Community prayers for Traychon

A few days ago I learned that the community On-Site Prayer Ministry was scheduling a vigil at the location of the shooting of Traychon Taylor, the one that took place practically in our backyard a few weeks ago and that I’ve written about here and here.

Since I’ve been doing my own vigil in my backyard rather sporadically (I’m easily discouraged by weather), this seemed like a next step in whatever might be unfolding. I looked forward to it. Continue reading

Traychon, cont.

When you start out on something that seems promising but outside your comfort zone, you can easily lose momentum, chicken out. You hear the countering voices. What was I thinking? I am making too much of this. I’ve been feeling this about my little Traychon project, about the young man who was shot behind our house, which I wrote about just two days ago. Nevertheless, I have persisted in following my impulses or perhaps the Spirit. Continue reading


So this happened a week ago Sunday night, at around 10 pm as we were watching a movie at home: a pop-pop-pop that might have been gunshots or firecrackers. Fifteen minutes later I looked out a kitchen window and saw police cars, lights flashing, crime-scene tape, cops with flashlights behind our long backyard, in the street and in a parking lot that belongs to a business at the back edge of our property. Definitely, it had been shots.

Continue reading

Encounter in the global village

A choir from Kenya performs on the Global Village stage at Mennonite World Conference Assembly

A choir from Kenya performs on the Global Village stage at Mennonite World Conference Assembly

Cicadas, a crowing rooster, a misguided moth trying to find an opening in the porch screens. I am at home and otherwise alone with time to reflect for the first time in a month. Time, but little mental clarity. It has been quite a month.

On June 25 four friends arrived from DR Congo to spend three and a half weeks in our community, doing volunteer work with members of my congregation, cementing our congregational partnership. And then we attended the global assembly of Mennonites/Anabaptists that takes place somewhere in the world once every six years, this time in Harrisburg, PA. In the last time slot of the last day of the assembly, three of us presented a workshop on church-to-church partnerships. Continue reading

Finding courage

inside-out6I’ve been wanting to go to a theater to see Inside Out. I never go to theaters any more; we always wait for the DVDs and watch movies in the comfort of our living room, with headphones and subtitles so we don’t have to strain to catch whispered, muttered, or lightning-fast dialog.

But Inside Out feels urgent. According to the reviews, it contains lessons on how to manage emotions, lessons that both young and old need to learn. (If you’re looking for a review of the movie, this is not it because I haven’t seen it yet. Read the reviewer who gushes over it in the staid NYTimes.)

I’ve been struggling with these lessons recently myself and I must be desperate if I’m thinking of turning to a Pixar movie for help. Continue reading

A Christmas story


The little family came for Christmas. The resemblance to the ancient family was purely coincidental. The daddy’s name was Joseph, the mommy was pregnant, tired and uncomfortable. And my role was something like the Innkeeper’s, trying to make everybody comfortable and content even though the rain was coming down hard on Christmas Eve and expectations were high–especially my own and those of the 4-year-old, the big sister to the coming child.

She was the wild card in this Christmas story, she of the opinions, energy, charm, and uncanny sensitivity to whatever vibes are emanating from those around her. Continue reading

A mystic in trouble

Why do I even do this? I ask myself several times a day when I am tending Congo matters. How did I get myself into this difficult situation, who am I to be doing this? But the question is always rhetorical, not because I know the answer to it but because I know I will keep doing whatever it is I am doing, even though it is difficult. The situation I’ve gotten myself into is exactly where I want/need to be, even though it isn’t always pleasant.

But I try to address the question head-on every now and then because motives and reasons can sneak around and bite you in the back if you don’t keep an eye on them. They do keep changing, even if your actions remain outwardly the same. If you aren’t aware of the changes you can start lying to yourself, unwittingly, and that is never good. The better side of this is that as time goes on motives may become clearer, and it is always rewarding, always a good thing, to understand yourself better, to understand what is happening to you that causes you to behave in the way you do.

The situation I am referring to is that I continue to take a very active interest in a particular Christian community in perhaps the poorest country in the world, a country ridden by impossible conflicts, though those conflicts are largely outside the territory of this community. So, it’s not because I think I can do anything about the chaos and suffering in eastern Congo. It’s not, in fact, because I think I can do anything about any kind of suffering in Congo, including the suffering of poverty. Relieving suffering is not my motivating force, not what calls me, although it may be a blessed side effect of some things I do.

I do hope not to create more suffering for others though that, too, can be a side effect. So maybe I will create suffering, unpleasant as that may be for me to witness, because suffering is necessary for growth. I’m finding this in my own case and who am I to say growth should be easy for other people? I am suffering a little right now, asking myself, why do I even do this? Because it isn’t easy; it is, in fact, sometimes agonizing.

Early on what got me into the Congo thing, which has intensified over the last year and a half, was a combination of nostalgia (for a previous experience in the distant past), love of beauty (Congo Cloth), and serendipity: the unfolding of a series of circumstances that came together in quick succession, making certain actions and developments seem right.

Then, quickly, it came to be about relationships. When you start relating to a new group of friends, become involved in a new network, certain things become possible and certain things are asked of you and you respond. Relationships require communication and lead, inevitably, to responsibility but they are also sustaining. So I can say that I need this new group of friends; that they are becoming like another very extended family for me, creating warmth and home and familiarity in ways I could not have imagined two years ago.

But none of this gets at the big, mysterious Why. Why Congo, why me, why now?

I could put it down to feeling called. It is that for sure, but the answer does not satisfy me so why should it satisfy you? I have done a lot in my life without the (maybe sometimes dangerous) certainty that goes with feeling called, and so I don’t think a sense of call is necessary to compel me to do odd things like work for nuclear disarmament or wrack my brains over environmental policy. But I have done these things out of a similar combination of circumstance, attraction, relationship, responsibility, and mystery. And with the similar frustrations and agony that come with doing anything difficult (even apparently impossible).

The common thread here seems to be, “difficult things.” Why do I repeatedly go for the difficult, the impossible? It seems to be in my DNA, but it is also a result of how I live, that is, by such airy methods as prayer and paying attention to dreams, and in an everlasting quest for wisdom (knowing I will never have enough of it to make sense of myself, let alone the world). These difficult situations are the practical results, for me, of living as a mystic.

Living as a mystic gets me into difficulties. I get focused on something and can’t turn away. Prayer and dreams trick me into taking bold steps that make no logical sense. But living as a mystic also gets me through difficulties. It does not, believe me, keep me from making mistakes. The mistakes, however, usually get transformed into wisdom and learning, and correcting them requires more bold moves in a good direction. Away from fear, toward love. That movement, propelled by spiritual power, is what it is all about.

Mystics, unite! The world needs us, getting down and dirty, getting into trouble.

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.