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Holding On - Reflections from the Indiana Region's Pilgrimage to the DRC

Written by Cheryl Russell
August 4, 2014

Our time in Mbandaka included a visit to the nutrition center run by one of our wonderful hosts, Mama Rosette.  The mission of the nutrition center is to feed malnourished children, educate mothers about nutrition, and provide micro-credit opportunities for families to earn money.  The nutrition center is already an impressive place and they have plans to make it even better.  However, I don’t want to dwell on the particularities of the nutrition center.  I want to tell you about a little boy I met there.  

As you might imagine, there were lots of children there who were excited to welcome guests.  As we were touring the facility and learning about the problem of malnutrition they are facing, I noticed a little boy eyeing me.  I waved and smiled at him.  He broke out into a huge smile, walked right up to me, looked me in the eye and grabbed my hand.  We continued on the tour this way, he and I.  Once in a while he would swing our arms in wide arcs, smiling with glee.  I giggled along.  At one point during our tour he turned to face me, still holding my left hand.  He grabbed my right hand creating a circle as if he expected us to play Ring Around the Rosie.  It was not until he had a firm grip on one hand that he let the other go.  I realized that he simply want to stand on the other side of me, but was not willing to let go of one hand before he had a firm grasp on the other.  I soon realized that I knew nothing about this child so eager to be attached to me.  After a little guidance from Mama Rosette, I learned the Lingala phrase, Kombo nayo nani, what is your name?  He smiled widely and told me his name, Dieu (he pronounced it Dee-ay).  Dieu did not let go of me until we left the nutrition center and even then he did not let go willingly.  He sat on my lap and played with my camera, I sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It” while he clapped, stomped and shouted along.  When I took my camera away from him, he pouted, but refused to leave my side.  And even after we left, he met outside the house where we had lunch, to grab my hand once again and give me that grin I had come to know so well.   

A visit to the nutrition center could have been a discouraging day in sharp contrast to the songs of joy we had experienced while visiting churches.  Instead of sadness, this little boy brought a smile to my face and made my heart well with love.  As I considered the impact of this visit, I realized that I did not have time to feel despair for the circumstances of these children.  Instead I felt the unmistakable presence of God.  What could be a better expression of the love of God than a warm smile and constant companionship?  What could be a better expression of our relationship with God than a gentle hand that refuses to let go, even when our actions fall short, especially as our relationship grows?  What could be a better expression of the love of God that fills us up when we are running on empty?   

I learned later that his name, Dieu, means God in French.  What could I do?  Laugh?  Cry?  Both?  I found God in so many places that day, in Mama Rosette’s passion for her work, in the women cooking nutritious meals for the children, in the doctor doing what he could with the little resources he had.  Just in case I got so caught up in gleaning technical information that I missed it, God was standing right next to me, smiling that missing-tooth grin, holding on to me, unwilling to let me go.  My cup runneth over.   

Reflection by Cheryl Russell on the June 10 visit to the Nutritional Center.

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