Do you like driving up and down narrow two-lane country roads? Or turning off onto rutted, overhung, no-turnaround, single-wide dirt paths that don’t show up on a map?
Just to see where they go?
And those rare sometimes, when finally the winding, steep and rough terrain ends at a washout or fallen tree and you forge ahead anyway on foot, stoop to pass through a small opening in the trees and are rewarded for your curiosity to find yourself standing at the entrance to a mountain meadow, steep, snow-capped peaks all around, an astoundingly beautiful breathtaking scene – isn’t that serendipitously, singularly, somehow supernaturally meant to be?
Certainly one, even without a camera, to be forever indelibly imprinted on your memory.
The Internet can be like that. It’s often a twisting, turning, tortuous dead-end journey. But embarking upon a junket through the keyboard jungle with coffee kept hot on the warmer nearby while you never leave the fireside can also end remarkably upon a discovery that you can hardly wait to retrace your steps to share.
This morning was one of those.
It all began yesterday in church. An ancient veteran of America’s wars and dear traveler of the paths of this planet for over 90 years, asked - with tears in his eyes - if I would like to see a video of a missionary’s jungle wanderings as he searched for natives to gather round his hand-cranked movie projector, the funding for 100 of those contraptions having been donated no doubt in large measure out of the pocket of the fellow who stood before me.
“You won’t be able to understand it,” he cautioned “as it’s all in the native’s language.”
But neither will you be able to mistake the message, he continued. “You’d have thought the President of the Congo had died for all the thankful people who came to his memorial service.”
Since I’m hard of hearing and didn’t catch, much less would I have been likely able to remember, the missionary’s name, but knew of his daughter and son-in-law who followed in his footsteps in those same jungles, I went to the Internet in search of answers.
Typing in the names I knew and scrolling through page after page of people that weren’t them, I happened upon the online journal of the life and times of Linda Garvelink, the wife of the U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Though the Garvelinks travel in company with high-powered people of significant prestige and position, having entertained in their Kinshasa home for example Dr. Jane Goodall of chimpanzee research fame, they also knew the people I was looking for because of something that happened their last memorable Christmas of their stint in Africa.
Perhaps it was just a part of her duties and responsibilities as an “Ambassatrice” - certainly it proved serendipitous – when the U.S. diplomat’s wife invited 20 orphaned boys to her home.
Here’s what she wrote in her journal:
“The truly most rewarding event of my Christmas season was the small lunch I gave for 20 street-boys who live in a Boy’s Home (run by the couple I was looking for of whom the Ambassador’s wife wrote the following). “They have none of the benefits – housing, health, med-evac, etc. as Foreign Service Officers do. The boys, after swimming in the pool – they are not used to clean water – and throughout dinner with ice cream for dessert were very polite; not stealing food from each other’s plates; waiting patiently for 2nds, all 20 boys came to say ‘thank you’ in either English, French, or Lingala. They then went to the kitchen and thanked the staff which, in turn, was so impressed.”
“With 45,000 orphaned and abandoned children on the streets of Kinshasa alone,” Linda Garvelink wrote in her journal, here were 20 boys at a Christmas dinner in her Ambassador’s home for whom “Lee and Becky Ward are clearly having an effect.”
The Garvelinks are out of Africa now, having taken assignment at the President’s invitation in Washington, D.C. to become Deputy Coordinator for Development of the President’s and Secretary Clinton’s Global Health and Food Security Initiative.
But of her time a world away the Ambassador’s wife wrote: “There’s no doubt my life is changed by my experiences in Congo; my goals and ambitions are clearly modified.”
With an election just completed, many are remonstrating about what it takes to win or congratulating themselves on having fared well. Whether you believe “we’re a nation that’s drifting further and further to the left” or that “same-sex marriage will lead to ‘the ultimate destruction of our country’”, chances are - even if true - neither outcome is really cause for commiserating or celebrating for that matter so much as contemplating what should be done in the interim.
In this month of Thanksgiving, a.k.a. “National Adoption Month”, and Christmas to follow, for one Ambassador’s wife anyway, what in part tempered her aspirations and gave renewed sense of purpose was a small dinner gathering of boys saved off the streets by a couple whose predecessor’s trips through the jungle with hand-cranked projector in hand led to his memorial service where thankful people came from miles and miles.
They came, because he went.
Doing what we can by making a difference where we are deserved a page in the journal of the wife of an ambassador whose own goals and aspirations were changed as a result.
And I just happened to run across it while wandering the world-wide web.