“Do people in your country know about the slaughter happening here?”
The conversation came out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. “Slaughter”! That word has a force that goes straight to my gut and steals the breath from my lungs.
I pause and he asks again, “Do people know how bad the war is here in Congo? Do they know people are being slaughtered? Even still, even now?”
I can’t hesitate any longer, “No. Mostly not; some do. Many don’t though.”
Our country director is always so fascinated with cultures. He loves asking questions about how people think and why they respond or why they don’t.
We discuss war at length and talk about the toll it leaves on people and the way it shapes our thinking.
He explains that most people in the villages in Congo don’t realize that peace is something that can actually be attained. They don’t realize that other countries in the world don’t have ongoing war like they have become accustomed to.
I think the same thing with our countries of peace, but in reverse. For many people, imagining a life on the edge of a rebel raid feels unimaginable to relate to.
“Surely though, if they know how people are being treated here, the killing, they would help, right?”
What was I to say? I felt backed into a corner and I searched frantically for a response that didn’t feel insensitive. Sometimes conflict, atrocities and chaos feel so far away that if we don’t intentionally pause and let empathy set in we can go about our lives forgetting the devastation that is happening around the world. We don’t consider what our role and response should be.
We were on our way to dig a foundation for one of our new schools when this all started unraveling. Last week, a tractor smoothed the land, this week with sticks and string we made the outline for the classes. The next step is for the workers to dig out the foundation before filling it with stones and cement.
When we arrived on the land we started directing people. Like being conducted in an symphony orchestra, people took to their place. They began digging, moving and pushing dirt. However, with shovels deep in the ground, what came up wasn’t just rocks and sand. We had a slight shock as like other excavations, we started pulling out bodies that had been buried under the land. Skulls, femurs, fingers. It didn’t look like a gravesite but rather like a slaughter had occurred here years before.
The longer you stay in a war zone, the more personal these words become.
The kids brought the bones to show me as a cool discovery of their day. It was strange seeing their familiarity of it and playing with the bones almost as if it were a science class. They were determining where each of the bones and parts would be on body and how they would connect. For me, I could only imagine who the lost lives were, imagining how they died and how they ended up here. The skull with a machete type crack wasn’t as novel for me as it was for them.
In the past we learned that our village had been the headquarters for two major rebel groups over the years. Because it was beautifully situated on 3 mountains at the edge of Virunga National Park, it became strategic to seeing enemies approaching and planning their next attack.
Years later, we now see the effects of their placement on the individuals we spend our days with. A generation of youth, now young adults, missed out on their schooling. They replaced stories of regular childhood games and play with stories of pain, and displacement.
I feel like I’ll never know the fullness of what their community has gone through. I’ll never know the pain that they have felt, the gunfire that they’ve run from, the slaughters that they’ve witnessed.
"When Christ was moved with compassion, they use the word splanchnizomai in the Greek. It’s what we would call guts.
When Christ was moved with compassion, it’s like He got kicked in the gut.
“Compassion isn’t merely a vague sense- but a feeling so strong that it causes you to bend. It shapes your body, your life, into a response.” Appropriate words from a book I’m reading by Ann Voskamp.
At the end of the day I have the constant reminder to commit to slowing down and listening. To letting the painful kick in the gut not make me retreat in agony but rather shape me to move and press on to bring change. To hearing their stories and dreaming together about my role as a member of the global community and how I can help to respond.