Gimme shelter (not)

I have been going through photos. I have been struck with the sheer level of activity and variety in my prepandemic life. Was 2016-17 typical? Perhaps not. But in the space of six months I made two trips to Africa and we sold and bought a house, moved, helped care for a new grandchild, and went to the Kentucky Derby for the first time ever. Oh, and Trump was elected right then and turned the political scene upside down.

After a year of confinement I don’t think I’d be up for that much … life any more. But a little more personal excitement would be nice, besides watching riots and a would-be coup from a safe distance; something to look forward to. In this passive life I have spent a lot of nervous energy looking forward to things. The election. The certification. The inauguration. And now, in two days, our vaccinations. But just as I start dreaming about planning a family trip to South Africa next winter, that country produces a virulent new variant of the virus and travel therefrom is banned. The wait-and-see stance must be adopted once again.

“Sheltering in place.” Remember that term? It was what we did in the first weeks of the pandemic when we didn’t know much at all about the virus except that it was pretty scary. In Indiana we kept our numbers low at first by sheltering in place and then a lot of people got tired of that and we started going out more and then the whole mask thing and the virus itself was politicized. And sheltering in place became the more political “lockdown.” We ventured out to visit our family in early July when the lockdown was lifted, and then the numbers went haywire and we went back to mostly staying home, that is, voluntarily sheltering in place. I did give up grocery delivery and started grocery shopping on my own because I needed some excuse to get out of the house, especially after gardening season ended, so I can’t say I’ve been religious about sheltering in place all this time, just about masking up.

Perhaps the smartest thing we did during the past six months was to open our shelter to two more asylum seekers, joining the one who was released to us from detention in early March, just in time for the lockdown. This move resulted in the establishment of a bicultural community in our large house, which adds life and liveliness and also a sense of purpose. Life for those three people could be extremely difficult without us. I don’t have to go out of the house to be useful—except for occasional gigantic shopping trips to Costco. Our service projects live upstairs.

Still, I keep feeling like I have regressed to laziness. Is an absence of striving the same as laziness? I have no particular focus for energy, therefore, whatever energy I have dissipates. Sometimes this feels comfortable, sometimes it feels like a great loss.

My daughter-in-law, who has also been to South Africa, and I dream of proteus and elephants and getting the whole family there. Together. Someday.

How are you all holding up?

Congo joy, Congo lament

While we were hosting friends from Congo last week, the situation in Congo itself began deteriorating rapidly.

However, in the brief days Pastor François and his wife, Felly, spent in our home; at the Thanksgiving celebration we hosted with more friends; and in the discussions we held on how our churches might continue to relate to each other we never got around to discussing the troubles that were bringing Congo into the headlines once again after a long absence from the spotlight. The personal and communal superseded the political, even as Congo seemed on the verge of falling apart.

It was partly the timing. The invasion and conquest of Goma happened when I was too busy with the visit to be reading or listening to much news. More important, it was such a contrast to the joy and warmth of the visit itself. It coincided with a jubilant crosscultural worship service in a lovely rural Michigan church. We had other things to do and talk about and little time. This is perhaps a landmark of crosscultural friendship. We have reached a stage where the particulars of our lives, families, and aspirations; reminiscences of our shared experiences; and news of our mutual friends crowd out talk about major political/military developments with international repercussions. We don’t see or treat each other as representatives of our respective countries; we are only ourselves and we focus on each other.

This is not to say that the concerns are too distant or minor to matter to those we know and love. Our friends may return to rioting in Kinshasa, even though the events took place on the other side of that vast country, which usually seems a world apart from the capital. The Kabila government is threatened. Thus, other friends and acquaintances who are members of the Congolese parliament certainly have their hands full. And life in Congo will no doubt get more difficult before it improves (and one wonders if as well as when).

Whatever happens, it will be impossible for my husband and me, and a growing group of our friends, to ignore, because we are unalterably bound by ties of love with that impossible country. When the political is personal and the personal, political, the news can become heartrending.

I don’t know if this makes us wiser or gives us any insight about courses of action our government should take. I don’t know the truth about, say, the machinations of the Rwandan government or whether the Chinese could move in and straighten things out as some are suggesting. It is tempting to sign every e-petition that promises some kind of solution. I do let my government know I care, for what it’s worth.

What I know to do is to pray for Congo when I can pray fervently. I don’t bother much with routine prayers. My experience is that serious prayers actually make a difference. But fervent prayer comes out of love, attention, even heartbreak. My heart is breaking for Congo.