My inspiration for this "love where it hurts" blog has come significantly from a man named Dr. Cornel West: a present day civil rights activist, a well spoken philosopher, and a man of serious conviction for what is true, beautiful and good in the world He said, "Justice is love on legs, spilling over into the public sphere... And since Justice is what love looks like in public, you can’t talk about loving folk and not fighting for justice, especially beginning with the least of these.” Justice is where non-love, hate and indifference, is countered with love, compassion and active concern. And so the blog I suppose is a way for me primarily for my own memory to chronicle and journal what I’m learning in the midst my feeblest, certainly infrequent, and often quite poorly executed attempts to love in public for justice in places and for people that have been battered by the wiles and evils of this world: in Congo, India, Los Angeles, hospitals, my family, my friends, and in myself.
I'm amazed though how quickly and easily I abandon this ideal and retreat into my comfy little world of self sufficiency and dependence, where I don't consider others and care for little more than my own happiness. And, ironically its here where I usually find myself most miserable. In my arrogance I think that having a dependence on other people is a lesser thing, or in my ignorance I believe that I am the reason for the good in my life; I couldn't be further from the truth. I claim that I want to help to change others’ lives, yet believe that I am the only one to change my own for the better. I suppose this is the definition of hypocrisy. Never the less, not getting something right is no excuse for not trying again or continuing to attempt; and the nature of growing and maturing is that you are not already ‘there,’ the finished product, and allowing grace for oneself and those around you walk that journey well.
When I was in the DR Congo one of the pastors/translators we were with said something very simple yet significantly profound that I'm wanting to practice. We had just finished a health seminar in the village where I was teaching on Nutrition and he said, "You know Kyle in the same way that we must put good food into our body every day so it can work well, we must read and learn to feed our minds, and pray and love others to feed our spirits, or else as a whole person we will be unhealthy and die." Perhaps in its simplicity it actually got through the chaos of my brain and just. made. sense.
I've been reflecting on the act of breathing as of late. Without it a person will die in minutes. In medical jargon the act of breathing out is called expiration and the act of breathing in is called inspiration; and we’re all familiar with it’s definition in the abstract sense.
World English Dictionary
1 stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity
2 the state or quality of being so stimulated or aroused
3 someone or something that causes this state
4 an idea or action resulting from such a state
5 the act or process of inhaling; breathing in
I’d like to think there is a rather significant correlation between these definitions. Inspiration is both an act (5) and a result or outcome (1). Both a breathing in and an awakening or arousal of something truly sensational. Yet both require a type of humility. To breathe is to say that without this external oxygen I will die, and so I inhale to live. Likewise to be inspired is to say that I as a person have not arrived, I am not complete, I am not perfect, and I have not yet fully lived. And so to be inspired one must inspire. We must breathe into our person beauty, truth, wisdom, love, and so be changed by and transformed into those things. Sometimes, and I believe in the most surprising and joyous of occasions, we breathe in these things by accident and our world is changed. But we also can choose to seek out and purposefully breathe in these things which can change ours and the world around us. (Certainly there is room to be inspired by and towards unimaginably horrible things as well, but that is for another time.)
And so I breathe, not just to live, but to come alive; not just to sustain life, but to thrive in it.
The road to Kalembe is rocky. Very rocky. You see there is a chain of active volcanoes that run through eastern Congo. Mount Nyaragongo is the Dante’s Inferno that haunts my friends in the big city, Goma. Her last eruption was 2002, but the hardened lava flow is readily visible throughout the city. Sometimes at night you can see in the sky an orange-red glow above the mountain, which is just a few miles outside the city. Karisimbi is Nyaragongo’s siamese twin, a much more frequently erupting volcano whose lava flows away from the city.
As we drive out of Goma on the half paved, half volcanic lava roads we are told we have entered the “yellow zone.” Goma is green, safe...ish. The UN has a constantly changing chart of colors representing levels of danger in various areas. Again green is a go, safe, yellow is somewhat unstable, and the Red Zones are areas where there is active war. This road is rocky in so many ways.
The first big city about an hour outside of Goma is Sake, yes, pronounced like the Japanese rice wine. It is here we pay the “government” a $4 toll and pass into the Red Zone. Pavement ends here. We begin to climb through the eastern Congolese mountains. The jungles are beautiful, but eerily empty. No animals except a few birds and snakes. 20+ years of war has left more than just human casualties. Next we reach the village of Kiroliwe, known for its massive abundance of cheese and milk. Our Congolese friends note that the hills here are usually teaming with cows, but now we see just a few. The rebel warfare was particularly horrific in this village just a few weeks ago. Everyone has paid dearly. We manage to hunt down two precious small wheels of cheese and move on.
Next we pass through Kitchanga. There are NGO buildings lining the streets, sadly many with little to no operation active. The streets are caked in volcanic dust. It felt like a wild west frontier town. For a second I wonder if I went color blind, the colors of buildings and signs seem to vary only in shades of gray.
Down the road a couple more hours we pass through Mweso. The organization Doctor’s Without Borders has established a massive health center here, which has been a mainstay for people from 2-3 hours in all directions.
The road continues to be more rocky and our pace slows. Further up meet the village of Kashuga. Here there are thousands of IDP’s, Internally Displaced Persons, who have fled from the fighting further up the rocky road. It is a place of odd hope for people. Close enough to home not to fully settle in -- peace will surely come soon?! But also close enough to still experience the skirmishes of the various rebel groups, a reminder that going home may not be a possibility.
Finally, the rocky road shakes and jostles us to our home, Kalembe! We roll into the sub-Cheif’sproperty just before dusk and are greeted with shrieks and laughter. Over the past 3 years my companions have been here many times, and we are enfolded instantly as family. We are in a lush, green fertile valley. There is a large river just across the rocky road and then up the side of the hill are two bright lights - the regional UN compound. We are passed by large armored vehicles with massive machine guns fixed on top. The local Mai Mai malitia and the FDLR are still fighting with Congolese government troups about 6 kilometers away. Thats about 3 or so miles.
As we sat and listened to our family's stories we learn a few weeks ago the fighting was fierce here in Kalembe as well. The villagers made it in time to the safety of the UN compound where they found refuge for a few days until the rebels were pushed back. No one in the village died this go round. A miracle. We sat around a lump coal fire making beans and rice, and listening to more stories. We're the first 'outsiders' they've talked to in a while. I don't have a grid of personal experience to compare the horror of their stories. Seriously. Humanity. What's going on?
As we drove along this rocky road the pigment of the UN determined “Red Zone ” changes from a rosy pink in Sake to a Coca-Cola logo red here in Kalembe. What I'm about to say is cheesy, but I like it, so whoof. They, whoever they are, say that red is the color of love. In the time that I've spent here, and in the stories I've heard, it seems love is really the only answer to the chronic choas and war in the region. Love to transform the hearts of those fighting, love to heal the hearts of those who've born the brunt of the brutality, and love to motivate and sustain anyone desiring to reconcile and restore either of the aforementioned. So I speak this over you Kalembe, Kashuga, Mweso Kitchanga, Kiroliwe, and Sake: you are a Red Zone, not of death and destruction, but of life and prosperity; not of greed and hatred, but of justice and blood red love.
I took this picture standing on a hill which was home to a newly developed methane gas energy plant near the western border of Rwanda. Lake Kivu lay in front of us, calm, collected, elegant. Any soul daring enough to sit still and peer into her wise eyes would come away almost mystically transformed. This was in 2007 and I had just heard personal story after story of the horrors Ms Kivu had witnessed just over a decade prior. No one knows the exact numbers for certain, but some estimate that well into the tens of thousands of people were sent to the bottom of Ms Kivu as their final terrestrial home. Aside from the memorial placards at the sites of chilling mass graves, churches that have at their front doors 20 foot tall clear glass catacombs filled with the bones of those slaughtered within its pews, and the stories of survivors brave enough to speak, you may not have guessed that nearly a million people underwent Genocide here in the mid 1990's. People who were there in 1994 speak of an other worldly darkness that came over the land, as if evil personified, the devil himself, had a free reign of terror. But darkness did not endure. Injustice did not win. Rwandans paint for us a picture of how love, forgiveness, and reconciliation can literally transform a country. To purpose to live at peace with and love those who hurt you most is potentially one of the most difficult endeavors of the human spirit. But here we see an entire country who embodies this reality. I witnessed it in 2007, and am headed back.
This summer I'll be working along side Rwandans to bring medical care and education to several communities near the city of Kibuye. This region was considered to have suffered more casualties from the genocide than anywhere else in the country. But incredibly these communities are now leading the way of hope and change for a better Rwanda. The government is recognizing their progress and asking them to travel and implement their community based health care models across the country. I'm excited to walk along side those who've overcome mountains of loss, to learn from them, and to share what I can of my knowledge and passion for healthcare and wholeness.
Perhaps the wisdom and grace in the eyes of Ms Kivu is birthed from experiencing a past of such darkness and pain transformed by the power of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. But sadly Ms Kivu yet endures the pains of hate, war, and injustice. Across the lake, just below the cloud line in the picture above you can make out a dim grey landmass. That is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, previously known as Zaire. The DRC ranks just behind North Korea, Somalia, and Sudan as one of the poorest, most dangerous and chronically crisis ridden countries in the world. Overrun by multiple conflicting rebel army groups vying for power and a piece of the country's rich untapped mineral deposits - estimated to be worth over $24 Trillion dollars (US) - the DRC faces the bizarre juxtaposition of being literally one of the richest lands in the world with the poorest people living on top of it. The eastern side of the country right next to Lake Kivu is particularly volatile. In recent weeks over 30,000 people have been fleeing the rural villages to the main city of the Region, Goma, and even across borders into Rwanda and Uganda. Abduction of young boys (8-9 year olds) to become hardened child soldiers is quite common and young girls are captured to be passed around the rebel camps as sex slaves. The poorly resourced national army has little ability to counteract these groups and the government is often unwilling to arrest the rebel leaders due to internal corruption and fear of retaliation.
In a documentary on modern day Social Justice movements, Dr. Cornel West, a civil rights activist, profoundly declares,
"Justice. Justice is what Love looks like in public."
Some friends of mine are seeking to bring this kind of 'Love in Public' to the Congo. I'll be spending a month with them (their organization actually is called "Justice Rising") working to build schools, orphanages, and safe houses for the women and children who've be ravaged by chronic war. We're actually not sure if we'll be able to make it to some of the villages were some of these projects have already begun; the fighting yet continues as you read this. But I'm excited to join with this motley crew of native Congolese and ex-pat lovers. Their vision is for peace and transformation; that there would be life and wholeness, not death and despair.
Rwanda and the Congo will be my temporary home this summer and Ms Kivu a reminder of what was, what is, and what can be.