It’s been 10 years since I left Congo and it seems like such a distant memory, a lifetime ago. Yet, when I smell something burning in the fresh air, the memories from Congo rise to the surface in an instant.
I was asked by Answering The Call to write a short post about an experience from my time in Congo and many things came to mind. Where do you start? The problems and experiences one faces in Congo are too numerous to count.
Should I talk about the starving children, the women ravaged by soldiers, the raping of natural resources by sinister powers?
When this writing opportunity arose the main news story in the U.S. was the Charlottesville, VA protest that turned into a riot. Shortly after, people all over the country had reactions that covered the spectrum of emotions and political ideologies, and much blame was passed around. At that time I was also following the PBS show Mercy Street, which is about a Union hospital during the Civil War.
As a southerner now church-planting in the Northeast, I found it fascinating to gain understanding from both sides. The show and the riot in Charlottesville caused me to pause and think about what the real issue was and what I realized is that there are too many to count. When we start peeling back the layers of a problem, we realize its vast complexities. This dilemma was first introduced to me in a prison in Congo.
During my time in Congo, I met a woman at the Panzi Hospital, who had been terribly ravaged by soldiers. When I asked her if she would ever forgive the soldiers who raped her, if given the opportunity, her answer was an immediate “yes.” A wave of electricity went through me at that moment. I was in absolute awe of who God was and how great His love was.
Without a healing retreat, theological classes or even a mentor to glean from, this woman knew that God‘s love was not only for her, but for all who would call on Him (Romans 10:13). How simple God’s ways are when we walk in childlike faith.
In my quest to seek out the possibility for this woman to forgive, I was introduced to a member of the local Catholic Church who was helping to provide food for inmates at the local prison in Congo. In the prison, inmates in Congo can only eat if someone from the community brings food; otherwise they starve. I asked this man if I could accompany him to the prison. It was a great risk, because inside the prison there is no security, except for a hierarchy of prisoners. After much prayer and negotiation with the man, I found myself on the inside of what looked like hell on earth.
During my visits, God provided encouragement to the prisoners through His Word, the sick were made well, and many heard the Gospel for the first time. I continued to pray that I would meet an Interhamwe soldier while I was there, one of the soldiers accused of mass rape and torture throughout much of eastern Congo, and one of the soldiers the woman at Panzi Hospital was willing to forgive. Much of the time I was in Congo I believed that these soldiers were the cause of all that was wrong in Congo. I had my own opinions of what God should do to them—think Sodom and Gomorra.
Then one day, my ministry friend brought an Interhamwe soldier forward. It was the woman at Panzi Hospital, and her desire to offer forgiveness, that propelled me, and God provided the calm spirit that I needed to meet this murderer. I pictured in my mind a creature so horrible and terrifying.
When he walked into the room, my heart sank.
He couldn’t have been more than 15 years old or more than 100 pounds. He told me his name, and I patiently listened to his story.
He had fled the Rwandan genocide to Congo at the age of four. He was taken in by a Congolese village, only to be captured a few years later by a rebel army and forced to become a child soldier. He was given drugs to help numb his response to the violence he was forced to inflict on many victims.
After he told me his story, we prayed together and through several meetings, he accepted forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He agreed to meet with the woman from Panzi, even though it was not he who was the cause of her particular hell, and at the end of their time together, they both walked away feeling closer to God than ever before. He was not expected to live much longer as he was going to be sentenced death. Today I eagerly wait to meet my friend again.
Before Congo, I consistently struggled to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). Today I still, from time to time, struggle with moving too quickly and tackling issues before I have understanding—but I’m growing. There is so much we don’t know and very little knowledge of what is made known (1 Cor. 13:12). In a world full of doers and activists that tempt me to rise up on any given issue, I stop and reorient my vantage point and cast my gaze upward where Christ is seated.
I can trust that not one thing is going to happen that isn’t sifted by God first.
He cares for us and we can take the courage of Hagar who called Him El Roi, the God who sees or the Living One who sees me (Gen. 16:13). If we rush too quickly into the charge we will miss the beauty of what God is making known.
God grant us the power to see others as you do and help us to gain Godly understanding in our efforts to sacrificially love those that we may feel are the hardest to love. (Proverbs 14:29)
Wendy Larrabee lived in D.R. Congo for just under a year serving though ATC and her local church, and she has also traveled with ATC to Eastern Europe and Costa. She and her husband now have three beautiful children and serve as church planters in Upstate NY through the Crossway Chapel Network. While being committed to family and growing God's Kingdom, she also works as a sales analyst for an accounting firm helping pastors and churches thrive.