You ever have those moments where you have to stop and think, “I have no idea what I’m doing…” I had one or two of those today.
Being a Program Manager in Congo has its own set of challenges and unexpected events. However, it’s the ones that don’t come with job description that are the most surprising. Today, I found out one of my staff’s grandfather’s had passed away yesterday. On the same day, one of my other staff had a new baby. Today, because all my field staff were actually in town, we decided to go visit both the one that had lost his grandpa and the one that had had a baby.
Crammed into a hardtop land-cruiser, fourteen of us bumped along the dirt roads of Bunia till we came to his house. Piling out, we all passed by Pascal, and then his extended family who were mourning, to give our condolences. Then we entered his living room and sat down to talk. First, a couple of the guys said a some words of encouragement, then Pascal told us about his grandpa and how he had raised Pascal when he was a boy. Afterwards we sang a couple songs and prayed for his family.
Then it was my turn to speak.
What is a mid-twenties, white boy supposed to say in that type of setting. Because I was the manager I was expected to have a speech of sorts. Twenty faces were turned toward me, expecting profound words of wisdom and encouragement. And yet, they were all older than me, have experienced more than me (living through several wars), many have wives and children already. Pascal, himself, is in his mid-thirties, married already for five years, and has two kids. A little daunting to say the least. But I didn’t really have a choice as all eyes of the room were on me.
And so I talked.
I talked, just trying to express myself and convey our emotions to him as a team. I talked about how the stories of his grandfather touched us. Although none of us knew him directly, it felt as though we had a lost a family member because any loss by our team is a loss to us all. I talked about how his grandfather had impacted us because of how Pascal had been impacted by him. I talked about how as a team, we were a family, and through both joyful moments and serious ones, we would go through them together.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of talking (although probably only 5 to 10 minutes), and struggling not to choke up, I sat down, breathing a sigh of relief.
That was over.
The rest of time there we looked at family pictures of Pascal, we talked and joked and told stories, and we probably could have kept going all night. But we had another visit to do.
After saying goodbye and leaving Pascal’s family, all fourteen of us piled back into the car and bounced over the hard roads to get to Benjamin’s house. He was just coming out and saw us drive up, complete surprise on his face. No one had told him we were coming, and there we were on his doorstep, 14 guys.
We opened the doors and flowed out of the car like a rush of water. Benjamin lives in an ‘L’ shaped house with multiple families. Multiple families means multiple kids. Being the only white person, I was mobbed by at least ten children, all running up to touch me, shake my hand, hug me. Huge smiles spread across their faces as they held my hand and pulled, if not dragged me, to the newborn baby.
Her name was Imani, which means faith in Swahili. Just over a day old, she slept soundly in her mother’s arms, wrapped in soft pink blankets. Her mother shown with joy and perhaps embarrassment that so many people had come to see her and her child.
Once we were all inside, and the kids quieted down, several of our team spoke again. They gave blessings, advice, and told jokes about Benjamin. This was already his third child in a short span of time.
Benjamin than told us the stories of this children’s names. His first was named Amani, which means peace in Swahili. The child was given this name because Benjamin had peace when he was born because he had finally found a job. His second, a girl, was named Tumaini, or hope in English, because she was born while they were hoping for a new house to live in – and they found one. His third, Imani (Faith) is to remind him and his wife to continue to have faith that God will take care of them.
After these deep stories told by the couple, I was once again asked to share some thoughts. Once again surprised, and not at all qualified, I stood up to talk.
What does one say to a father and mother who have lived through a war, have been jobless, house-less, and yet survived it all, having three children who’s names give testimony to their trials, but also evidence of their passing through them.
And so I talked.
I told how their pride in their child radiated off of them like vibrant energy. I talked about how all fourteen of us men in the room felt like new uncles because one of our brothers had had a new child. I talked about how their testimony and stories were an encouragement to us and I told them how we in turn would encourage them as they parented their children.
After 10 minutes of fumbling for the right words I was able to sit down again and breath. The rest of the time was spent passing the baby around, people telling stories of their own kids and names, and just cherishing the moment together. We left over an hour later.
In the little space of two hours this afternoon I was put into situations where I had to talk about things and emotions that I don’t usually have to talk about. Although similar situations, it was the two extremes of life – a death and a newborn baby.
In both cases, as I stood up, one of the thoughts pounding through my mind was, “I have no idea what I’m doing…” It was a very humbling, but good, experience.