18 months

18 months in a lifetime represent but a breath of time.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing.  Just a vapor.  Oh, yes, there are times when 18 months usher in sweeping changes…like the newborn who has transformed from an utterly dependant and needy baby into a walking, talking unique human being.  That being said, it's 18 years before that same baby is considered adult and even then, the process is not really complete.  Often, though, the differences, the changes, the growth that come about in a year and a half can be virtually imperceptible, unseen and unheard in the day-to-day.  What difference does the passage of 18 months make?  After all, you blink, and it’s gone.

And yet…
can the world not shift in that span of time? 

It has been 18 months since I last set foot on Congolese soil.  18 months since I stood under the Congo sun and felt the sweat it produces roll down my face. 18 months of not seeing, and embracing and working shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, with our Congolese colleagues who have become our only family here, our brothers and sisters, our co-workers and our friends.  18 months of not experiencing for myself how things are going, what effect our presence has really had, and what, if anything, has changed. 
But now I am here; I’m back on Congo ground.  

Absence, I've learned, does gives clarity and perspective.

You see, last summer, when a projected time here didn't materialize, I seriously began to wonder if just like that, it was the end forever of this chapter of my life.
If the welcome I received by our closest Congolese colleague is any indication, my presence is welcomed and my absence felt.  And that warmed my heart in ways unimaginable in the years past.
Forgotten details are suddenly remembered.  Like how darkness falls quickly every day by 6 o'clock.  Or how loudly the birds chirp early in the morning to welcome each new day.  And how grey the skies can be as the long awaited rains arrive which herald the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rains.

There is other more subtle remembering too.  Like how, in spite of incredible suffering and challenges, the Congolese love to laugh.  Or how the “drums beat” figuratively to announce our arrival ... and the subsequent phone calls that come from many who have heard the resounding beat and  wish to see us, hoping for some  encouragement.
From what I have seen and observed over these past days, the world has shifted in these last 18 months.  Things spoken of at length in days gone by have been internalized.  Ideas have been transferred, taken root and are sprouting.  The mantle for the work is being worn with determination and conviction. And joy! A joy that is our shared and combined emotion of having worked long and hard and finally seeing fruit for our labour.
Today I know one thing with certainty.  Even if it were 18 more months until I could once again come, or even if never again would I stand in this sandy, dusty, impossible  place, that it was all worth it.  Every drop of sweat.  Every tear shed.  Every frustration confronted.  Every scheme of Satan overthrown.  Each and every sad goodbye.  It. was. worth. it.  And with the strength of God, I would do it all over again.

Pierre, Richard, Georges, Fifi, Brenda, Edwige, John, Dave, Guylain, Jean, Daquin


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