all you need is faith
“Are you ready? Are you excited?” I must have answered those questions a thousand times in the last few weeks. My friends and family have gotten used to my crazy trips to bizarre places by now, so they just make sure that I’m ready to go, give me a hug, and send me on my way.
This is my sixth trip to the continent, and by summer’s end, I will have spent more than a year of my life in Africa. For the first time, I’m not really that excited about going.
That’s not to say it won’t be nice to see friends, and to visit some favorite places in Kenya, Kigali, and maybe Kampala. But by and large, I’m not really excited about being there for so long, missing out on regular life, living out of a backpack for months on end, seeing things that are just awful to see. I know this is ridiculous; I know that I get these incredible opportunities of which many people only dream. But my heart just isn’t in it this time.
This time of year marks lots of memories for me. Five years ago, at the very end of May, I moved to Austin, visited my church for the first time, met some strangers who are now some of my best friends. One year ago Saturday, I got back from the Congo in the middle of the night. And part of me has not been the same since.
Sitting in church on Sunday, looking at the architecture in our sanctuary, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast between here and there. Our sanctuary is unique and beautiful. The pipe organ is covered and framed by giant fishing nets. We have a stained glass window with a map of the world. Sitting next to the Librarian in our freezing cold sanctuary, listening to a sermon in English, I kept thinking about where I’ll be worshipping in a week’s time: a small, hot, packed church on top of a lava field, with a couple of fans (if the electricity is on) and a three-hour service in French and Kiswahili.
In the pharmacy Sunday night, waiting for the pharmacist to transfer my prescription, I stared at shelf after shelf of drugs that save us from high cholesterol, back pain, nasty coughs, and whatever else ails us. And I thought about the hospitals and pharmacies I will visit next week with their near-empty shelves, their almost total lack of basic antibiotics. I’m not ready to deal with that.
I’m packed, I have everything I need. My bags are checked through to Nairobi, and I am sitting at JFK, watching flights take off for Russia and Peru and Singapore and all over the world. In a few hours, I will find my seat, stick my bag in the overhead bin, and take off for London.
So in a sense, the answer is yes. I’m ready to go.
For those of you who are regular Texas in Africa readers, you should be aware that the tone of this blog is about to change dramatically. I won’t have much time to post about Baptists, football, music, politics, or any of the rest of this blog’s usual topics. I hope you’ll stick with me for the summer, but I understand that you might want to just come back in late August. Please ask your churches to pray for the situation in the Congo, and for the ways that people there suffer.
The situation in the eastern Congo is horrific. Decades of neglect and dictatorial rule, the collapse of the Zairian state, a series of local conflicts, civil wars, and international wars, and a volcanic eruption have made life miserable for the vast majority of the Congolese people. Since the wars began in 1998, 4 million people have died. Another 1200 die every day. (That is the equivalent of the World Trade Center falling twice a week, or of having several Asian tsunamis each month.) Rape and other forms of gender-based violence are used as weapons of war. Girls as young as 6 months are abused, taken as “wives” for rebels in the forest, and left for dead when they become pregnant or ill. Women are shunned by their husbands and families after being gang raped and suffering the physical consequences of such evil. Families struggle to survive on a median household income of 45 cents per day.
Life in the eastern Congo, in other words, is hard. And while nothing I will experience or endure even remotely compares to the suffering of the Congolese, it is hard to be there. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting. And I am not ready for it.
But in the midst of my apprehension and apathy, there have been so many grace-filled moments. Dancing and hanging out with colleagues and friends at Ginny’s on Thursday. Lunch with the College Family on Friday. Tea with Betsy and the CPP, and even a visit from the Great One, who told me I should’ve studied European politics and that nothing would be worse than an Al Gore candidacy for president. Hugging my sister good-bye. Girls’ Night Out on Saturday, when we watched Confetti, which is absolutely hilarious, and the Mommy of Twins turned to me at the end of the musical wedding and said, “Can we do that for yours?” (Me: “No!” Her: “Why not?” Me: “Um, because I don’t particularly care for musicals.”) Long phone calls and lunches and dinners with friends all over the place. A good sermon on Sunday, words of grace from all around, lunch with dear friends. Being sent off with love by Favorite Kid #3 and his mom at dinner last night and the Librarian at the airport in Austin this morning. A message on my phone from Favorite Kid #1 and a bus full of teenagers on their way back from their mission trip to the Gulf Coast. Watching an ancient episode of Password Plus on which Bowser from Sha-na-na was one of the guest celebrities (Viva Jet Blue’s live DirectTV and XM radio!) in disbelief.
There is so much grace.
Tonight I fly to London. Tomorrow I will have lunch with a friend from Yale whom I haven’t seen in five years, and I will take a walk through Westminster Abbey to say hello to the poets. Tomorrow night I’ll board another plane bound for Nairobi. Thursday I will wake up over Africa, run lots of errands, and have lunch with a friend who is a missionary there. Friday I fly to Kigali, and Saturday I will ride to Goma. Five airports, four borders, four airlines, and five days. I’m going back to the Congo. I’m not ready, and I’m not excited, but I’m going.