Because sometimes there is a happy ending!
After almost 2 weeks missing, Neema and Ziada have been found! They are OK and they were reunited with Mapendo this afternoon! We are all extremely thankful.
Let me go back a bit to tell you what happened. As you probably already know, Neema and Ziada had been traveling with Mapendo. They had last been seen waiting for a bus in the city of Bukavu. Mapendo had bought them tickets and told them she would meet them at the other end of that part of the journey because her son was sick.
The girls sat and waited for the bus. But then the bus was canceled for lack of passengers and the girls didn't know what to do. They had only a little money and were in a city far from home. They tried to call family but as is often the case, the phone didn't go through.
So they sat at the bus station watching the sun go down, and a woman finally offered to take them to her home. They went with her, along strange winding roads, far from the center of the city. They were given some food and a place to sleep. The next day they asked to be taken back to the bus station but the woman assured them that Mapendo would come to find them, that she was being notified. And so they waited.
After a few days Neema, the older girl, waited for the woman to leave the house, then snuck outside. She made it down the road, to a place crowded with many cars, and had no idea where to go. Afraid of becoming lost and leaving her sister behind at the house, she went back.
After 10 days, the woman finally decided to take the girls to the local radio station to make a public service announcement and find their family.
The radio station saw the 2 girls and immediately called Mapendo. Mapendo had been to the station more than a week earlier. As soon as the girls were lost, she went there to make her own public service announcement, asking for help in finding the girls. That announcement had been playing on the radio,3 times a day for over a week. This is common procedure for lost children in Congo. With no amber alerts or police investigations to turn to, you can only ask your neighbors for help, and the radio reaches into almost every household. Unfortunately this leads to a lot of false leads. Mapendo had already raced back from Burundi to Congo once, with the promise that someone had the girls, only to find it was someone demanding a cash payment, with no proof that he really knew anything of the girls.
But when the radio station called Mapendo directly, her heart soared. She thought this story could be true, if the radio station was involved.. They said there was a woman who had found the girls and that Mapendo could come and pick them up, but that the woman was demanding "compensation" for her expenses.
And it turned out to be true. The girls were there, and they were safe. Mapendo says they are much skinnier than when she last saw them, but that they are by all accounts unharmed. They are all extremely happy to be going home together.
I talked to Mapendo on Thursday, a day before she got the call from the radio station. She kept using the word "ninaishiwa". The verb means "to have none left", it is often used for money or food but Mapendo was using the verb on herself, as in she had nothing left, inside herself. She'd come to the end, of herself.
And so, it is truly a miracle that these girls appeared in what seemed to be the darkest hour. It is a miracle that there is a happy ending to a story that was far more likely to go the other direction. Bad things can happen anywhere, but with a war escalating, a population that is in flux, and far too many young men with guns...
But the girls are found and they are well! And yes, perhaps the woman who took the girls in, seized an opportunity to make some money. She certainly could have brought them in sooner (like the day after she found them).
But then again, she could have left them there. If she hadn't taken them, imagine who else might have. So we will take this happy ending and celebrate it for what it is. 2 young girls brought home safely. Mapendo's voice was trembling with joy when I talked to her today and I am pretty sure that she will sleep tonight for the first time in 2 weeks.
Mapendo sends her deepest appreciation to all of you for your prayers and your encouragement, and for making it possible for her to get Neema and Ziada and bring them home.
Neema means "grace" in Swahili. Ziada means "an increase, an addition". To me, this ending feels like just that, an overwhelming addition of grace. And we are so very thankful.