Honestly, I have been nervous about going on this trip alone to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for several weeks. Not the small, butterfly feeling in my stomach nervousness, but the waking-up-every-night-full-of-worry variety. Without going into a ton of detail, there were some "normal" precautions we use in travel--going with a buddy, having reliable transportation at the airport, traveling during the day--that appeared, in my limited viewpoint, to be falling apart. This, along with the fact that Philip was not on the invitation letter, and could not get a visa even if we could scrape up the money for him to travel with me, left me in a bit of irrational panic. Although I consciously know that fear is not of the Lord, and I can statistically look at how unlikely it would be that anything would happen to me, for nearly a month I could only focus on the dangers involved in such a trip. It did not help that one day, while thinking whether I should film a blog that looks similar to those YouTube goodbyes, I came out of my thoughtful daze to hear John Mayer singing "Say What You Need to Say" on the radio. An omen, I worried. I was ridiculously scared. I did not have the choice of being disobedient and not going; I just prayed and prayed for God to make the situation less overwhelmingly frightening. And He did just that.
With the new guidelines from the U.S. Embassy, suddenly I got to travel with two other people, and those nightmares I had created of being the girl in the movie Taken vanished (if you haven't seen that movie yet, don't. It makes you have an irrational fear of traveling, as evidenced by the rant above). I met a sweet woman named Susie at the airport while I was trying to stuff every item of clothing into my checked baggage, unaware that they actually weighed your carryon bags. I had about 10 pounds to shed. After assuring me that if my clothes did not make it, I could borrow hers, we got on a plane headed to Ethiopia. I found the travel buddy I had been praying for.
What I did not know is that God would use Susie to give me more than just peace of mind and a listening ear when traveling. As we traveled, I learned that in 2010 Susie had taken a mission trip to the DRC and had fallen in love with a community right outside the Kinshasa city limits. She had traveled back five times over the next two years as a liason for the United Methodist Church, whose program in this community feeds the children once a day, offers a clinic, and has built a water well in the area. Susie goes to meet specific needs of the community, to help create vision for its leaders, and to simply bring joy and hope to the kids of this community through a week of fun, games, and stories about God and Jesus. This time, she was making a trip to adopt a little girl who God had beautifully knit into her life through these visits.
She graciously offered to take me to the village the day after we arrived. There I learned an important lesson. We veered off the highway and started down sandy, rocky roads. On either side of us were stone "houses" which consisted mostly of a roof and open, crumbling walls. Children were out playing or bathing from a bucket, while women sat watching them. It began quietly. A few children would catch a glimpse of us in the car, a smile would spread across their faces, and they would say, with excitement, "Susie!" We kept driving, some people ignoring us, some peering inquisitively into the windows, and some running alongside the car. Finally, we took our last left-hand turn, and in the clearing, saw the great party that had been prepared for her. It did not have food or decorations, only a hundred children jumping, dancing and screaming, "Susie, maya! Susie, maya! Susie, maya!" over and over again (which, I believe means "Susie's here"). She opened the car door and they swarmed her and followed her into the small gathering spot they have, chanting praise of her return.
Susie is not a celebrity, but she sure looked like one that day. While she visited the friends she had made there, I wandered around to look at the center. I watched as men and women, along with Susie, surrounded the well to discuss its repair (she hoped to purchase a new pump during her visit). I got to pray over a man who had received surgery at the clinic by one of the two doctors there. I got to hold hands with a crowd of smiling children who had just finished their meal. I danced and sang and gave more "high-fives" than my palms could handle. I got the special treat of seeing five babies recently born at the clinic. And, I got to be there to see the awe of overwhelming gratitude that swept over Susie's face when she learned that one of those babies was named after her. I was reminded of the verse in I Thessalonians 4:11: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands… so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." God was using a special-education teacher from a small town in Delaware to carry out His purpose in this otherwise forgotten community. No one would ever know the fanfare that surrounded her visit, but I am sure the Creator of the universe, who had tugged her heartstrings to know and love these people, knew. What I saw that day was nothing short of miraculous: a community brought back to life by the care and concern and obedience of a woman whose ambition was to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and in doing so, to serve her King.