Feeling Helpless in the Face of a Tragedy

In 1998, I was studying in Atlanta (Georgia), pursuing my Master Degree at Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. During the summer holidays of that year, I went back home to Congo-Kinshasa to visit my family. The trip went well. I was very happy to see my family and friends for two months. Nevertheless, the worst happened at the end of my stay in the country while I was already preparing to return to the United States and continue with my studies.

On the morning of August 2, 1998, we woke to panic throughout the city of Kinshasa (capital city of Congo). A new rebellion had broken out to fight the government of the president Kabila the Father. There were shootings and explosions everywhere in the city. The neighborhood where I lived, located near the airport, was the site of hard fighting between the rebels and the government army. We were unable to leave our house for three days, not even to buy food. Many people were killed, including one of my cousins. Because of the rebellion, most embassies in Kinshasa had closed their offices and all international flights in and out of Congo (Swiss Air, Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines, and Air France) were suspended. I was scared. I felt helpless in the midst of this tragedy. I could not travel and return to the United States. I had no money left for my needs, even for the cost of changing my airplane tickets. I was stuck in Kinshasa for three months until finally, the shootings and explosions died down. Kinshasa was calm. The dean of our seminary and some friends in Atlanta were able to make arrangements for me to travel to South Africa and from there, on to Atlanta. I was happy to be able to return to the United States to resume my studies, even though I had arrived with a delay.

The emotional pain and turmoil from this traumatic event left me full of questions. Why did God allow this happen to me? What was I going to do now? I had no clue. I could only trust that God knew what He had planned for me next.

Times like this can leave us feeling helpless and lost. In the face a tragedy, we need Paul’s reminder in Philippians even more than ever. Paul writes  in Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayers and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.”

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