“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” - Brene Brown
Recently, I saw several stunning displays of courage when I had the privilege of attending the 10th Commemoration of the atrocities against Congolese Tutsis, an event organized by the Kivu Youth United and attended by hundreds of Congolese refugees who fled their country years before, at the onset of violence.
At this event, I hugged an old friend, Emile, whom I first met in 2011 in the middle of Kiziba Refugee Camp, half a world away. I marveled yet again at God's goodness and grace and the way that only God could enable our paths to continue to cross.
I met a survivor who proudly showed my husband his machete scars. He talked of his desire to write a book about what's happening in the Congo so others might know and learn from it.
I watched as a Rwandan priest, himself a survivor of another, equally horrific genocide (the 1994 Rwandan genocide), shared wisdom and guidance from his own experience about topics ranging from how to figure out who's been killed to how to capture the world's attention and help it see and understand what's happening in the Congo.
I heard an often forgotten, nearly always invisible people group dare to believe that the Governor of Texas, the Mayor of Houston, and the Congolese Ambassador would see fit to accept their invitation to attend the Commemoration and remember with them. When it finally became clear that these individuals would not be attending, rather than complain about their absence or lack of response, I heard refugee after refugee praise the United States for being a great country. In the words of the President of the Kivu Youth United, "I would like to thank this great country for giving us a chance to have life again. This great country protects everyone."
I listened as person after person seized their newly acquired freedom of speech to share their story – horrible stories of pain, separation from families, war, and killings – through songs, poetry, and testimonies. I saw healing happening in the telling of these stories, in the remembering of the horrors each person endured.
I saw people determined to remember where they came from and do something about it. Though by American standards, these refugees are themselves barely surviving, they are determined to help other Congolese refugees transition to life outside of the Congo; advocate on behalf of what still, to this day, is occurring in the Congo; and raise money to fund schools for their “brothers & sisters still living in the refugee camps."
I listened as men of all ages debated what justice would look like for their people, in a day and age when much of the world lives blissfully unaware of the atrocities occurring on a daily basis in the Congo and when those who do know what's happening refuse to declare it “genocide” because doing so would compel them to act rather than sit idly by.
In the midst of it all, I saw God - in the prayers spoken, the songs sung, the reading of Scripture in multiple languages, the preaching of the Word, and in a people who's faith somehow, despite the incredible odds stacked against them, grows stronger rather than weaker.
On a hot Saturday in Houston, in a crowded gymnasium in a small Lutheran church, I saw 200 Congolese men, women, and children come together and remember.
In a year when I'm striving to be brave, I hope that I can, for just a brief moment, be half as courageous as my Congolese brothers and sisters.
This post is part of a synchroblog on “Ordinary Courage". Here are the other posts in this series:
Being Vulnerable by Phil Lancaster
Moving Forward Takes Courage by Paul W. Meier
How to Become a Flasher by Glenn Hager
Ordinary Courage by Elaine Hansen
Courage, Hope, Generosity by Carol Kuniholm
The Courage to Fail by Wendy McCaig
The Greatest Act of Courage by Jeremy Myers
Sharing One's Heart by K. W. Leslie
All I See Is Rocks by Tim Nichols
I Wonder What Would Happen by Liz Dyer
What is Ordinary Courage? by Jennifer Stahl
Loving Courageously by Doreen A. Mannion
Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess by Elizabeth Chapin
The Act to the Miraculous by VisionHub
the spiritual practice of showing up & telling the truth by Kathy Escobar