Craig and Médine Keener had every reason to hate. Médine lived as a war refugee for 18 months in the Congo. Craig waited, not knowing whether she lived or died. Instead of harboring malice, they chose to forgive, infusing suffering with hope. Now, they work together to promote racial reconciliation in the U.S. and Africa.
“Racism is everywhere. In Congo there is racism, it’s just called a different name,” Médine said. “It’s called tribalism and ethnocentrism. And that’s the reason why we had war.”
Although in different locations, both Craig and Médine learned by example how to forgive.
Médine’s father was educated, so no one expected him to associate with the poor. Yet, all, including people from groups hostile to their own, were always welcome in his house. In fact, her father encouraged her to maintain a generous heart, even in the face of starvation.
“War is chaos. Panic. Insecurity. High anxiety. Hunger. Sickness. Despair. No hope,” Médine said. “But for me, it was discovering who I am, who my neighbor is, and who God is.”
Even during the war, the family attended church and made Sunday a special day, adding salt to the food or, when available, eating meat. One Sunday, Médine stayed home with her disabled father while the rest went to church. While Médine prepared the meal, her privileged aunt came for a visit. Her arrival meant the family had one more mouth to feed.
“My countenance changed,” Médine said. “My dad said, ‘Give Médine. It’s just food.’ This shattered me because the person who was most vulnerable was encouraging me to be generous.”
As a war refugee, Médine and her family experienced sickness, hunger, thirst and death, losing everything they owned when rebels burned her house. Médine often walked many miles each day through snake-infested swamps and fields of army ants to procure food for her family during the war.
“Most refugees are innocent people not connected to political people,” she said. “The politicians fight against each other and the harsh consequences of their decisions fall on the refugees.”
Yet, Médine holds no bitterness in her heart toward those who hurt her. Instead, she returns to her “memory place.”
A few months into the war, Médine reached rock bottom as she led a group of people from one village to another. She walked ahead of the group, so the others wouldn’t see her tears. As she walked, she heard someone start to hum and then sing. At first, the thought of someone being happy in the midst of her sadness angered her, but then she realized she knew the hymn, “With God’s Strength We Will Overcome.”
“It spoke to my heart, especially when I realized the person singing was my own son on my back,” Médine said.
As she accepted God’s promise of strength, her cry turned into a prayer.
“Even today when life is hard, I go back to that place,” she said. “I say, ‘If I was able to experience this and God helped us, then, what is this?’ It’s the Lord. It’s bringing whatever is inside to God and asking him to help.”