Thank you, Katie for sharing your adventure with us! You are such an inspiration!
A huge thanks to Cindy for letting me share my amazing experience from my trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC from now on). So here goes nothing (and thanks in advance for reading and journeying along!)…
So on March 5th I turned off my cell phone, was dropped off at the airport, and began quite the journey from Charlotte to DC to Belgium to Luanda to Kinshasa (where I spent two days) to Lodja (another two days) to Mukumary. We had to drive there from Lodja (small city in the middle of the DRC we flew into) which is 145km south of Mukumary. As we were driving there were many children who were intrigued to see a while girl riding down the road in a Toyota Land Cruiser.
This was the first of about six or so parades that were thrown for me. They would greet me outside of the village or school and then with singing and dancing would bring me into their village or school! It was an unbelievable experience! Then after about 4 hours the car stopped in sort of the middle of nowhere (but seriously, it was the middle of nowhere)! Father Emmanuel said, “It’s time to get out, they want to welcome you.” Then this happened! (Please click on the 208 to see the movie)
A short excerpt from my (100 page) journal from my trip about this day:
“I have never lived a day like today … I couldn’t help but think “What am I doing? Am I really on my way to an African village 8,000 miles from home?” This is truly unbelievable. Then as we were entering the village we were stopped by the children waiting to welcome me! So we walked from there – more people joining as we went along – all singing, dancing, playing the flutes and drums, all to welcome me! It started to rain and they only sang louder and danced more. … then we went to the Church and they brought me up front to stand on a table to welcome me.” (March 10th)
They have nothing and yet they have everything. They know what is important in life and focus on the things that matter: God, family, faith, friends, joy! They know how to celebrate – and while I was there we had our fair share of partying, dancing, singing, and celebrating! Mass was never under 3 hours – the opening processional hymn at the Church in the village was almost 20 minutes long! But no one was bored or looking at their watch. They were humbled and grateful to be able to worship their God. My days in the village were very simple: beginning with morning Mass while the sun was rising, visiting their local schools to meet the children, take time to visit with the Chief of the Village (who has the same name as the village, Mukumary), playing cards with Father Charles (the assistant at the parish) and Bea (a wonderful young woman who helped me out by teaching me to cook and washing my clothes), reading some books I had brought, making spaghetti on an open fire, and trying to communicate as much as I could with people who didn’t speak English (I didn’t speak much French, Otetela, Lingala) but did understand love!
They never run out of love there either. That is probably the most valuable and intense lesson that I learned while in the DRC. We think you can run out of love – we look at bigger families and think “How can that one mother love all of those children? They must be deprived of love!” But they know that it’s not possible to run out of love (and so do the mothers of large families). Love multiplies as you give it away. It gets bigger! It also has a universal language. Most of the people in the village spoke a few languages that I didn’t speak at all but still we understood each other. I understood when they woman was hugging me how much she loved me.
I understood the happiness of these children who were so excited to welcome me to their village.
I understood the beauty of these four amazing people and the yes they gave to the Lord in their vocations!
I understood the peace of just ‘being’ in the presence of another. We spent a lot of time just sitting together, sometimes playing cards or munching on some coconut, but mostly just ‘being together’ without talking (since it was hard to understand the differences in language).
I learned that the many issues I have (although they do at times bother me) are not really problems when I put them in perspective. I went to the Congo in search of something, probably most clearly defined as perspective. Perspective on my life, my faith, and the world. There are so many things that just don’t matter that bother me and I wanted to be freed from the bondage they were providing. I didn’t want to have a ‘terrible, awful day’ because the copier was being mean – I wanted to recognize the simple blessings of my life (like the miracle of a shower – where the water flows from above!) and not take them for granted. It’s really difficult to do especially since there are so many times when the copier is just really mean (or replace copier with any name of someone I work with)! I wanted to be able to recognize all of the blessings God has given me. To see the beauty of the world and take full advantage of what the Lord has provided in my life.
Now that I’ve been home for about six weeks or so (my trip was the hardest Lent ever – next year I don’t think I’ll be giving up running water and electricity!) I still need to remind myself of the great lessons I’ve learned. It has become easier to adapt myself back to the ‘first world’ than it was when I first returned. It was super difficult to come back to the world with internet, cell phones, small issues, running water (wait, who am I kidding – running water was the easiest thing to adapt to – I only used 1 flushing toilet while I was in the DRC and that was in the airport on the way home!), and the people. Just like when ever I would go on a retreat, you are changed, but you come back to people who are exactly the same as when you left. It’s hard to fall back into that reality without picking up all of the same bad habits you had before. Making these adjustments has been the most difficult for me.
In closing (if you’ve even made it this far), I will try to answer the question most in my mind (and maybe in yours, I don’t know really) which is “great story, amazing experience, what now?” Yeah, hardest question ever! Well, I don’t know when or for how long I’ll go back – just that I will. To prepare for that (whether it’s just me for a long while or a group for a short while) I am learning French. There’s no way I could go again and not speak the language. I’m also talking about my trip (which helps me to continue to process) and hoping to share the love of the African people with others. We need to bottle up that love and send it back here by the tons! Maybe I can share a little and it will catch fire from there (that’s what my patron Saint Catherine of Siena always said). And I’m waiting for the Lord to see where He’s calling me next – so I’m living my life, learning French, discerning my vocation (hopefully married life), and enjoying life with friends (even making some new ones).
God love and bless you!
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