As authors, we're told to "write what we know". Having lived now in six countries and traveled in more than thirty, including some of the planet’s more difficult corners, it is perhaps inevitable I write international intrigue set well outside "first world" comfort zones from Bolivia to Afghanistan. My latest Tyndale House release Congo Dawn takes place against the backdrop of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri rainforest war zones.
A brief synopsis: If absolute power breeds absolute corruption, what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power? Especially in a war-torn Congolese rainforest where governmental accountability is only too cheaply for sale and the ultimate conflict mineral is up for grabs.
Why this particular setting?
Growing up in the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, I was captivated by missionary biographies from its second-largest counterpart on the far side of the globe, the Congo. Africa's equatorial rainforest basin is actually one of this planet's most naturally wealthy regions with rubber, diamonds, gold, oil, uranium and numerous other mineral reserves. Unfortunately, as memorialized in the Joseph Conrad classic Heart of Darkness, human greed and brutality have kept its people among the planet's poorest from the days of Portuguese slave raiders and a Belgian colonial era characterized by forced labor and horrific working conditions to the vicious dictators and rebel fighting of its independence era. In recent years, all-out civil war has left more than five million dead. News headlines are a constant succession of atrocities, "boy soldiers" now a dictionary entry.
And yet, however dark the situation, the DRC has also been witness to the shining flame of God's love raised high by followers of Yesu, Jesus Christ. Among missionary biographies that impacted me personally was that of Dr. Helen Roseveare, who helped establish several mission hospitals and medical training centers in the Ituri rainforest where Congo Dawn takes place, herself held brutally captive by Simba rebels during the violence of the DRC's 1964 war of independence. The largest of those centers, Nyankunde, real-life counterpart of my fictional rainforest community Taraja [Hope], was in turned razed just a few years ago during the latest round of rebel massacres.
Today's fighting is greatly aggravated by the value and pursuit of conflict minerals in that zone. As always, it has been the mission pilots, medical personnel both expatriate and Congolese, and other followers of Yesu, Jesus Christ, who have been first back into the conflict zones well ahead of United Nations, embassy, local law enforcement or any other humanitarian and corporate interests. Their courage in shining bright the light of Yesu's love in one of the planet's darkest corners gave voice to this story.
As to Congo Dawn's actual suspense thread, I've had personal opportunity to witness what a multinational corporation is capable of in back alleys of the Third World when no one is watching (an experience in itself too unbelievable to write up as fiction). In Africa as elsewhere, both the protective and striking arm of such corporations has historically been hired foreign mercenaries. But today's private military corporations are vastly different, possessing more fire power than the average country. What struck me was the lack of any accountability to outside oversight beyond some paid-off local warlord.
So what happens when a multinational corporation with unlimited funds hires on a private military company with unbridled power in a Congolese rainforest where the ultimate conflict mineral is up for grabs? Coming up with one very plausible possibility birthed Congo Dawn.
On a deeper spiritual level, Congo Dawn addresses the age-old question of how a world filled with such darkness, injustice and pain can possibly be the creation of a God of love. What value beyond our own comprehension might human suffering possibly hold that a loving Creator God permits so much of it to continue? At one of the story's high points, the main protagonist Robin asks a question with which I think every reader can identify:
“I would give my own life to stop the pain I’ve seen. To stop little girls and boys from being raped. Or just as bad, forced into armies where they’re turned into killers. To keep families from being torn apart by war. Children dying of preventable diseases for lack of a dollar’s worth of medicine. So am I more compassionate than the God who created all these people, created all this beauty? How can an all-powerful God who claims to love humanity look down on our planet and watch such unspeakable things happening, innocent people hurting and dying, bad guys winning over and over again, so much suffering, without it breaking His heart? Without reaching down and putting a stop to it?"
Robin's personal faith journey through the pages of Congo Dawn reflects my own spiritual wrestling with the above questions. The answer begins ultimately with recognizing as the protagonist does that I am not more compassionate than my Creator. Any love I can possibly feel or show is a dim reflection of our heavenly Father's love.
So if I begin with the recognition that God is truly love, that He loves us far more than we can love others, I must come to the same simple, yet profound realization to which Congo Dawn's main protagonist is ultimately drawn. The coexistence of a loving Creator with human suffering is no oxymoron, but a divine paradox those refined in the fires of adversity are best equipped to understand. The smallest flames of love and faith shine most brightly against the darkest night. Our heavenly Father really does know what He's doing, and His ultimate plans for our lives and all His creation will not be thwarted.
And in that realization is the basis for a faith that cannot be shaken however dark the night.