The Chicago contingent of the Ten for Congo team gathered earlier this week at Christine’s house for breakfast, conversation and a Congo photo swap. After breakfast, Christine gifted each of us with a series of her favorite Congo portraits. The next morning, I arranged them on my desk, as you see them here. I thought they would inspire me to write, but instead they paralyzed me. As a writer, any time I experience brain or heart paralysis, it’s bad because I can’t get any writing done. In this case, I had brain AND heart paralysis—definitely not good.
So, nothing to do but sit and look at these photos. Mothers. Sisters. Daughters. Friends. Grandmas. Aunts. Wives. Schoolgirls. Widows.
I’ve now gathered up the photos into a shiny stack and I flip through them one by one. I thought it would be less intense to look at one photo at a time but it isn’t. Just the opposite: looking into one pair of eyes pulls me deeper into Congo than I thought possible. Who would have imagined that thousands of miles could be compressed to fit into the space of a 5-x-7-inch photo?
If you were to ask my grandson, Henry, what Nana Lynne’s favorite color is, he’d shout with enthusiasm: “Turquoise!” He knows that I think life is always more beautiful with a dash of turquoise thrown in. But even without the turquoise walls in the little church where these portraits were taken, I would be overwhelmed by the candescent beauty of these women—a beauty unique to these who know both intense suffering and well-grounded hope.
These photos were taken after the women and girls had courageously shared with us the detailed stories of their suffering. After we had all joined in a circle and prayed. After hugs and attempted conversations in an incomprehensible jumble of French, English and Swahili. After one hour, two, three, four. Hours spent together in a little church with turquoise walls, in a little turquoise sanctuary for souls.
I don’t ever want to forget these women. Thanks to Christine’s amazing photos and the copious notes I took, I won’t forget them. But what do I do with these memories? These stories? These faces? What now?
Each member of the Ten for Congo team is returning home to a life filled with family, friends, jobs, pleasures and pains. One woman returns to grieving the loss of a family member, a process cut short by our Congo travel schedule. Another prepares to bury the failing body of a dear young friend perched on the edge of death. One fills her hours with work that grew exponentially while we were gone. Another crosses the country in search of a job. One plans a massive public event. Another parses short sentences on a laptop as a freelance writer for hire.
We Ten for Congo “girls” live very diverse lives, but we’ve been united by Congo. Together we will determine how best we can continue to honor and support the people of Congo. In the coming weeks and months, whenever you see the Ten for Congo banner on my website, you can expect an update on our friends in Congo and on our efforts on their behalf.
In the meantime, any funds you donate by clicking on the link below will support local Congolese churches doing what we saw them doing so well: fostering reconciliation, caring for orphans and widows, and advocating for peace.