all that's beautiful drifts away
Pretty much every evening since arriving in Goma, I've gone for a walk or run just before sunset. It's a good time to get exercise. More importantly, it's the time you're least likely to scandalize the neighborhood by wearing shorts or running shoes. It's always beautiful – you never know what flowers will have bloomed that day or what birds you'll hear or how the light and clouds will create shadows and colors in the sky.
Last night I was out on my sunset walk and the sky turned this incredible shade of pink and it was as though we were surrounded by light. Rain started to fall and I picked up the pace to beat the deluge home, but then walking towards me was this woman I've never seen before. We said, "Bon soir," and then she just looked around and said, "C'est magnifique." (It's magnificent.) And I said, "Oui." And she said, "Un petit paradis." (A little paradise). And I said, "Oui," and we stood there in the gathering dark, then both said "bon soiree" and went on our ways.
Last night was Goma. It's so indescribably lovely here, and so awful at the same time. The mountains and the lake and the ever-changing light and the volcano's nighttime glow and the dancing and the laughter and the songs live side by side with the lava and the dirty water and the guns and the nighttime and the looting and the fires and the tears and the orphans and the rape victims.
Last week in Nairobi, I got to see lots of friends. A group from Texas was there to scout sites for a child development center in western Kenya. Preacher Jason, who was the associate minister at my church in Connecticut was on the trip, as was Laura the Elder, who lived across the hall in the dorm at Baylor. And then there were the connections that are an inherent part of life as a Texas Baptist: the minister of education from Amarillo who was on church staff with the pastor of the emergent church that meets at my church, the people who go to the big church in Lubbock where the youth minister was one of our interim youth ministers in Franklin growing up. The BGCT people who know the amazing Suzii. Phil Strickland's widow, who is just amazing. It was so nice to see some folks from home, to hear all the gossip, to help them bargain in the market, and to not have to answer questions about farms, ranches, and George W. Bush. I also got to meet up with friends from when I studied in Kenya, with Think Tank Jason, and with my friend Kat. It was so nice.
On Friday, I got to have coffee with Sam. Sam and his wife Melody are missionaries who grew up as missionary kids in Kenya and Uganda. They are uniquely qualified to bridge two worlds, Africa and America, and they do it so well. They are some of my favorite people in the world. Sam wanted to hear all about Congo and so I told him about this incredible beauty and unbelievable suffering and he listened for a long time and then told me about the sermon he's working on for their time back in the states this summer. He's been reading Richard Rohr and thinking about luminal space – those defining moments in our lives that tell us something has changed, that we are no longer the same, and that our lives must respond to that change. And I won't go into the details, because they'll be at CBF, but what Sam said about embracing the suffering was important. Especially when you are looking at a place as un-fixable as Congo. He said that it's awful, and that it's not good for you to be in it for too long, but that you also have to remember that that's where Jesus always was. With people. In their misery. And in their joy. Sometimes healing them, sometimes not, but always there with them. Sam said we get so caught up in trying to figure out ways to fix things – to have a plan of action, to let our anger at the injustice of it all drive us to do something good – that we're afraid to just live with the pain for awhile.
Sam also told me that there's a brief space of time he treasures when they come back from the states to Kenya after being gone for two months. For a week or so, he said, he notices things that had become routine.
It was good to get out of Goma last week. It was good to be blessed by the presence of friends old and new. It was good to hear Sam's sermon. And it's good to come back and notice things I'd gotten used to. That the children in the market are only pesky because they're hungry. That the constant demands for attention by everyone with a plan to do something here are the result of wanting to make life better. That someone is actually fixing potholes on the road today.
Last night I got back to my apartment and went out on the porch to catch the last bit of dying light from the all-too-quick sunset. I stood there on the porch, looking at the waves in the lake and the clouds in the sky, grateful for the cool raindrops on my sunburned shoulders, and all I could think was, "C'est magnifique. Un petit paradis."