The city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is ringed in the north by a stunning chain of mountains called the Virungas. For all of their beauty, these mountains harbor a simmering threat. Nyiragongo, the nearest to Goma, is particularly dangerous. This active volcano has destroyed portions of Goma's environs regularly over the past centuries. Most recently, in 2002, lava flows covered 20% of the city, killing almost 250 people and leaving thousands homeless.
Since that devastation, the city has gone through a phase of enormous rebuilding and growth. In 2002 about 250,000 people lived in Goma. Today, its estimated population is nearly 1.5 million. Better monitoring systems have been implemented around the volcano, which indicate the lava lake in the crater continues to rise. A future eruption is a certainty-- the question is only when. And yet the blossoming community in Goma continues to repair roads, build houses, and found new businesses.
As we establish our life, ministry, and work here, Nyiragongo illustrates the tensions of risk and value that have defined our life in DRC. We want our work to have impact, to change broken systems, to bring new life to our community. But is it worth it to fight for progress in the looming shadow of the literal and metaphorical volcanos of Congo?
This past year has taught most everyone in the world that there are many things we can't control, even with the most risk-averse planning. Here in DRC there are plenty of examples of plans destroyed or waylaid. Our first business-as mission endeavor, Cafe Kivu, saw its coffee production facility destroyed by rebels in 2015. Multiple evacuations from Beni, our first DRC home, kept us away from work at the primary school and university there. Our long-term commitment to that community was cut short by our son Eliot’s medical and educational needs. Corrupt and greedy government officials routinely threaten to put an end to our solar energy project which seeks to provide clean energy to hundreds of citizens who would otherwise have none. These are just a few examples that come to mind.
In the end, what can we really do? Our calling has to be one of a higher order-- a calling from God to offer hope. Hope of a better tomorrow, of meaningful systems change, of a better life for everyone in our community because we are living it together. Hope that means that, even if the things we've built get covered by lava, we'll return to rebuild together.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” - Acts 4:32-35