The continuation of the part 1 of the blog: ''The Attack" by founder and director Cassandra Lee.
'...We hadn’t run long until we caught up with the men of our team. “We heard the gun shots and came for you,” they said with more awkward laughter.
It all happened so fast. Climbing into the land cruiser we sped up the road in the direction that everyone else was fleeing away from. We needed to get our things from the house before they were destroyed.
It was the most surreal moment of my life as we approached our village and ran directly into the mass exodus. The entire population, like a red sea of people, crowded the streets, pressing to get out of harms way. It was like we climbed onto the set of Hotel Rwanda or Blood Diamond (minus Leo of course) But instead of seeing random faces pass us with loads on their backs and bed mats on their heads, we were seeing our family, friends and staff members fleeing for their lives.
I think it hit the hardest when we saw a woman we call 'mama'.
“WAIT!” The car hadn’t even come to a complete stop before I jumped out. I ran to her side and she grabbed me for a moment.“Sandra! Go! Go get your things and run!”
It’s hard to describe the moment. Your emotions switch into high gear and parts of you want to cry at the horror of it but you’re so turned onto “go” mode that you wouldn’t dare waste a second with a single tear.
As my heart flew up to my throat all I could think about was: “ How DARE they [the rebels] attack MY village” as we just prayed and prayed and prayed bumping down the rocking road.
In these bizarre fractions of time, war becomes a whole lot more personal. Passing our kids one by one on the road I had a whole new awareness of their everyday life. Moses. Grace. Ushindi. Our sweet little 4 year old chatter box- Ushindi. His name means “Victory” in Swahili. He waved as we passed him going the opposite direction. I couldn’t imagine him as such a young boy knowing so much war. He studies at our school and we’ve heard him boast several times, “My school is the best in Congo!” Now, surely not in school, his future lay in limbo as he ran for a tomorrow.
Speeding home, sub-chief was waiting at our little wood house. We fell back to awkward laughter that it took us 3 hours to pack our car from Goma and 2 minutes to pack in that moment to leave. Adrenaline surging through our bodies we shook as we threw our things in the car.The “ta ta ta ta ta ta ta” of machine gun fire and bombs blasting just up the road was our motivating time clock to keep us on point.
Fleeing the village, we drove that evening to a safer location about an hour and a half away. Sadly a switch seemed flipped and our province of North Kivu as a whole was in an uproar. The fighting still reached us there but this time, however, the gun fire that sang out acted as our ironic lullaby and we learned what it really means to have peace in your heart, not letting your outside circumstances govern your inner core foundations.
The next morning, post dramatic escape from active gunfire, we were determined to return a little closer to our village. Some people may call it crazy, but I call it a piece of normal. We weren’t planning to return to dodging bullets,. We did want to get as close as we could within the realms of safety, to love on our family, debrief our staff and give counseling and food where needed.
So we checked with the government soldiers to hear the situation. With the walkie-talkies hanging from their belts, we assumed they had the right info and asked about the situation of our dear village Kalembe. “The rebels are silent for right now so it is probably safe enough to go for the afternoon.”
Brilliant. So marking our steps with a gut feeling of peace, we returned to the village we had just run for our lives from. And I’m SO glad we did.
Along with pouring ourselves out they had so much to give us in return. I was so incredibly humbled as our dearest family expressed their concern for us. “We’re used to running for our lives, but for you- I bet that was your first time? We’ve been praying for you Sandra”
We were all so encouraged by one another. I will forever take away the little light that glimmered in their eyes.
Later that day we returned home to Goma.
However, Goma honestly wasn’t much safer. That night, rebels advanced on the city as most groups consider the city a prize worth fighting for. High numbers of heavily armed soldiers were thankfully stopped by the UN blue caps. Once again we were reminded of the luxury of peace, and held tight to the silence of a day without gunfire or exploding bombs.
Currently, most people have returned to their homes in Kalembe. But sadly, the fighting persisted and the rebels succeeded. Our whole area is now rebel held. We’re told they’re “passive rebels” and for a while the construction on our property carried on until the money ran out and we decided to wait until the situation calmed to continue on.
Now as we process, I think we work through a hundred and two emotions.
The morning of the attack we had asked our dear child who had fought in so many battles himself:
“What do you fear most?”
“I fear the rebels coming. If they come, they will surely take me again as I know how to fight.”
We haven’t seen him since.
It’s faces like that. The look in his eyes as he dreamed for a better life, that keeps us going back.
If you’re interested in joining us to bring peace, rescue kids and fight for the women who make up the statistics in Congo’s “world capitol of rape” then you can donate to our Justice Rising initiatives and stand together for a peaceful Congo.