Goma, DRC, 14 June 2012 — One of the hardest things for an American to do is to sit patiently, expectantly, and listen. And listen. And listen. Maybe I am overgeneralizing based on my own persistent midwesternism, but I don’t think so.
It helps to have women with us on this trip, especially as we listen to that which makes us deeply uncomfortable. Distressed. Enveloped in grief for those who suffer. And so we listened to Vimulia, who told us her name means “perseverance.”
Vimulia doesn’t like her name. She thinks it more curse than blessing, that it has brought her to this place of despair rather than helping her survive through:
- Gang-raping by eight men
- Seeing her husband shot and killed as he tried to come to her aid
- Finding her way to Goma and medical care, only to end up in a camp for displaced persons and having her few remaining possessions stolen. Twice.
Her aunt and others took her in. Helped her get to the clinic that is, for the time, her home. Her request to us, even though hungry and without any resources, was that we would make sure that other people like her would get the help they needed.
The title of this blog is “Abundant Nothing.” Here we marvel at the strength and courage and graciousness of those with little who reach out to those with even less. Vimulia has nothing, yet her mind was on her sisters still “out there,” needing help “in here” where she was fortunate enough to find care, and love, and maybe even a bit of hope.
Vimulia, whose name means perseverance, we commit to carry out your wishes. We strive to help those who are hurting. And we know that is insufficient.
During this visit, in which we came to listen and learn, apply and validate, we heard one more strong admonition from the community. Leaders from the region looked across the table filled with Westerners and said: “You are from powerful nations. These twenty years of war could not have continued without your allowing it.”
Memories of Patrice Lumumba aren’t all they draw on in this statement. No, these memories are much more recent. See Chapter Five (“Onion Layers”) of Jason Stearns’s book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. Or these United Nations reports from recent weeks.
Right now, eight twenty-somethings are doing their part to make visible this long-running conflict. They have heard these stories. They have declared “She’s MY Sister” and have mounted their bicycles for a near-2000 mile ride across the U.S. As they speak in churches, youth groups, campgrounds along this route, those who hear will face a choice . . .
Ignore and deny. Or listen and respond as able. We can choose our path. I choose the path suggested by Vumilia. In the midst of her agony, her thought is for those still “out there.” Does it take us losing everything before we can see and hear? Or are we able to respond from abundance, and prove ourselves worthy to sit in the same room as Perseverance?