"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


In memoriam, Lyn Lusi

Terribly sad news tonight from Goma: HEAL Africa cofounder and program manager Lyn Lusi has died. Everyone who knew Lyn is heartbroken, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Dr. Jo, Nadine, Paluku, and the rest of the family.

To say what one is supposed to say in these circumstances - "She will be missed," "God rest her soul" - seems utterly inadequate to capture Lyn's life. She came to what was then Zaire as a young woman, sent by British Baptists as a missionary teacher. Lyn fell in love with Jo, and after that, she never really left. Yes, they left Congo for a time during the difficult years, as almost everyone did, but their strong sense of responsibility and calling brought them back to Goma to serve, first with Jo working in a local hospital, and eventually by building their own. It was not simply a health care facility, though; the original purpose of what is today HEAL was to train medical professionals to work under some of the most trying conditions on the planet. And that they did. Lyn once jokingly told me that the only reason they opened the hospital was that their students needed patients on which to learn.

And learn they did; as the traumas of war and poverty and the utter incapacity of the Congolese authorities to run a health care system, HEAL became one of the very best providers in the region. It is still the only place offering orthopedic surgery, and is one of about four hospitals in the Kivus that are able to offer high-quality care for fistula and other gynecological traumas. Lyn always viewed HEAL's mission as an holistic one, and insisted that its mission be broader than simply supporting physical health. To that end, she was integral in starting the Nehemiah Committees, which provide an interfaith platform for dispute resolution at the community level throughout the countryside. Under Lyn's management, HEAL also identified and trained a network of women to serve as rape crisis counselors in rural areas, helping victims of violence who might not otherwise have known help was available to access critical medial and psychosocial services.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Lyn's work saved thousands upon thousands of lives.

I first met Lyn and Jo as a young graduate student, desperate for contacts and needing a lot of help to navigate the vagaries of the intersection of state and civil society in Goma. This was just before HEAL Africa - then called DOCS - became a famous place, before the world was talking about the rape crisis and a parade of celebrities, researchers, and do-gooders started traipsing through the hospital on a weekly basis. Lyn handled the transition from small clinic to internationally-known hospital with aplomb. There were frustrations and challenges, to be sure, but Lyn's patience seemed to be infinite. She never rolled her eyes at yet another student coming through the doors to write the definitive master's thesis on "Rape in the Eastern Congo" and she leveraged the attention brought by the rape crisis to garner support for HEAL's many other critical programs.

On a more personal note, Lyn was one of the first people I met in Goma who really believed in the value of my dissertation project. She took my ideas seriously, believed they were worth exploring, and did all she could to help me get through. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that I wouldn't have finished without her; she made introductions and opened doors that made it possible to get the interviews and data I needed. I honestly don't know how I would have done it without her. Lyn believed in community-led and community-centered development. Her wisdom shaped much of my thinking about Congolese agency and the transformative power of community-based development.

It is a sad night in Goma, and it will be sad there for some time to come. I'm trying to think where they will hold the funeral, and how they will accommodate the thousands who will turn up to honor Mama Lyn with songs and dancing and talk of the deep, deep love that motivated her to care for so many. Lyn Lusi is irreplaceable. And, oh, she will be missed.

To make a donation in Lyn's memory, visit the HEAL Africa donation page.


Blogger Our Man in Africa said...

This is very sad news. My first night in Africa was at their home in Goma in 2005. My thoughts and prayers are with the family. John James, BBC

Sunday, March 18, 2012 11:56:00 AM

Anonymous Anatole Nzanzu said...

She was indeed a Great Lady, I met her in 2007 for the first and last time, we had a very warm discussion. I admired her courtesy, responsibility and honesty. She will be remembered for years. May her soul rest in peace!

Sunday, March 18, 2012 4:38:00 PM

Anonymous Kim Vanden Hengel said...

We worked at our laptops at each end of our dining room table here in Sydney, Australia. Lyn stunned the annual Christian advocacy gathering, Voices for Justice, and the politicians at our Parliament House in Canberra, with her depths of wisdom and grace. We enjoyed a red wine together on her verandah, looking out over the still waters of Lake Kivu. Looking forward to our reunion in eternity, but for now she encourages us to continue to work and advocate for peace and healing in communities affected by conflict.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 5:11:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah I never met this lovely woman, but God is glorified by her superb contribution to African people and life. Thank you Lyn.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 5:58:00 PM

Anonymous Ted Ericson said...

Thanks for this. We had the privilege of hosting Lyn and Jo and my sister, Judy Anderson, in the Twin Cities, as they were on the way back from the Opus Prize ceremony. What a privilege to get to know Lyn a bit. She was a marvelous paragon of courage, wisdom and faith.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 7:39:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thank-you everyone, for sharing your memories here. I'll collect all these comments and be sure that Jo and the kids receive them.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 9:11:00 PM

Anonymous melinda kerr said...

I was fortunate enough to have done some work with her. One of the greatest souls to have graced this earth.
Vale Lyn. My thoughts and prayers are with your family and as ever, with Congo.

Monday, March 19, 2012 5:23:00 AM

Anonymous Jan & Bob Thornbloom said...

I never met Lyn face to face but have closely followed the Heal Africa progress through Judy and Dick Anderson; my husband Bob has stayed with them and worked with them on getting a mobile sawmill after the last volcano eruption. She was a great lady with a great vision. I am praying for peace for Jo and the family. Jan (& Bob) Thornbloom

Monday, March 19, 2012 6:13:00 AM

Anonymous sarwar said...

nice work keep it up


Wednesday, March 21, 2012 8:51:00 AM


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