I confess that in the last year as we adjusted to life in Congo, there were several times I found myself hoping desperately for something. Life in Congo is very different from life in the U.S., as you can imagine, so many of the ‘bumps in the road’ in our adjustment had to do with the physical aspects of life. In the beginning, I eagerly anticipated being in our own apartment. Life would feel more predictable and manageable when we could finally unpack our suitcases for good, I reasoned. Then, my frustrations focused on our lack of electricity – if ONLY we could have some electricity at home, things would be easier. In September, we started getting electricity a few hours a week. I rejoiced…but of course it was not enough. My frustrations then found their answer in a phone – if I could only have my own phone, rather than sharing one, things would be easier. Of course, once I got a phone, I rarely used it, and found that it was not quite the panacea I had envisioned.
These things feel a little silly now, reflecting on them and writing them out. Of course I know that nothing material and expendable can compensate for the frustrations of life. Experiencing the desperation of hope, I tried to find something to blame the frustrations on and something ‘graspable’ that would solve them. I am reading Anna Karenina at the moment, and Tolstoy expresses this idea in the character of Vronsky, Anna’s lover:
“Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires. … He was soon aware that there was springing up in his heart a desire for desires-ennui.”
I took a few days recently of personal /spiritual retreat, and was reminded again of the Hope that God has for us. Paul prays for the Ephesians, “…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…” In Chapter 2, Paul reminds them that everyone has lived, at one time, “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, and following its desires and thoughts.” I was struck as I meditated on Ephesians by the significance of our identity in Christ. We can not effectively live in right relationship with people or our world apart from Christ living in us. So – my challenge this year- when I get overwhelmed and frustrated, to look to our eternal hope, rather than trying to find something tangible to blame all the frustrations on. When I sometimes feel like we are ‘camping’ in our apartment, and everything about life seems hard, this is not easy to do.
We really want to have hope for Congo, also. It is hard to see and feel the physical suffering around us – people who seem to constantly be sick with malaria, those who have jobs, but the salaries are so low they still struggle to feed their families, students that struggle to study and gain skills because there is no city power or access to computers, roads that are so bad that they prohibit the distribution of goods. I see these things and wonder how people in these situations can manage to face another day. Sometimes we look around us and ask “Can this situation ever change? Is there hope for Congo??” But we can not let ourselves get in that trap. There is always hope – God has promised us that. We may not know when, or how change will come, but we know that each person in Congo is loved and valued in God’s sight, and He has not forgotten them. My own grasping at things this year has taught me that despite the poverty around us, something tangible like a little extra food or clothing will probably not provide the same satisfaction as the ‘intangible’ gifts of being valued and given hope.
The perseverance and hope that we see in many Congolese people is truly inspiring. The physical challenges of life sometimes make me want to give up and lose hope. Yet, we see Congolese friends who are experiencing much more significant physical challenges, and they press on, gratefully acknowledging that God has brought them this far. As we entered this new year, we heard over and over again people say what a gift it was to enter another year. The fact that people can be grateful for life, and find the hope to press on in the midst of the challenges that never seem to end—wow. That is a mind-set I aspire to, and something significant I am learning from our Congolese brothers and sisters. In my desperation of hope, I know that God has already given us hope, and I see it being lived out in the people around us.