No23 March 1997.3
My dear family and friends,
When I left you at the beginning of October 1996, I told you that the war was far away from Kisangani, so you didn't have to be afraid for me. Now I am writing to you, six months later, to tell you that I am not in Zaire anymore. The town of Kisangani was taken over on March 15. So now I belong to another country. It's an uncomfortable feeling, being a prospective prisoner.
I know the news on TV doesn't say much of interest. I also know that you must be worried about what is happening to us. I remember my father once said: "You don't get divorced after 50 years of marriage!" This seemed to sum up his deep conviction that once a person has given his word, it is written in stone.
The difficulties I find myself in at present cannot turn me away from the commitment I have made: To consecrate my life to serving Africa. Some days, it takes heroic efforts to try to live out my oath. I have been doing discernment along with the community, the pros and cons, should we stay, should we go. Right now, there is not enough reason to make me leave Zaire. That doesn't mean there is no reason. It just means that the situation is not bad enough to tip the scale toward leaving.
Yes, I'm taking a risk. Life is full of risks. This risk is just one in a long series of risks in life. I also have the assurance that God will not let me down. God is there and helps me through each day.
Almost everyone is living under a shadow here. They are all scared. Tempers flare up over nothing at all. Terror lurks in every corner, but is mostly imaginary for the moment.
The archbishop and almost all the bishops of the province of Haut-Zaire, now Haut-Congo, don't know how to return to their dioceses, which have been taken over or totally demolished. A Church that is going through a time of purification. Can it interpret the signs of the times and do what is necessary in order to continue on its way to the promised land? In the archdiocese of Kisangani, there are only two rural parishes that have not been pillaged, and still have their priests. The other parishes are vacant. Imagine the consequences. People are gathering in town, hoping for better times. Fifty priests... Most of the sisters have left... What should be done? Believe me, we have a lot to think about.
Our confreres who are living in rebel-held areas are able to carry on their work as usual, peacefully. The rebels are not as bad as the media would have everyone believe. They are freeing the country from a regime that went on for far too long. There is considerable support for overthrowing the dictatorship. That is one of the reasons why the rebels have been so successful: no one opposes them.
Some bad things have been happening. Around 200,000 Rwandan Hutus are wandering in the woods trying to hide from their sworn enemies. The international humanitarian organizations have all pulled out, and in a few days, these thousands of people will have no more food.
Another bad thing: the Zairian army scattered mines around the town before withdrawing. People going out to their fields have been dismembered. The few cases of dismemberment caused by the land mines have stirred up panic among the population. People are afraid to take the paths into the bush to get food from their fields. As a result, food supplies are running out in town. We have to tighten our belts along with the people. That is part and parcel of being a missionary.
This morning, I presided at the Eucharist. As the theme for our reflection and meditation, I chose "Being faithful to our first "yes", and the loving response the Lord asks of us." In closing, I invited the sisters to go live out this "loving yes" in the concrete actions of their everyday life. The most important part of the message was: just take things one at a time. Kamu, Kamu... little by little, as I used to say to you. That is how we manage to overcome all obstacles.
For the moment, my health is good. I'm working full-time, so no time to sit around and twiddle my thumbs. I don't think that exists for a missionary.
Please keep me in your prayers. That is the only thing that gives me the strength and courage to take up my yoke every morning, with the certainty that the Lord will never leave us. "I am with you until the end of the world."
If you could send a little snow our way, I'd be grateful. The dry season has gone on longer than usual; the heat and humidity are hard to bear, 31 degrees Celsius. The nights are hot. Another thing that goes with the territory when you're a missionary.
Until next time, may God keep you in his care.
A missionary in Zaire