I wish I had a boat. Today was a perfect day to be out on Lake Kivu. It's sunny, but not too hot, and the water is just choppy enough to keep things interesting. I haven't seen the guy with the jet ski this year; maybe he packed up and moved to Darfur like most of the other expats.
Despite my longing to be out on the lake, I wasn't about to miss church in Goma again, especially after last week's jet lag-induced sleep-in. We all woke up and got ready this morning, but had a tiny problem when C couldn't find the car key. We turned the house upside down for 1 1/2 hours. That's not a big deal (the service lasts 3 hours), so we kept looking. Still no key. So we started to walk to church (nearly 2 hours late at this point), but a friend drove by, picked us up, and took us over to the airport, which was where we were supposed to go after church.
Here is how it works in a country with no postal system (I don't mean, "a country with an unreliable postal system." I mean, "a country with no postal system whatsoever."): when you need to get something to Kinshasa (hypothetically speaking (natually), let's say a passport that needs to be renewed, or a CD of lessons about The Purpose-Driven Life en francais that will be broadcast on a national radio station each morning), you can either 1) go yourself, or 2) find someone to take it there for you. Hence, the airport, where we quickly found a friend of a friend who, yes of course, would carry an envelope on the noon flight to Kin, and call N's sister to drop it off when he arrives.
Then we went to church, where they were just finishing up the benediction. There was still a good 15 minutes of announcements and the closing song, so we got a little "church" today, but the morning's series of events made us all a little grumpy. We ate lunch mostly in silence.
I spent the afternoon trying to figure out plans for my end-of-summer week in Zambia (which may ultimately include a day in Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe - yes!). I was out in the hall looking for bug spray to fight the ants who find their way into my room every few days when E asked if I would come and take some pictures. So then I met this family.
A mother, two daughters who are about 7 and 9, and another one-year-old daughter. E had gifts for them, necklaces and bracelets, and notes from someone in America who wants to help their mama rebuild her life. She nearly cried when she saw 6 ten-dollar bills tucked inside one of the cards. Her daughters were excited about their gifts, and about the cookies E gave them to eat.
We talked briefly about diabetes, because on top of worrying about how to pay the rent on her home, how to make an income, how to pay her daughters' school fees, this mom of three also has to deal with monitoring her blood sugar levels, taking insulin, and eating a balanced diet.
After they left, E told me their story. The mother was raped. In Goma. In front of her girls. Her rapist left her with the baby. He left her with HIV, too. The baby isn't old enough to be tested yet (they have to be 18 months old for the results to be reliable). The odds aren't great.
"When I met her a year ago," said E, "she was getting treatment for the HIV, but not for her diabetes." So E got her a meter, and she has been paying their rent, but they have nothing in their home. No beds, no chairs, no nothing. The $60 is a gift from an American churchgoer to buy the basic necessities for their home. E also has money from a few churches in the states to loan to women to help them start businesses. This mama will get a loan to buy a sewing machine so she can make clothes, and make a gift of some fabric and thread so she can get started. And she will pay back her loan, $1-2 dollars every two weeks, so that E can give a loan to another woman whose life has been destroyed. E has made a difference to this family, so much so that the mother named her baby for E.
I didn't go to church this morning, but I saw what church is meant to be this afternoon.
Church is not supposed to be about doctrinal fights or the color of the carpet in the new ministry center. I don't even believe that it is ultimately to be about what gets said in the sermon, or the music, or what the pastor prays. Church is more than a building, more than a service. Church is God's people in the world, doing the work of justice and mercy in humility and gratefulness. Church is sharing our lives, our possessions, our money, our access to medication and expensive machines and people for whom $60 means skipping a night or two of eating out and seeing a movie. Church is giving a mother and her three little girls a chance at redemption.
And if the church is doing what the church ought to do, we don't even need car keys to get there.