The Road

It’s 8am and I climb into our Justice Rising truck and for the fifth time in a week we head out of the city to a nearby village where we’re building the next JR school.

The village is about 2 hours away on less than desirable roads. My body aches before the drive even begins, almost in anticipation for what’s coming and a final plea of “dear God, not again!” The road thrashes you on every turn, every bump. Though agonizing, I’ve become quite used to it and sometimes even pull out a book to make the journey feel quicker (a sight that makes some car sick just to see!). But without fail at the end of the journey, no matter how long or quick it feels, the pain in your neck and the queasiness in your stomach stay with you, sometimes for days.

Not only is the road rough by physical standards but by no means is it in the UN’s outlined  “safe zone” that they so kindly provide for the expats in the country. The route has been a target for bandits, abductions and minor outbreaks of war. Although I’m not sure if any outbreak of war is ever “minor.”

About an hour into our drive a barricade stops us. A few young boys, maybe in their early 20’s, hold up a string to stop cars from trying to pass. We roll down our window and they make their case, “Yesterday along the road violence erupted and our friend was shot and killed. The funeral is in two days, can you spare some money for his burial?”

Shot and killed? Yesterday? We were on the road yesterday.

At 6pm? We traveled at 5:30pm.

We are forever reminded that the war zone we live in makes exceptions for no one and our safety is a miracle, not to be taken for granted.

We carry on with our journey but not before whispering another prayer under our breath “Oh Jesus, keep us safe.”

Arriving in Kingi, the village cheers when they see us. This week we brought in a tractor to flatten our land and prepare to lay our school’s foundation. It’s on the top of a hill so we had to make the site even and pull out the random tree stumps. Due to the location, we also had to build a road to actually get to the site in the first place. This was VERY exciting for the village! The tractor gave them one of their first “major” roads and now every time we arrive they sing and dance saying “The wazungu has come! The wazungu has come! We’re so happy that the wazungu has come!”

(wazungu meaning --us)

They look at us and see development and hope; two things their war torn village has had very little of.

A population of 40,000 people lives here in mud or grass hut houses that cover three hills on the edge of Virunga National park. In this community about half the population are children and they have four schools to service the entire community. Four! That means that if every school could hold 5,000 then all the children would get the opportunity to go to school. However, most schools hold about 100-200 students and out of these four schools I know that at least one of them doesn’t have a full roof and holds only about 40 children and sends them home when it rains.

We’ve been to the village enough times to have friends that regularly greet us and we know on a first name basis.

Patrick is 20 years old and dropped out of school in the fourth grade. He told us when war came to his village he had to flee to Goma but lost everything in the process. When he and his family arrived in the city they didn’t have money for a new house and they took on the label “displaced”. The UNHCR gave them a tarp and they rounded up sticks from the nearby area to make a frame. In just a few hours their home was built, the size of their old bathroom and a little bit of change.  This became the residence for his entire family. They lived there for 10 years.

Last year he returned to his home village feeling like he was grown up and wanted to start building his life back where it started. But he has always regretted not getting a chance to go to school.

We hear story after story of how people missed out on their education.

“War came and I had to run,”

“I moved to an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp,”

“I was taken as a child soldier,”

“My family simply had no money,”

Whatever is the case, they now live with the dream of one day returning to be a student.

We finished surveying the land but unfortunately had issues with some soldiers nearby and weren’t able to move to the next phase of laying the foundations as we had hoped. So we push the work to Monday and tell everyone we’ll be back.

A long trip; very little success. One-step forward, two steps back.

Back in the car and my neck demands that I rub it a little before the journey starts again.

Down the mountain, two more hours, prayers go out for safety and the journey on the road begins again.

The Journey of Processing War

Some days I try to slow down as much as possible.

I pause. I sit in silence. And I go over war stories trying to see how they’re influencing my perspective on life.

This is probably a strange thing for a day off but something I’ve become accustomed to while living the life that we do.

Every event in our lives has a way of tinting the filters through which we see the world. Sometimes it’s for the better, to see the best in humanity and development,  and sometimes… simply put, it’s not.

I remember driving through Iraq a few weeks ago and local friends pointed out the window, “Over there we used to have a factory; over there as well—because of the war though, they are destroyed. Over here are the remains of an ISIS base… same with here on the left.”

Empty buildings lay in ruins, telling the story of destruction. I closed my eyes for a second remembering a similar experience in Congo, driving through the jungle, grasses taller than our car, “…a village used to be here. Before the war we had many people living along this road.”

From one corner of the world to another, war leaves its mark. And why am I searching for it? For a moment it was like I was having an out of body experience watching this blonde girl, a long way from LA, driving towards an ISIS held city. What was I doing?

 The silence is rarely without noise. Sitting in Congo I hear drums in the distant, my dog freaking out at a stranger passing by... but it’s quiet enough to hear the hard thoughts.

Have I fully felt Syria? Have I fully gone through the stories? And now coming to Congo, the poverty and war, feeling just as bad if not almost worse at times.  Am I self-protecting so it doesn’t hurt as badly? At the end of the day, what are the thoughts I’m left thinking and why?

My greatest fear circles around again, “If I fully feel it, then what if I can’t fix it?”

Sounds silly when I say it. Of course I can’t fix it. I’m not expected to.

But in the midst of ongoing war, if I feel it enough for it to break my heart, and the sounds of the cracking and shattering from within me makes its way back to the west, back to the churches in America, what then if nobody answers?

Everyone is called to love. And we can’t judge what someone else’s expression of love looks like.

But sometimes I wonder. Would we love louder if we stopped long enough to feel it a little greater?

What if we had all met the child who tried to play soccer in the schoolyard in Syria only to find the ball wasn’t a ball after all but someone’s head, now missing it’s body,  that had been left in the playground.  

Would we be quicker to lower our walls and build a bigger table if every night we also went to sleep listening to the explosions of bombs and wondering if they would crash on OUR children and not just on theirs?

My heart struggles to pull out the files of fear stored in the cabinets of my mind and lay them at the feet of Jesus.

I’m not the savior. You are. You felt it first. It was the breaking of YOUR heart, the shattering and the cracking that YOU experienced that called me to war zones in the first place.

I’m simply responding to  the love that I saw in You first and then trying to reflect that love back to the world around me.

Sometimes poorly; sometimes really poorly.

But it’s not my job to fix it. It’s my job to feel it. Because You do. And then respond in love. Because that’s what You did.

Love is so messy; so uncomfortable and so costly.

But it calls to us. Deep calling unto deep. To fill up and be poured out.

Love sees all things and hopes all things, believes all things.

That means it sees murders, the mass murders, yet still believes in the goodness of humanity because we have a good God. A perfect God. Whose love trumps evil, every single time.

So what does the silence reveal? A bizarre excitement.  Even if our filters become soiled with the experiences of life, His goodness still washes it clean.

Even though we can give everything, laying out our lives until we have nothing left to give, His response will always be to give back and to give more than we even thought we had the capacity to hold.

So in the silence, I’ll feel it,  sometimes fearless and sometimes through my fear. Because I’m called to reflect the Son and that’s what He did first.

(If you're interested in joining the journey, check out and sign up for our newsletter, host an impact dinner or become a monthly donor. Annnnd, be watching for the next blog coming next week) 

Not all who wander are lost

Over a month back in Congo! Officially. And what an incredible gift every day has been. Except for maybe last night when I violently threw up for almost 5 hours…

Thank God for rock star roommates who cleaned up my puke bucket every 20 minutes with the little bit of water we had left over. They make my life wonderful!

We just got back from an AMAZING trip to a village called Beni. If you see my previous post, I talk about the attacks and the slaughter happening in this region.

We’ve never worked there before, but Justice Rising is constantly seeking out the hardest places, with the worst war and greatest conflict.

So when we heard about the injustice last year, we started monitoring it and asking questions. Now as the raids still occur with no real let up to the killings (some even 3 nights before we arrived) we felt like it just made sense to respond.

During our time we sat with seven appointed leaders who will be our point people and mentors to our new projects. Our team has known them and trusts them with our lives. Those seven then went out and gathered some of the worst cases they knew and our team had the incredible privilege to sit with and do “Story telling” (see projects) with over a dozen individuals.

Our first story was a mama. Now, it’s been a while since I was fully in “counseling” mode and I think I was taken off guard. She had the most beautiful baby girl and as I looked into their eyes, immediately noticed severe signs of malnutrition.

As she started talking she spoke of her husband and how they use to live in a small house with a large piece of land that they would farm. They had one child and were pregnant with their second. As the rebels started to invade their village they fled, but as they were running realized that they had no food and if they were hiding in the jungle for a while, they would need provisions. She ducked down in the grass and her husband returned from some supplies. Unfortunately, it was then that he was captured and the nightmare unfolded.

She went on about his death and how they tied him up. She heard each time the machete chopped at his body and recounted his cry and how she’ll never forget the screams he made has he was hacked to death.

I was anything but professional as her story went on.

Eight months pregnant she and her toddler ran delirious for four hours to the main road.

Images of the blood that soaked her husbands body still imprinted in her mind.

The more I tried to talk, the more tears rolled down my cheeks.

I kept hearing the scripture “pure religion is this… take care of the orphan and the widow”

I imagined my husband and how I couldn’t begin to think what I would do if something happened to him.

She went on to say how she settled in the city but had no money to care for her kids.

Every week she waits outside of a shop that grinds palm oil seeds. As the machine grinds the seeds into oil, she collects the loose seeds from the ground and saves them. She says at the end of the week if she collects enough to mash into oil, she sells it herself for about $3 and buys whatever food she can.

I tried to encourage her. I tried to tell her that her husband would be so proud of how she delivered that baby by herself in a strange town and how beautiful he would think his new little girl was.

I wanted to say how amazing it was that she walked 4 hours to safety after such a horrific death.

To tell her what an amazing mother she was to work so hard to feed her girls.

The fact that she wakes up everyday and gets out of bed with sun and simply carrys on, is amazing enough.

But I couldn’t. I just gave a weak smile and told her how sorry I was she had to go through that. Tears rolling down my cheeks I bit my lip hard so I wouldn’t break out into a blubbering sob.

They say you shouldn’t cry (or in my case weep) during sessions or people won’t feel like you’re strong enough to handle their stories. You want to make them feel safe and like they can be free to open up without having to worry if they need to be comforting you.

I bit my lip harder and whispered out a prayer.

The next story I did a little better, as was the story after. After a while I was nervous I would bit right through that lower lip of mine but I felt like I was at least of better use to the women and girls that sat before us.

Yes, girls. I lost it again as we chatted with a young orphan that had to identify the chopped up bodies of both of her parents.

The entire time my heart felt like it was being ripped in pieces. I understand why God tried to emphasize “PURE RELIGION guys! This is it!!” He sees every mama who runs from the machete. Every wife who watched her husband be killed. Every child who walked mile after mile all alone.

What a stunning father to highlight them and say “These ones to me, are where it’s at. To care for these ones is what sums up the gospel”

I could go on forever but this is getting long.  I’ll share more later about the job opportunities that we’ve created and how that side of life is planning on growing.

Just know, the next post ends well. Really well.


The Whisper of Silence

I sat with a woman yesterday who due to the trauma of rape, was nearly mute.

She’d reply quietly when I asked her basic things but mostly, her lips remained tightly sealed as we sat on the edge of a plastic covered bed at a hospital here in Congo.

I leaned forward to grab her hand and as the mattress crinkled below me, the woman next to her whispered that the girl was from Beni.

Unfortunately, that makes sense.

Beni is an area just north from where we are in Eastern Congo. A trader’s city parallel to Uganda.

There was very little I could understand from her. She was raped. How, where, when, I don’t really know. Her fistula was torn, a tear that only occurs during violent sexual assault or traumatic prolonged labor. I know she comes from Beni, whether her family is alive, I don’t know. How she got down to Goma, I don’t know. Whether she wants to go back home… I don’t know.

Beni right now is a target of repeated conflict and violent attacks. They estimate roughly 30 people every week are being slaughtered, hacked to death by machetes.

The more I heard the stories the more everything stirred inside of me that we had to do something.

Arriving back in Congo, our Pastor was returning from two funerals up in the area and flew in the same day we did. The stories were fresh on his mind and my heart was eager to hear.

He uncovered layers to the conflict that helped me slightly comprehend the silence from our dear one in the hospital.

“I met many who were raped in Beni. A whole group of them meeting together. Rebels came to their family’s fields as they worked the farm. They killed their whole family with the blows of a machete. To the neck, to the chest. Not even babies less than a year old were spared. They killed everyone, except these women. The women, after witnessing the atrocities, were then raped. Just when they thought the nightmare was almost over, the soldier would ask for a drink, and then dinner. Through the pain, through the horror, the women were forced to prepare a meal for the rebels to eat.”

My heart aches.

I sit in the dark with my computer on my lap, my housemates in bed and I breathe in the breath of my papa God.

A week back in Africa and we’ve had a mini roller coaster ride of emotions. We’ve heard so many war stories on so many levels. The group of women that our head Congolese director met are still meeting but are in need of something more. Counseling? Jobs?

I think of the eyes of the woman in the hospital. I think of the crackling plastic and how it was the loudest noise that she made.

I was born into such privilege. I am a woman, yet I have a voice. I have rights.

My brain has been on overdrive with so many thoughts about the rapes and the beheadings I could go in so many directions at this stage but instead, for this post I’ll turn back to my papa. It feels like the stories have landed in my heart but not bruised it like they do so often.

It feels like I’m safely tucked in the heart of God as I go from injustice to injustice, feeling the pain but then giving it back to Jesus to bear. I try to use it as fuel for the future and my return to the west (end of July) rather than let it shift to anger or a hardened spirit.

Processing injustice is always a journey of “passing through the valley” but never remaining there. May the women of Beni, those the direct target of such horrific violations, also pass through that valley and find Jesus and hope and laughter in the midst and on the other side.


Thank you for following my journey. We’re posting every Tuesday on our Justice Rising blog if you’re interested in different voices sharing with different topics from our work in war zones. It’s more project focused than emotions focused I’d say. ;)

Words for those who work with people.

I go back to Africa tomorrow! I should have written sooner. I’m suppose to be packing now and instead I’m blogging—opps.

I was also suppose to be blogging every week for the last month though, another oops.

A few explanations. One—it was the holidays. It’s tough to focus through the blasting Christmas music and food comas.

Two- Post holidays, it was actually a pretty hard month. I wasn’t going to blog about the difficult parts but I don’t do well with glazing over my emotions. In her books, Dr. Brene Brown (one of my favorites) writes about being raw and how we weren’t meant to compartmentalize vulnerability. Being real about one thing and masking another, it doesn’t fully work and we end up with an unauthentic, watered down version of who we wish to be. (the general gist)

So, I won’t go into details to what happened, but in the end, in a moment where adjusting to my American life was feeling difficult, (sometimes it’s a larger culture shift than I anticipated) I was blindsided with an unfortunate betrayal. Or backstabbing, I guess. Am I aloud to say that?

Again- no details, but within the last couple of years I feel like I’ve been surprised with these issues a few times. And with my heart strewn across the floor, I got the privilege again, of picking up the raw pieces but couldn’t seem to organize them for a blog.

My turning point came the other night. I had one of the most healing moments of the last month just sitting down to dinner with a dear friend and aid-working veteran, sharing war stories. Not literal war stories, (which is also a common occurrence in my life) but talking about life’s imperfections and unexpected pains.

When I first got married (like… yesterday. Haha.) I kept asking married couples “What’s hard about your marriage? What are your differences? Your ups, your downs?” Because suddenly I was married and faced with “Oh my gosh, marriage is better than I ever dreamed BUT, as two strong individuals- we have a lot to learn!”

This felt similar. Sometimes when we’re navigating unfamiliar waters, or in this last month’s case- hurt and well… irritation, sometimes we’re just desperate to hear someone else say “It’s normal. It’s happened to me. You’ll be ok”

So for a quick second, if you don’t have that kind of dinner date scheduled, —for anyone who has felt knocked down, if you’ve tried and felt like you’ve failed, if you’ve been betrayed, backstabbed, lost everything, been robbed, bankrupt, or fallen down and are afraid you can’t get back up….

It’s going to be ok. You’re going to be alright.

And not only that, you won’t just come out alive, you’re going to be better than you would’ve been before, as the wisdom and humility you’ll gain is worth much more than the pride you would have kept without these lessons!

It was interesting hearing my friend talk about moments in her life that knocked her down. And I mean like, beat her til she was unconscious (not literally) and my first response was an instinctive- YOU ARE SO BRAVE. The courage it took for her to get back up was more impressive than had everything gone smoothly from the beginning. And with the experience she gained in navigating her heart, the things she learned from seeing what works and what doesn’t and preparing for the next round, she’s now developing a foundation that is more solid and life changing than she could have had before.

People are messy. And everywhere in life there are people. You can’t control whether the young prostitute returns to sell her body, even if you did risk everything to rescue her. You can’t control the young soldier who returns to fight in war, you can’t control the homeless man who just took your dollar and used it to buy alcohol and you can’t control those around you into making honoring decisions. But you can control your heart. Your response, and how you rise again, to risk it all and say yes to love.

“Failure” is such an inappropriate label. Stamped on our hearts so often when things don’t work out like we planned.

If you risk great, you could fall great, but that is not failure.

This month actually wasn’t that terrible. Papa God has been such a boss in his response. It just made me ask a lot of questions, and in disappointment choose how I was going to respond to betrayal now and the lingering taste from it before.

A semi-strange blog right before going back to Africa, but before I reach my excited “Everything is wonderful and I’m so excited to be back in the Congo!” I wanted to give you a taste of both sides to a complicated story.

This is getting long so I’ll stop rambling, but I hope that in whatever capacity you lead and live, that you never stop loving greatly, believing whole heartedly and dreaming unreasonably.

And I Stop.

It’s 7am. I sit at my computer with a cup of tea and a box of tissues, listening to TED talks and Christmas music, catching up on emails from the other side of the world.

My heart is a mess, though not necessarily in a bad way. A mix between being completely inspired for the future, oddly pensive for the present and yet slightly devastated with the past. (raw moment, stay with me)

Most mornings lately, I wake up with a message in my inbox about beheadings, people being set on fire and “…hacked to death, worse than animals.”

No joke. It’s not a random newsfeed or the BBC, but emails from my family in Congo. They’re heartbroken and confused. “AGAIN!? We fear for our lives AGAIN.” I stop for a moment and let my heart feel, tears running down my cheeks. This isn’t a statistic, a movie, these are real people and this isn’t right.

It’d be easy for me to read it, reply a quick, sympathetic yet comforting email and go on with my day. But instead I stop. To give honor to the innocent. For those who unjustly lost their lives to a blade. For the millions living in war everyday, leaving their belongings to run for safety. I stop.


This morning before my early cup of tea I lay in bed with my husband (because I have one of those now!) reading the email and then writing and rewriting Instagram posts I was trying to concoct to attempt to communicate the war happening right now. How can I be their voice? Everything I typed sounded too cliché. I was terrified that people would read the phrase “children beheaded” wince and pass on as quickly as possible, not actually thinking who that child was or how their death affected their family.

But my mind raced: “How can I communicate that this child had dreams!? They had a mom who loved them and made them breakfast every morning. They had a few goats that THEY were in charge of herding and bringing to a small patch of grass. They had favorite pass times and were never late for school.”

Feeling flustered for a moment, I ended up settling for a more uplifting post. Something without the word “hacked”.

But it still sits with me. How can we share Micheal’s story, Emmanuel’s, Juliette’s? All students in our schools. All waking up not knowing if it will be their last morning to see the sun rise.

I refuse to sit with that and believe that I am powerless to do anything.

Justice Rising builds schools in conflict zones to reach children and shift the situation for the current generation and generations to come.

So between emails I watch this. An inspiring TED talk communicating again, the epic importance of education and how it’s a game changer in war zones.

"All refugee children tell us education is the most important thing in their lives. Why? Because it allows them to think of their future rather than the nightmare of their past. It allows them to think of hope rather than hatred"

“Hope rather than hatred”

To give education is to give love. To give peace.

To be a Peace Movement, so we don’t just watch history unfold, but we take a part in writing it.

SO, as my second week in my journey of weekly blogs…. I give you this; the talk that made me pace the floor and write this post.

I hope it stirs you the same way it did me.


Melissa Fleming: