On my way back to America, I felt trapped inside the plane, unable to get away from my thoughts. My mind was spinning as I reviewed everything I’d experienced during my first week in Congo.
I looked at my feet, still dirty from Congo’s black volcanic dust. I had not showered in a few days. I smelled bad. But I didn’t care.
Looking out the windows at the clouds, I remembered one of the last times our team debriefed together. A specific theme kept coming up among us: “It is bigger than we are. How do we even begin to help? Can we make any difference at all?”
I felt a tap on my shoulder. The soft-spoken man sitting next to me asked politely, “Would you mind if my son sat in your seat for just a few minutes? He would like to see the sunset.”
I had met them earlier. They were from Kenya. This sweet, kind boy with an autistic nature appeared to be about five years old. I was happy to be distracted from my thoughts. The boy and I switched seats, and I began to point out the shapes of the clouds to him. Smiling, he delighted in seeing the sun from so high, and I delighted in his excitement. Somehow, for a moment, I felt closer to God.
As he looked into the heavens, the boy started repeating a phrase over and over again. Quiet at first, then a bit louder.
“It is bigger than we are,” he said. “It is big. It is bigger than us.”
I stopped and looked at him. He was echoing my exact thoughts. It was as though God were speaking to me through this little boy, confirming His voice in my spirit. Yes, it is so much bigger than we are. The despair, the brutality. But it is not bigger than all of us together. It is not bigger than God. They are His children, and He loves them more than I could begin to. My eyes filled with tears as I smiled at this young, wise new friend sitting beside me.
Adjusting to life back in the Unites State was difficult. For three days after I returned home, I had no words – only heartache for what I had seen and tears for those I had left behind. It was as if God had pulled back a curtain to reveal levels of hurt and pain that I hadn’t known existed. I didn’t know what to do with what He had allowed me to see. Finally, I went for a run to ease my racing mind. I felt as though I were running from something I could not get away from. Perhaps because I was not supposed to.
There is a beauty that comes from sitting with our pain – a beauty we miss if we run from it. The pain was uncomfortable and uneasy. My instinct was to distract my mind from the reality of I had seen. It hurt too much to remember.
But I finally came to the conviction that God did not want me to run from my experience in Congo. He wanted me to sit with their reality, to look the darkness dead in the eyes and wrestle with it. I could not go back to “normal” and block out what I had seen and learned. I would not go back to comfort. I knew too much now.
These children are worth more than my comfort. My own journey through trauma bounded me to Congolese people. I tasted just a tiny drop of what they were feeling, and I wanted to tell them to hold on. In one of my lowest periods of depression, I wrote a few words on a postcard and carried them with me for a year: I will not be this bad forever. Hold on.
I read those words at least twenty times a day, willing myself to believe they were true. Because if they were not true, I did not want to live any longer. I could not keep living. But those words were true. In time, things did get better. They always do – if we hold on long enough and reach out for help.
Though I was blinded to it at the time, I now know there’s simply too much beauty in life to quit. Depression and trauma blind us from the beauty – but it is there. In truth, we are constantly surrounded by joy and wonder, but sometimes we cannot see it until the fog clears. In those times, we must choose to believe that beauty is there until we can see it with our eyes once again.