Kivu.  

17,000 United Nations troops are in the country, but it’s not enough. The U.N. is once again undermanned and over their head in the face of the greatest humanitarian disaster since the Second World War. Stretched to the limit, and unable to stop the Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, and his advancing rebel troops, the U.N. has dug in. They are hoping for reinforcements and waiting to see what will happen as a fragile ceasefire has given everyone a few days of respite, before the inevitable onslaught continues.

What can anyone do? You and I simply do not have sufficient wisdom, political clout, material resources, human resources or anything else of substance to make a difference in eastern Congo in any significant way. (Though, for those willing to contribute money, organizations such as HEAL Africa [healafrica.org] are on the ground and able to put donations to work to help victims immediately.)

And what about in all the other troubled spots around the world, where human suffering abounds and obstacles truly seem insurmountable? What can any of us ever do in the face of such intractable problems—whether in developing countries or simply in our own personal lives and families?

We can do whatever we can do.

In the face of loss of life, destroyed homes, broken relationships, and other crippling disasters, it’s easy to want to give up. It’s easy to think that there’s no point in trying to help. It’s easy to despair. But, the truth is there is almost always something that we can do, even in the midst of the worst tragedies and most overwhelming circumstances.

Meeting with genocide survivors, encouraging African leaders, and coaching pastors in Congo have inspired me in new ways to not give up hope. In just 10 days this fall, I met numerous people who are finding meaningful ways to make a difference. For example:

As I have been writing about over the past couple of weeks, Théo has been caring for his three younger sisters ever since he was orphaned in the Rwandan genocide when he was twelve. He is a survivor, and has showed me the power of focusing on what he can do, rather than on what he can’t. 

Cristina and Chelsea have given a year of their lives as Christ Presbyterian Church and Upper Room interns at HEAL Africa in Goma. One is helping women to develop products for sale in an arts center. The other is making plans to do development work with those who most need help learning how to provide for their own needs. Both are invested fully in doing whatever they can to help wherever they are needed.

Paul and Lyndee came with a team of volunteers from Australia to offer their services to HEAL Africa for two weeks. Paul upgraded the computer network, and Lyndee tutored numerous individuals in English. They don’t know if the buildings will be standing or how many of their students will be living after the war, yet they are doing what they can do now. They are helping in ways that fit their skills, hearts and opportunities.

The Rev. Jacob Lipandasi, one of the Congolese pastors I have been coaching, has been working tirelessly on behalf of widows and orphans in his hometown of Bukavu. His heart could not be larger. His vision keeps growing. He simply will not be deterred by ongoing, seemingly insurmountable challenges. Just last week, he was interviewed on Congo radio and television, and is busy trying to expand his ministry to the most vulnerable.

The Rev. Kambere Bolingo, lead chaplain at HEAL Africa (pictured above during one of our coaching sessions), splits his time between ministering to patients, supervising the other chaplains, and doing leadership training in the country villages. He carries around great weight of responsibility and concern, but every day he seeks to minister to needs and promote hope. Now, he has already started to coach some of the young men in his church with the same methods he has been learning first hand.

The Rev. Désiré Mukanirwa, Anglican priest in Goma, has a vision for the physical, mental, and spiritual vitality of his congregation. Many individuals in his church are illiterate, many families are overwhelmed due to the influx of refugees (relatives seeking safety in the city), and many widows are unskilled with little hope of providing for themselves. To help address these seemingly impossible challenges, Désiré went back to school to earn a degree in development and signed up for coaching. His plans for creating new ministries must wait while he attends to traumatized parishioners, a refugee pastor who has cholera, and daily threats of violence, but no matter what each day brings, he is doing whatever he can do.

We may never know what difference any of us truly make long term in a given situation—whether we are talking about helping suffering people in Africa, creating a better America, reaching out to needy people in our own communities, or simply trying to love our own families and friends better. We will always be surrounded by intractable problems, and can never guarantee what might happen tomorrow to the work we do today.

But today is the only day we have for sure. And what is within our power to do is all that we are responsible for. Each of us can do something for some situation that we care about. By writing emails, making phone calls, contributing time and money, offering a smile or gentle touch, or simply showing up with willingness to help, we can stand in solidarity with those who are suffering. We can link arms with those who are trying to do something to make a better world.

As the Apostle Paul taught, God has equipped each believer with an ability to contribute meaningfully in this world. Paul encourages us to believe in this message of hope, and to fulfill our calling by acting on the opportunities we are given. He writes:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a [person’s] gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:6-9)

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)

What can anyone do?  

Whatever we can.  

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God Spottings

This is the second in a series of postings from our recent work in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo through Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries.

Théo and his sister Clarisse, by their new home

Théo and his sister Clarisse, by their new home

In Rwanda, I was once again surprised at how little faith I have sometimes—how easily I assume God has abandoned the victims of war, disease and violence.

As I listened to Théo’s story and saw what he and his sisters have had to endure, I was first shocked, then angry, and then sad. Where was God for them and for all the others victims of violence?

My distress only intensified when I found out that some 85% of Rwanda was supposedly Christian before the genocide. Yet church members turned against their fellow church members and neighbors. Even some clergy participated in the killing. In the most egregious circumstances, pastors locked their own parishioners in their church before bulldozing it, setting it on fire, or turning them over to genocidaires.

Unfathomable.

Reports like this can really get to me, and start me on downward cycle of disillusionment, doubt and despair. Not only has Christianity failed in such circumstances, but God appears to be either apathetic or powerless, or worse. I don’t believe this, but when I see so many suffering, I don’t know what to think.

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that some survivors of genocide feel that God turned his back on them in their dark hour. I wasn’t shocked to hear some victims of violence admit to losing their faith in God and humanity. And I could not criticize anyone suffering from such horrors for wanting to die. As one thirteen-year-old Congolese boy cried out after he was horribly burned when his house caught fire in the night, “God let me die. Let me die.” In such circumstances, who wouldn’t want the nightmare to be over? Or, if you saw your family butchered in front of you, or your mother or sister being raped and mutilated, or you were left to scrounge for food and shelter as an orphan or widow, how would you feel?

Yet, as awful and unconscionable as these atrocities are, as appropriate our revulsion and angry reactions, and as reasonable our questions and doubts, there is more to the story. There is more to God.

I needed Théo to help me see what I was missing.

The insight came to me when he showed us his new house. I was struck by how thankful he was. Never mind that the house is still uninhabitable. He can’t afford the sheet metal to repair the holes in the roof, and doesn’t have the money to replace the over-filled latrine behind the house. Never mind that there is no kitchen, and the walls of one of the three small rooms are about to collapse. From his perspective, even if he had to go without food for a couple of days from time to time, he felt so grateful just having a home that he could call his own and offer to his sisters.

As he stood in front of his house, beaming with pride and joy, he was not thinking about all that he has had to endure in the past. I saw that what mattered to him was the gift of the moment, and his hope for the future.

I, the outsider, materially affluent, highly educated, privileged in countless ways, was angry at God on his behalf. Yet, he, who had hardly any possessions, periodically lacked food, and had to try to cope with responsibilities and needs that made him physically sick at times from stress, was thankful to God for his blessings.  And on this day, in particular, he was very grateful to God for showing his love and generosity to his sisters and him through the gift of his new home and new “parents.”

As I saw his face and listened to him talk, I suddenly realized something I had been totally missing. God had not abandoned Théo as I had assumed. I just couldn’t see him until I followed the impulse of love and acted on the compassion I felt. I couldn’t see God until I started looking for him within myself and in others, when we are at our best rather than at our worst.

In that single moment, something shifted within me. I stopped looking in vain for signs of God “out there” somewhere, independent of ordinary human beings. Instead, I started seeing God where he has been and is—in Théo’s uncle who saved his life, in those who gave his sisters and him something to eat when they were starving, and in the man who took them in before he died. Above all, I began to see God in Béatrice, the woman who has been hiring him so that he could afford to pay his rent, and who sticks by him offering him whatever she can with limited resources and so many others to care for.

Théo sees God in all the faces, voices, arms and hands of each person who has helped his sisters and him over the years. He also sees God now in Jill and me. And because he sees God in us, it is suddenly possible for me to see God in myself as well as in him.

In the inspiration of the moment, I went from questioning whether God is truly anywhere, to seeing God everywhere. The darkness may be great, but when Christ shines through you and me, the light is greater.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

Thanks, Théo. You have given me far more than I have given you.

Wherever I see good, I now see God.

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“Facing Truth”

This is the first in a series of reflections on our recent trip to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo with Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries.

 

Théoneste—Kigali, Rwanda

Théoneste—Kigali, Rwanda

Presumed dead, Théoneste was thrown into a latrine filled with piles of other mutilated bodies. Having just witnessed his parents being hacked to death by genocidaires, he was barely hanging on to his own life. As he lay dying from a machete blow to his head, he drifted in and out of consciousness. Théo was just twelve years old.

When night fell, his uncle who had been hiding in the forest nearby fished him out of the mass of bodies. He was still breathing and was starting to regain consciousness. Though the killers soon caught up with and murdered his uncle, Théo managed to escape. That was fourteen years ago, and only the beginning of his long journey of suffering.

In one fateful day, in the midst of 100 days of genocide where over 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in Rwanda, Théoneste had to suddenly grow up—or perish. He instantly became responsible for his three sisters, who also miraculously escaped being slaughtered.

First they went to an orphanage of sorts, but soon it had to close due to lack of funds. A kind man took the four children in, but then he died. Since the deceased man’s widow simply was not able to take care of them along with her own children, they had to leave her home. On the street, they went from place to place looking for places to sleep wherever they could. When Théo was able to work, they were finally able to rent a small apartment. However, his limited income sometimes meant they had to go without food for two or three days at a stretch.

Théo also suffers from headaches, and sometimes his nose suddenly starts bleeding without warning. He showed us the scar stretching across the top of his head. No doubt the throbbing and bleeding are linked somehow to the old machete wound. However, his symptoms worsen whenever he worries about where he is going to find shelter and food for his sisters. The doctor’s only advice has been for him to stop thinking about his problems! Some solution.

As I listened to his story, I wasn’t sure I could handle what he was telling me. I wasn’t sure I could face the truth of the extent of his suffering and desperation. Meanwhile, there are 350,000 other orphans in Rwanda alone with their own stories. If it were not for the occasional kindness of strangers and others who are able to offer the minimum of assistance, many would die. Instead, most of them barely scrape by. All of them continue to suffer.

I felt overwhelmed, and scared. If I gave my heart to him and his sisters, and gave them some money, what would he else would want from me? Would I get trapped in a relationship that would demand more from me than I could give? I had already shocked myself when some of us helped him to buy a small, three room house (not three bedrooms, but simply three small rooms under a roof that leaks, with no kitchen, toilet, furnishings, or floors). Where would his need for our help end, I wondered? And maybe even more scary to me, what toll would caring for such a high-risk family take on my heart?

After listening to his story and making a plan for continuing to provide modest support for his sisters and him, we held hands and prayed together. He in Kirawandan, my wife, Jill, in French, and I in Franglais.

When we stood up to leave, Théo wrapped his arms around me. As we hugged to say goodbye, he clearly did not want to let go. Jill told me that he closed his eyes and put his head on my shoulder as he hung on for dear life for at least 60 seconds.

After I made a few tentative taps on his back, which usually signal that its time for the hugging to finish, I caught myself. That’s not the message I wanted to send at all. I didn’t want to let go either.

I stopped tapping.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:34-37, NIV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

I have no illusions that I can solve the problems of Rwanda or that I can ever rescue or provide all that this young man and his sisters need. I am no hero, and in fact, my experience in Africa is showing me how small and weak I actually am.

However, I am not completely powerless.

I’m still not sure how well I truly can handle the harsh realities I am starting to face in Africa, but I can try to face the truth of the suffering of others. I can choose not to avert my eyes. I can open my heart and mind. I can embrace at least this one relationship.

I can commit.

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Horror and Hope in Africa

(Warning: Some of the material in this posting is very graphic and disturbing.)

Our car tires kept crashing into huge pot holes every ten feet on the only “paved” road through Goma, Congo. We bounced along, veering to the right and left to avoid the worst of craters, and a steady stream of cars and motorcycles weaving in and out of our “lane.” The slow, torturous commute gave me a lot of time to see the row of lean-tos and shacks in each side of the road, and the many people hanging out, hawking items, walking here and there…

More disturbingly, I watched dirty children in tattered clothes playing in rusted out abandoned cars on top of hardened lava. For some of these kids, the cars were their homes. However, I was told, the situation out in the country was worse. Far worse.

I heard story after story of violent robbery, rape, killing, and corruption. Feelings of shock soon gave way to anger, dismay and despair. Mr. Kurtz’s final words, in Joseph Conrad’s disturbing novel, Heart of Darkness, kept coming to mind: “The horror. The horror.”

In the story, Kurtz had gone to what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, as an idealist. He left it a sick, degenerated, savage man, who had become captive to his evil impulses. The story explores the evil (the darkness) that lies within even the most noble human heart, and what can happen when it is left unchecked. The horror refers to what humans can degenerate to, and what they are capable of doing to one another and to themselves, given the right conditions and lack of safeguards. As he lay dying, heading home from Africa, the depth of the horror he had experienced and participated in was expressed in his now famous words.

In our recent trip to Rwanda and Congo, my wife, Jill, and I were exposed to some of the horrors still taking place in our world. We have just returned from visiting the Genocide War Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, where we saw and heard the story of how approximately 1,000,000 people were slaughtered in just over 100 days. We also spent a week leading a Pastors Leadership Conference in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 4,000,000 died in a five year civil war, which involved surrounding countries as well and the overthrow of a brutal dictator. The war officially ended in 2003, but senseless killing, maiming, and raping are still going on in the Kivu regions in eastern DRC. I hardly have the words to describe the revulsion and fury I feel, but I must try to express what I experienced. I also saw a few reasons for hope, and I want to share those with you, too.

The Horror
The horrors of the human capacity for evil exist in every culture, in every people group, in every nation, and in every person. Often, many of us are ignorant of the abuses taking place in our own community, let alone the rest of the world. Periodically, the scale of the atrocities becomes so great that they cannot be hidden—genocides against the Armenians in Turkey during the First World War; against the Jews during the Holocaust; the killing of millions by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia after the Vietnam War; ethnic cleansings on every continent, the brutal killings of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda over decades, culminating in the great 100 day genocide in 1994; Darfur today. The list goes on and on.

I offer my experience and learning partly to inform others about what has happened and is happening in two African countries. Even more, I want to sound an alarm and call to action. There is human suffering all over the globe, including in our own country, cities, and some of our own families. We need to see what is happening, we need to see what part each of us plays in the suffering of others, and we need to do what we can to respond compassionately and thoughtfully. No easy answers here, but a recognition that we must pay better attention to the consequences of our actions, and inaction.

During the civil war, when four million people were killed in Congo, and since, unimaginable violence and atrocities have been committed. For example, I saw an independent film while I was there that included footage of two armed men abusing the bodies of two dead combatants, who looked to be just teenagers. One put his finger in a bullet hole in the dead boy’s head, and pulled back some of the skin as one would remove a mask, effectively peeling away part of his face. Another fighter stomped on head of a dead person. Another began to mutilate the dead body, before the camera turned elsewhere.

Today, in Congo, much of the country is gripped by great poverty, and the violence continues. In Goma, where I spent all of my time last week, most people are afraid to go out after dark lest they get attacked or shaken down by dishonest soldiers. Almost everyone is afraid to go into the countryside in many places, lest they might be robbed and killed, or worse, raped and mutilated by militias or rebels. On top of the political and social mayhem, a volcanic eruption in 2002 wiped out at least a third of Goma, ruined most of the roads, and further destroyed the infrastructure of the city. Most people are now living in simple wood shacks built on top of lava rock, waiting for the next eruption of the active volcano.

What’s perhaps most disturbing is the ongoing violence and the extent of brutality. The day before we left, for example, an alarmed foreign journalist ran up to me to tell me about an interview she had just completed with one of the women waiting for surgery at HEAL Africa’s hospital. The woman had been raped by six men out in the countryside. When they were done gratifying their lust, they took broken glass and cut off her labia. No wonder thousands of internally displaced people (IDP’s) have fled to various camps in the countryside to escape the violence and the threat of such terrifying violations and brutality.

I don’t have words to describe how sick some of these stories make me feel. What produces such cruelty, such viciousness, such brutality, such evil? No one seems to know. Hate perhaps, but why? If there are political purposes, no one can satisfactorily identify them. Terror, perhaps, but often the violation and violence seems purposeless, carried out by out-of-control teenagers with guns, who are filled with unimaginable hate and viciousness.

The better known genocide in Rwanda is another example of mind numbing violence in Africa. I had read a number of articles about what happened in 1994, but I didn’t realize how much more there was to the story. The Memorial states that over one million people were butchered, hacked with machetes, shot, burned, bludgeoned, and buried alive in a little over 100 days. Did you also know that the genocide against the Tutsi minority was pre-meditated, with lists of names prepared in advance of the onslaught? Within an hour of the assassination of the President in April 1994, roadblocks were set up all over Kigali, and gangs of armed people went out to systematically kill every Tutsi in the city. Over the coming months, as the United Nations and the rest of the world stood by doing nothing, these killers set out to exterminate the entire Tutsi population in the country. Did you also know that 350,000 orphans were left behind? Did you know that thousands of others still live with mutilations, trauma, and other physical and emotional scars? Did you know that killing is still going among Hutus and Tutsis, with Tutsis killing Hutus and Hutus killing Tutsis–only now the proxy war is being fought across the border, in the DRC, with thousands of Congolese getting caught in the middle?

I didn’t. To my embarrassment, I never thought about what it must be like for the survivors and for the country as a whole as the people try to heal and to promote peace and unity among all citizens. I tended to think of the genocide as a very unfortunate moment in history, now past. After visiting Rwanda and Congo, I now realize that the trauma goes on, even though Kigali has been sanitized and so much “guilt money” (as one aid worker described it) from foreign powers has poured in to help the country rebuild itself.

As we walked down the streets where thousands of dead and dying bodies had once been strewn, I tried to let in the magnitude of what had happened in a sudden surge of hate and savagery. As I drove by those convicted of genocidal crimes, now dressed in pink doing work for the community under armed guard, I tried to catch a glimpse of the faces of killers. Disturbingly, they looked like everyone else in society—normal human beings.

I met a number of survivors, such as Theoneste Kiki, who has been raising his three younger sisters since he was seven years old and his parents were murdered in front of his eyes. I realized that it is now almost 14 years that many orphans have been struggling to raise themselves and their siblings with very little help from others, many of whom are in similar situations. Healing and health are still a long way away for many.

Hope
Thank God, there is also some light and hope in these countries. Here and there, I see good signs. Rwanda is far ahead of Congo in most ways. Both countries are struggling, but Rwanda has many more visible signs of recovery, while Congo is still be torn apart in every imaginable way.

Mostly, I see hope in individual Africans who are rising up to try to address the suffering and to help their fellow Africans heal and create a better life. Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) provide critical relief for many who are on the verge of death or disease. However, so much more is needed, and only the African people themselves can create a better society for themselves in the long run. Fortunately, some are trying to do just that. Let me give you just a few examples from what I saw in one week’s time.

HEAL Africa (http://www.healafrica.org) was created by a Congolese man, Joe Luci, and his wife, Lyn. Their vision is for Healing, Education, Action, and Leadership training. So far, most of their efforts have been focused on creating a hospital and clinic to serve the poor. HEAL Africa has also been creating Nehemiah groups to promote dialogue and cooperation in the villages to address pressing needs. These rural community-based programs work with local health centers, health and HIV education, economic recovery, legal initiatives and school scholarships.

At HEAL Africa, featured in a recent PBS special, “Lumo,” I also met a number of dedicated Congolese doctors, nurses, and other staff members who are seeking to bring healing, provide health education, and provide antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients and children who are HIV positive. I was inspired by these people, as I was by Dr. Christina and other foreign doctors like her, who volunteer their time and resources on a short term basis. Visiting surgeons come to do fistular repair work on women who were brutally rapes or who sustained injuries incurred while giving birth at home at a very young age. Currently there are over 100 women waiting for operations.

Through the Pastors Leadership Conference, I met many pastors and others who are very committed to alleviating suffering, caring for traumatized rape victims and displaced persons, and to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was particularly moved by hearing an Anglican bishop and HEAL Africa staff talk of their work with impoverished widows and shunned rape victims. In various ways they are supporting and helping these desperate women to learn skills and get material to start their own small businesses so that they can feed themselves and their children.

I was only in Rwanda for one day, but I had the chance to meet one particular woman whose tireless dedication helped understand better the plight of the orphans and what is needed to truly help. Beatrice Mukansinga, who founded a small outreach, “Speak. I’m Listening!” (See: http://www.mbwirandumva.org.) Beatrice, and her staff, has devoted much of the last fourteen years of her life to helping Rwandan orphans to grow up and survive the post-genocide years. They offer food, job skills, and post-trauma counseling.

A Response of Resolve
When I was at the Genocide War Memorial and read about the brutal slayings of over one million defenseless people, and when I hear about the atrocities being committed against women, children and men in the Congo countryside, and when I hear about abuse and neglect by individuals and governments all over the world, sometimes hate and rage wells up within me. But I realize that it is just such feeling that leads to violence and perpetuating suffering. Such rage is not going help anyone.

Instead, I am choosing a different, more constructive, response: resolve. I am resolved to pay better attention to the suffering I cause in others, and to find better ways to promote peaceful conflict resolution. I am resolved to not turn away from suffering, injustice, exploitation, and cruel acts of abuse and neglect when I see or hear of them. I am resolved to focus my attention, energies, and resources on standing up for those who need advocacy and on doing what I can to help. By God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, I hope that my intentioned response will result in real changes in me and fruitful action for others.

I hope I can return to Africa to help in some way again this year. I also plan to travel again to various troubled spots in Asia to teach and encourage pastors and seminarians there as well. In the few small ways open to me, I am resolved to do what I can. I’m only one little light in a world of great darkness, but I am resolved to let my light shine as best I can.

The world needs your light, too. In the midst of all the horror, what hope can you offer to others somewhere, anywhere, within your reach?

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:1-2, 13-16)

**Check out my wife’s website for pictures of the labyrinth she built for the Pastors Leadership Conference, and to read about the experiences of the participants who walked it: http://www.jillkhg.com/Congolabyrinth2007.html.

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