Among some of my friends in college, I am known for making a comment that went like this...
"I don't have a heart for Africa."
It was then written down on our quote wall to haunt me for the rest of our days in the dorm. And brought up at opportune times to remind me of my lack of heart for the continent of Africa. When I made that comment, I was completely devoted to mission work in Latin America. My heart was devoted to people of Hispanic and Latin culture. I had no desire to expand my horizons and consider doing missions in an African country. And while I have yet to step foot on the African continent, over the last few years my heart has been drawn ever nearer to those lands and peoples. My heart has been drawn to the history, the culture, the people and the lifestyle of the African continent. And maybe one day I will find myself stepping into Kigali, Rwanda or Nairobi, Kenya or Bukavu, Congo (formerly Zaire) or Arusha, Tanzania. Maybe one day I will find myself walking to a village church in Uganda or worshiping with believers in Sierra Leone. Who knows where I may travel and end up. But my heart is drawn there and I'm pretty sure it's safe to say that I am beginning to have a heart for Africa.
Over the last two weeks I have slowly worked through Jason Stearns' book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa. It was an intense book and a heavy read from start to finish. It takes a look at the wars fought in the Congo since the country's independence in 1960, as well as a brief overview of it's history with Belgium and European control. It spends a great deal looking at the state of things in the '90s when Rwanda's genocide turned the Congo-Rwandan border into a hot-spot for militias and refugees. It also spends a great deal looking into the various leaders of the various military campaigns and political leaders who then gained (or tried to gain) control of the Congo.
Jason Stearns spent years living in and researching the Congo (currently known as the Democratic Repulic of Congo and formerly known as Zaire). His heart and compassion for the Congolese people, while secular, is very clearly seen in his writing. Down to his conclusion where he talks about the current state of things and what Westerners should and shouldn't do. His research was done through an incredible amount of interviews, travels, documents and news reports. He even puts himself in the story as he explains who he talked to and where he had to travel to meet with a specific witness. It was quite incredible to say the least.
I said that the book was intense and heavy. And it was. Stearns shared a lot of detail when it came to the stories of the massacres and the killings. He shared the witnesses perspectives in an open and honest way that can be hard for some to read. It's like the Holocaust in some ways. People don't want to admit that it happened and if they read the true stories about it, their hearts (and sometimes their stomachs) can't really handle it. While I was familiar with some of the history and the stories of genocide or guerrilla warfare, some of the details he shared were hard for me to read. There were more than a few times where I simply had to lay the book down and breathe quietly to compose myself.
But while it was intense and heartbreaking, it was eye-opening. It was intriguing to see more of the back-story to the trouble that took place. It was interesting to read the different perspectives of various leaders as to why the wars were taking place. And it was good for me to read the stories of survivors and to remind myself that this isn't the way things were supposed to be when GOD created the world. It also gave me a renewed desire to see the Gospel spread across the lands of the Congo and the World so that peace can come. So that healing can come. So that justice can come.