Caroline Powell is a dear friend of mine and native of Cape Town, South Africa. She works with The Warehouse, also dear friends of mine seeking to see the church be a transformative presence in the community in issues of poverty, injustice and division. Caroline has been sent on sabbatical by The Warehouse, in Caroline’s words, to seek kingdom “stories of hope and people of peace.”I’ve been following her blog these last several weeks, and this post is one I’ve enjoyed the most.
Join Caroline on her sabbatical journey at www.thelongwindingroad.me, and in the meantime, thank her for joining the guest voices here at mosthopeful.com. Her words are always words with which to spend considerable time and generous thought. Thank you Caroline.
“Thank you for your prayers, we are tired of war” | a tribute to the DRC
When I was planning this trip, one of the first places I desired to visit was the town of Goma, on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) side of the western border between DRC and Rwanda. There were several reasons for this. In Cape Town, I study with and enjoy the friendship and encouragement of several Congolese people, through connections at college, church and my work at The Warehouse. I have been fascinated with and deeply troubled by the story of this part of Africa for some time. I have met some very inspiring residents of Goma through Amahoro-Africa who run awe-inspiring initiatives through their churches in their town, and I longed to see first hand what they are involved with on a daily basis.
Getting there and fulfilling this dream has been a different story but one that has invited me into a deeper sense of love and committed prayer for this nation. Advised by Joel from Goma, that I must have a visa before trying to visit the DRC, I went about filling in application forms and getting invitations letters from my friends in Goma. Once this was done, and all was sent off to the embassy in Pretoria, the waiting game started. I was convinced that visiting this region was to be part of the plan for my trip and especially felt that I would love to go there to encourage my friends by receiving their hospitality – visiting them despite the fact that at times, there are more people leaving the DRC than coming to visit for a holiday. I prayed about it and felt that, while I would take no unnecessary risks at all, if it was a time of peace, I would strive to spend a portion of my trip there.
At about the same time as I was planning for my visit, rebel warlords in the region were planning their next move and just as my passport was arriving in Pretoria for processing, war was breaking out in the very region I was hoping to visit. My passport got stuck at the embassy for too long, as they were in crisis mode due to the conflict and it became clear that this was not to be part of my journey. I called the visa agency and asked them to send my passport home to me. I wrote to my friends, thanking them for the great effort they had gone to in writing invitation letters, scanning signatures and planning to host me. With a deep sadness in my heart I explained that I would not be visiting. With a hope that they did not sound like empty words, I said that I would be praying for them.
A kind reply came back to me, sharing sentiments that they hoped there would be a chance in the future. It was signed off: “Thank you for your prayers, we are tired of war”
Very few words on a computer screen have affected me as deeply as this simple, sad greeting. In much the same way as I might say “I am tired of being cold” at the end of a long winter in Cape Town, they stared back at me. A stated fact. We are tired of war. A fact that I cannot imagine for my own context and yet a fact for countless numbers of people on our planet.
I have just returned from visiting the town of Gisenyi on the border of the DRC. I had arranged to meet my friend Joel on the Rwandan side of the border that is shared between Gisenyi and Goma, and as I travelled from Kigali towards Lake Kivu, the lake that shares is shores with the two cities, the man seated next to me on the bus pointed out a large tented settlement. “Transit Camp” he told me. We were passing one of the many refugee camps that exist, sometimes temporarily, but often permanently in this part of the world. I have made friends in the past few weeks with people who grew up for many years of their childhood in a camp much like this.
Joel met me at “Grand Barrier”, a not so grand piece of road that makes the enormous difference between living in a land at war and a land in times of peace. This same piece of road operated in the opposite direction during the 1994 Rwandan genocide as thousands of people fled their homeland. Then, the transit camps were on the others side. Today, for me, it is a cul-de-sac on my long and winding road. A country that I can only dream of visiting. Homes, less than a kilometer away with rooms and beds where in more peaceful times, I would have visited and slept. Joel took me on a walking and moto tour of his town from the safe side of the border. The two towns are separated by a stone wall at most in some places, even less in others. They are reportedly the two closest border towns in the world. He showed me the region where his family home was destroyed along with thousands of others during the eruption of Ndiragongo in 2002. I took a photo of him with this still active volcano in the backdrop. He pointed toward where he now lives with his family. We walked and talked- of church, recycling, youth ministry, war, upcoming life events and hope. And then he returned home and I went back to Auberge de Gisenyi and watched some of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations on TV in French.
It is my hope that this essay, as insignificant as it is in the grand scheme of things, will serve as a tribute to the Democratic Republic of Congo and her courageous people. There are too many wars like this one in the world for us to pray individually and with understanding for each one, but sometimes, as the case is with me in this season, God brings one thing to your attention, and all you CAN do, is pray. DRC, I pray for hope, peace, courage and patience for you. I pray too, that one day I will be able to enjoy your hospitality on your soil, not just from over a stone wall.