"What I Learned From The Mountains"

 The second post in a series on learning, traveling, and empowerment

Tell the mountain story, they told me.  What is it about those mountains that somehow carved their ridges into my memory in such a way that others request their story’s retelling? 

There are many more who know those mountains and their memory much fuller than I, but I’ll never forget the day I first laid eyes on such high hills – demanding mystery and discovery, enveloping history untold.

Overlooking Lake Tanganyika from Burundi to the Congo and its mountains.

Overlooking Lake Tanganyika from Burundi to the Congo and its mountains.

When I first stepped foot in Burundi, I was twenty-three years old.  I had worked for ForgottenSong for one year, and I had been instructed to leave my team in Uganda for a weekend in a tiny francophone country, a venture that thrilled me with chills and confidence like the day I moved to France in college.  In Burundi I would meet with recommended family and NGO leaders for a potential partnership with ForgottenSong. What was I getting myself into?

Well, I got myself into a lot of poultry-farming discussions in French, into an incredible partnership with an extremely high-level NGO in Burundi, and into the most empowering weekend I’d ever been a part of.

Burundi

And yet, beyond all of this experience were those mountains.  Those looming, distant silhouetted features beyond the border of Burundi that said,

“Hey, I know your experience to this point is unrivaled; you’ve learned a ton, and you may even have the opportunity to empower a number of people. But there’s more. If you just keep walking in the right direction, you might find yourself within a maze of mystery, a web of hope and kingdom of heaven and people.”

That weekend in Burundi, my “host dad” drove me to the border of Burundi and the Congo for sightseeing.  I didn’t understand why we were going there at first, but it didn't take long for me to catch on.

As I stood at the border, attempting to take photos of the mountains just a few miles away, and as the border guards waved at me angrily to stop (no photos allowed), I soaked in a sobering and profound reality. I stood at the edge of a twenty plus year war in the Congo. 

Those mountains were huge, like the war.  I stood at the edge, anticipating that restoration was coming; and despite the mountains of war and violence past, those mountains could be moved.

That vision has never left me.  The vision of standing at the edge of greatness: great violence and great opportunity.

To me, that greatness and magnificence in the mountains must also have been the hovering reality of a healing God and his kingdom among the mystery, and violence, and hills, and a Congo I can’t claim to know.  The more I travel and meet all these good people, the more I become convinced that the kingdom of heaven is always near and is already among us. 

The kingdom is already marching in the mountains among the hungry and beaten child soldiers; the kingdom is blossoming in the hearts of those who are rescuing them; and the kingdom of heaven is pressing in at all corners of the earth, calling its own “soldiers” to bring life from death.

To restore families and educate teenagers, to sustain communities through microfinance and goat farming, to move mountains of injustice from one corner of the earth to the other.

For two years I carried this vision in my heart, having an overwhelming sense of patience and peace that this vision of hope would come to fruition because it was not my own.  

 

Stars align (or whatever you want to call it), they did.  Not much later one of our Ugandan partners told us he had connections in the Congo and wanted to help us extend our empowerment efforts there.  And not much longer after that, I received a seemingly random email from a Congolese non-profit organization, AJDC

Someone had recommended them to us, and they reached out.  They worked with former child soldiers, were rescuing them off of the mountains where they lived so those youth could find new lives and be given the opportunity for education, jobs, new and hopeful lives. 

 

Almost exactly two years after I stared into those mountains, I stepped foot in the Congo and drove to the base of those militia inhabited hills to assist in bringing armed children off of them.  

 

What I've learned is that almost nothing is impossible.

There actually are people all around the world in tough, violent places that have shoved their plows into the dirt, cultivating life and hope from ashes.  

 

And mountains move.

-Lauren Blanco