It was the cruel execution of endangered mountain gorillas that first caught my attention, less than a month ago, when I first became involved in the Art Helping Mountain Gorillas charity auction. In the Virunga Park Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the wildlife has suffered at the hands of rebel soldiers and illegal charcoal merchants. This is an inexcusable treatment of the creatures of the earth—the actions are unconscionable.
That was enough to get me interested, and I enthusiastically joined in trying to raise awareness and funds to help protect the gorillas. But there was more to the situation than I knew.
Next, I heard about the rangers. Brave, intelligent, caring men, who do the work of soldiers and scientists as they track, observe, and protect the remaining families of mountain gorillas in their forest habitat. The rangers are people just like anyone else in the world—they have homes and families. They marry and have children of their own, and go to work every day. The difference is that they continue to work even though they may not be paid for it—and their job may require their lives.
As I began reading the rangers’ blogs, I felt an amazing connection with people whom I had never met, across the globe. My heart was moved beyond description. Never have I more clearly felt the fact that we are all brothers and sisters in God’s world. Suddenly the cause went from a ten-day auction I would be participating in, to a lifetime purpose. From now on, I would always be involved in finding a way to help these men do their work.
But it’s interesting how the Lord works sometimes. He gets your attention…then says, “But wait—I have more I need to show you.”
Right now, the Congo is afire with battles being fought between government troops and rebel factions. The rangers are unable to have access to the mountain gorilla sector—those who tried barely escaped with their lives. The gorillas have been driven out of the forest by the fighting, and have set up camp in the fields of the surrounding villages.
As I read of this, suddenly the spotlight was on the local villagers. At first I heard that they may be angry with the gorillas for eating their crops. Then I discovered why. These farmers hardly have anything to eat. The food they raise in their fields is the only thing protecting their families from starvation. There are no resources for them to “buy” food, even if the funds were donated to them—there simply isn’t any. These people live in extreme poverty, with little access to clean water. In addition, they—like the gorillas and rangers—are caught in the midst of the war raging around them.
The scope had suddenly broadened. From the gorillas to the rangers to the villagers…the world is connected, and I’m part of it.
But that isn’t all.
In those villages, uniformed troops have been committing unheard-of brutality against women. Members of the Congolese army and insurgents alike have swept across the Congo with acts of gang rape and sexual violence that defy description. A Washington Post article states, “The intensity and frequency is worse than anywhere else in the world.” The numbers of reported cases are inhumane. The thought of unreported cases staggers the soul.
I came away from reading the news, and looked at the artwork I had created for the auction—beautiful faces of proud, strong women…faces that I had felt inspired to depict in my art. But as I looked at those faces now, my heart cried within me.
Donations from charities will help do the work that needs to be done. But real change will never occur unless the political situation is first improved. The one thing that can help make this happen is to raise awareness of the crying need.
And this we can do.