And so it came to pass that the Angel, Hope, received three children to light, to guard, to love and guide for almost eighty years. You see, there are many more people on Earth than there are angels to watch over them, so sometimes the angels are asked to protect more than one. Hope’s duties would require her to keep watch over children in Nebraska, Chicago and the deepest regions of Congo–and from the way Hope saw things, time did not stretch from Point A to Point B. Everything happened all at once, and the actions of people, both good and bad, kept repeating. Only the angels know this, and they often discuss among themselves that if people only knew that time did not march on, but forever marched in place, that then they would truly understand what love was all about and how absolutely necessary it is.
Hope’s job in Congo was not more difficult than it was in Nebraska or Chicago, even though on the surface it would seem that Congo presented the greater challenge. On the grand scale, the physical suffering of hundreds of millions of people under brutal rulers– exploitation that is truly hell on earth–is certainly greater than the relatively occasional murders and injustices in the Heartland of the United States. But Hope’s job was to watch over the souls and minds of her three assignments. If she could guard them with great care, their spirits would forever march in harmony with Time. Hope was no more responsible for the terrible things that people did to one another than God was, but people always seemed to blame God and bad angels for their own doing. Helen from Nebraska, Annie from Chicago, and Domitile from Congo would be under the protection of Hope’s great wings from the time they struggled into the world, and only Hope understood how their lives were in tune with each other and with Time.
Helen was born in Nebraska and lived with two brothers and two sisters in a big white frame house. Life in the rural Heartland revolved around the seasons, a close-knit family, and a special love Helen had for God. Faith and religion were the centerpieces of her idyllic existence, and this resulted in what Helen felt was a “calling” to the Catholic sisterhood. Helen watched the sisters who taught her and felt that their lives held a special interest and mystery. The sisters always appeared to be joyful and happy. God seemed close and near, but what Helen could not know was that her life and her soul would soon be in great danger. Not too long after Helen decided to join the convent, she became a stranger to herself and it was only through the warmth of Hope’s wings warming her freezing heart that Helen was able to overcome suicidal thoughts. Helen experienced the dark days of the soul that poets and saints know so well. She had given her life to God, and God had seemingly abandoned her, but Helen had Hope and she rededicated herself to service in God’s grace.
And so one day Helen found herself teaching at a large high school for girls in Chicago, and Annie was one of her young journalism students. Annie’s life was tough from the beginning. Abandoned spiritually by a mother with special mental challenges, Annie had no comprehension of the love strong family ties could offer. But Annie, also, had Hope. In fact, her Granny had given her a locket with a picture of an angel with great wings that stood guard over a young girl who was crossing a dangerous bridge. The brass casing still has tooth marks on it, and no one knew that Annie kept the locket hidden in the breast pocket of her school uniform. It felt good to have that part of Granny with her and the image of the angel was Hope, of course, and Hope had led Annie to Sister Helen’s literature and journalism classes. Helen taught Annie all about the basics of journalism, recognized that Annie had a raw talent for writing, and so made Annie Editor of Page Two of the student newspaper. Helen taught Annie the intricacies of photography and often featured Annie’s work. Annie found a place and family and encouragement that she never dreamed possible and began to think of Sister Helen’s classes as Home. Helen taught Annie that the pen was mightier than the sword and helped her student to develop the beginnings of a strong sword arm that has served her well through the years.
What Annie never knew until many years later was that Helen would sit in her room at the convent she shared with 40 other sisters and weep as she struggled to get lessons prepared and papers corrected by the 10 p.m. curfew. Her jobs as moderator of the school yearbook and newspaper, senior homeroom, journalism and religion classes were simply too much. In later years, Helen would tell Annie that the years of depression, self doubt and thoughts of suicide provided insights that helped her understand hurting and suffering people in her ministry; a ministry, and Hope of course, which eventually led Helen to live and work with the poor of Appalachia who had migrated to Chicago in the sixties and seventies.
There was a very good reason that Helen and Annie shared Hope. Both would live out their youth and middle age plagued with self-doubt, and Annie would be betrayed late in life by someone she loved and trusted, just as Helen once felt betrayed by God. The incident would lead to the same suicidal thoughts Helen once experienced, but the soul is given only the burdens it can bear. Luckily, Annie had Helen as well as Hope, and when Annie called Helen in desperation after returning from Congo one day–feeling broken, bitter and betrayed– she told Helen that where she once saw light, she could only see black, and this frightened her deeply. Helen told her that she would learn a depth of compassion from these events that she never dreamed possible. And so it came to pass that Helen’s life lessons saved Annie, and the skills she taught Annie enabled Annie to write with passion and conviction about the people in Congo who had lost everything.
And then it happened that Hope led Annie to know four gentle songwriters who became her friends. One day, they were driving together on a country road in the Heartland discussing what they could do to bring Hope to the women of Congo who were being brutalized by war. Hope put the idea into their heads that they could offer the women of Congo music and words that proved there were women on the far side of the world who shared compassion for their suffering. Annie and her songwriter friends realized they had an almost impossible job, but Hope encouraged them to press on. Soon, other singers from around the world offered to help them, but they were really angels in disguise. They had no awareness that they were angels, but sometimes that is just the way it works. The singer-angels would soon form a heavenly choir, but no one knew this would happen, since only Time could reveal their power.
The angels Neko, Eliza, Susan, Irma, Sonia, Karen, Theresa, Sarah, Caroline, Karen, Claire, Kim, Mary, Dede, Janet and Leilani offered their songs and poems. Their Hope was that Annie and her friends would bring their words to the women of Congo. Annie, Sonia, Caroline, Susan, and Mary thought they were very clever to name the women “Congo’s Angels,” but it was really Hope, of course, who was behind it all.
While all of this planning was going on, Domitile was living in the city of Goma in Congo. Her special calling was that of a midwife, and on most days it was only Hope that encouraged her to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Domitile witnessed levels of violence and cruelty to women that most people cannot imagine. Hope used her wings to support Domitile when she carried the raped and wounded women she found suffering in the forests to safety and help. These were the same wings that protected Helen and Annie. Sometimes the women that Domitile bore on her back died, and Hope would escort the souls of the abandoned and brutalized to heaven. Of course, Domitile had no idea that Hope’s great wings were protecting her, but as her horrible burdens would pass into the spiritual realm, she would feel a great weight lifted from her shoulders. Domitile also had Hope, and Hope was a powerful ally.
Then something truly amazing and wonderful happened in Congo. Domitile was feeling especially frustrated and abandoned and she wrote the words on paper because her thoughts were so overwhelming. The sexual violence and brutality made her feel alone and all around her she could see only black. One especially dark day, Domitile was in the city of Goma and heard music coming from the tiny station, Radio Television Communautaire Tayna, RTCT. The sound of the music saved her from the blackness and provided a huge relief. It was the songs of the Congo’s Angels, and it made her realize that there were other women who understood what was happening–women who would stand in solidarity with her against the rape and killing as she carried her lovely burdens along the lava roads in Kivu. Domitile wrote that she knew then and there that that through song and words, millions of people would learn about the atrocities taking place in Congo and condemn them.
And so it came to pass during Christmas 2009 that the music of Congo’s Angels filled the heavens above eastern Congo. And there were midwives living out in the fields and refugee camps nearby, keeping watch over the babies at night. And Congo’s Angels sang to them, and the glory of Hope sounded around them. And the angels sang to them, “Do not be afraid. We are with you and we love you.”
Special thanks to midwife Domitile Posho Mbili, Sister Helen Gourlay, BVM (Whatever Happened to the Good Sisters? ), Sonia Tetlow, Caroline Herring, Susan Cowsill, Congo’s Angels, and Hope–for watching over us all.