Prayer of Serenity

I’ve been putting off this post because frankly it’s easier to write about the fun things I did in Uganda than about the hard times. I want to share the challenges though because they are an important part of the story and grew me in many ways. I’ve been slowly adding to this post over the course of two months, and now I’m finally publishing it even though I am already home in Canada. It’s probably one of the most difficult posts I’ve written.

These past weeks/months have been quite an emotional roller-coaster. I have felt great joy and great sadness; great hope and great discouragement. This journey began when I decided last year that I would pursue thesis research in the DR Congo. Even though I could do a simple architectural project, I decided that if I was going to spend this time to do a thesis, then I would take it as a chance to learn something new and do something with physical impact. My interest in the DRC came from when I was there two years ago and began pondering on the question of what design could offer that community. My preliminary research lead me to mapping as a key design and communication tool to impact positive change in a community. I saw God working in many of the logistics that followed. I reached out to see if UCBC would be interested in partnering in the research and it fit well with their own schedule and ambitions. Finances were working out because I was given a scholarship from Waterloo and my tax return covered my plane ticket. All of the doors were opening to make this research happen.

Then two weeks before I was supposed to leave the doors began closing. My university informed me last minute that they could not support travel to a region with a level four travel advisory. My heart was breaking because I had already invested a year in the research and this trip was the crux of it. I decided that I would pursue the research whether or not it could be counted as work for Waterloo. I got on the plane uncertain of what direction the research would take and whether or not I would have to withdraw from the program. I held so much resentment inside because I had never felt so rejected before and so powerless to do anything. All I could do was submit a lengthy grievance and hope that this mammoth institution would even take a second glance at it. In the meantime I lost my OSAP funding and the scholarship that I was supposed to receive for the international experience; I would be riding out limited funds for the next four months.

Arriving in Kampala and then in Beni felt a bit like coming home. I settled in very quickly and already on the second day I jumped into some field research that a team of students were already doing in Beni. I could once again see a purpose to being in this place. The following weeks were an incredible blessing. The students were very interested in the project, I received a small sum of funding from one of the research institute’s grants to cover logistical costs for the mapping (because I was no longer receiving funds from Waterloo), and even the mayor of Beni was on board. In mid-October we devoted four days to completing the greater part of the data collection for the base-map. In rainy season it normally rains every day in Beni, but miraculously we had four days with no rain so that we could maximize the time in the field.

Then the next wave of challenges came. I was still pursuing my ethics application with Waterloo for the field research because I was expecting that my grievance challenge could be accepted and that I might still be permitted to continue with the research; however, Waterloo International tipped off the ethics board about my situation and they put up the red flag stating that it was high risk research and needed to be reviewed by a sub-committee. This was two months after I had submitted my original application and after I had gone to a personal consultation and gone through two rounds of reviews. The subcommittee reviewed my application and tore it to shreds. They wanted to find things wrong with it and so they jumped to many false conclusions in the attempt to justify their decision. It was another low move from the university and made me lose all hope for the institution.

Another challenge was a petrol strike that began in Beni the week we started work on the base-map. Moto fares were quickly rising even while we were doing data collection, and near the end we were paying double to get the volunteers around town. My patience was tried as electricity was off much more often, which caused our work to slow down. At about the same time the first attacks began several kilometers north of the city. I remember that on the day of the first attack a colleague told me that I should get home before five. The reason was because a wave of refugees were coming to the city for safety, and many of them were gathering at an intersection I had to pass through to get home. I was never in any danger from an attack; I lived in a secure compound and the violence was directed at vulnerable civilians in villages outside of the city. The bigger danger for international staff was in the resulting tension in town and the negative feelings towards the UN because of their perceived inaction. The international staff at UCBC had a few very difficult meetings to discuss whether or not to leave. We came to the decision that it was important to stick together and that it would be good to leave for a week even just to recuperate from the stress. I was one of the few who wanted to stay. I think deep down I knew that if we left we would not be coming back. Once again I felt like I was being tossed around by the waves with no choice but to let them carry me.

My intuition proved correct. What was originally considered an isolated set of incidences began to reveal itself as a pattern of events with deep political motives. One week turned into two, two turned into four, and four turned into eight weeks away in Uganda. The first weeks were mentally exhausting as we went through a cycle of preparing to go back and then being disappointed when something else happened and we were advised to stay away longer. It was difficult to hear bad news from Beni and be unable to be physically present to share the burden with our friends and colleagues there. Even though we are brothers and sisters in Christ, as north americans we were set apart because of liability issues. Another struggle was to have the desire to serve people there but feel an equal responsibility to friends and family back home. I went through a time of being mad at God. Since the moment I began contemplating doing work in this place I have prayed for peace there. God promises so many good things for his children; why can’t he make his glory known in this place? I’ve always been an initiator and someone who is not afraid to take action, but in this case I was helpless and there was nothing I could do. I’ve never felt as restless in my life as I did in those few weeks. I felt trapped and useless and it was discouraging to think of how much work it takes to build something up and then how easily it can be torn down.

There were small moments of blessing and joy in the midst of the discouragement. My time in Uganda was not wasted. I spent some of the days learning how to fly the quadrocopter drone that the research institute had purchased for GIS research so that I could later teach others how to use it. I also spent a significant amount of time developing the Beni Atlas website, something that I thought I wouldn’t do until I was back home. It was a blessing to live in community with the other UCBC international staff. I learned how to pray in community as we gathered and prayed for Beni every morning and evening.  I feel like everyone in the group had something to teach me: Mary taught me wisdom and facilitation; Jon taught me leadership and connectivity; Kate taught me love and servanthood; the kids taught me imagination and truthfulness; Jessica taught me devotion and encouragement; Lauren taught me sincerity and thoughtfulness. I learned what it meant to accept the things that I couldn’t change but to intentionally do the small (and yet significant) things that I could – like pray, or give a word of encouragement. I realized how selfish it was to have my own plans so central in my perspective when God’s plans are all encompassing.

Another blessing was to have Othy and Archip come join us in Kampala for intensive training when I reached the point of knowing that I would not be going back to Beni. I was teaching them but at the same time learned so much from them. These two guys taught me passion, joy, and hope. Despite growing up in challenging circumstances they persevered by God’s grace. I am excited for what the future holds for these two. If everyone in Congo had as much hope and initiative as these two, there would be peace tomorrow! Even though I didn’t accomplish all of the physical objectives I had originally set, I am content knowing that the most important objective was met, which was to equip people at UCBC and to develop a partnership that can continue past this point. I finally felt some peace about the changes to my thesis research and the situation with the university.

It felt like this project was quite literally attacked on all sides. One final blow came when I had already arrived home in Canada. When Othy and Archip were on the way back to Beni by bus, the backpack with all of the GIS equipment got stolen. The GIS computer, external hard-drive, Archip’s passport, and other money and valuables were lost. What was worse is that when they stopped at a checkpoint and Archip didn’t have his ID, the police arrested him. We found out later that he had been left out in the rain, put in prison,  and mistreated by the guards and other detainees. He received some physical injury, but God kept Archip safe and he was released and made it home safely the next day. Mary describes more about what happened in a post entitled “In all, we bless the Lord”. It is true that there is no way to understand what has happened, not just for this incident but this whole story, however we must continue to hold fast to God’s promises. That’s why I think it is important to tell the story: because through it we can bless others with our testimony. Archip and Othy are back in Beni and have not lost one bit of stamina. Their hope is in the Lord and they are continuing to persevere for His kingdom here and now in Congo.

 

Prayer of Serenity:

God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

 

 

One Comment to “Prayer of Serenity”

  1. Thank you Lise, I enjoyed reading that .It will be interesting to see what God’s plans are for the next stage of your life. I’ll pray that He will make them clear to you, and give you the ability to be a witness to His grace in your life

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