By Christopher Smith
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Mass rape and murder under the rule of militia is a difficult concept for most Americans to comprehend, said cyclist Kim deRoos, but that’s the reality for many women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.
“I can actually relate,” deRoos, a Cleveland native, said. After turning away from her Christian upbringing, deRoos went down a path of “scars and heartbreak, eventually hitting a place of rock bottom ... until God called me back.”
So riding with a 30-plus group of cyclists as they raised awareness for the She’s My Sister (sister.americanbible.org) campaign was extra special and “absolutely amazing,” deRoos said.
The program is part of the American Bible Society and aims to provide trauma centers for women who have suffered sexual and physical abuse in the aftermath of several bloody civil wars and uprisings in the Congo area.
The cyclists began at Daytona Beach, Fla., on May 30, rested at the United Methodist Church in Dalton Friday night and took a break at Red Clay State Park Saturday morning before starting their last few miles to Cleveland.
For cyclist Garrett Orr of Easton, Pa., the trip was an “overwhelming and amazing experience.”
“The church here in Dalton was incredible,” he said. “One of the most awesome things we did during this trip was to use that sanctuary to just spend hours of worship together. It was just a great way to build up to the crescendo of the tour.
“It was a great place. The people there went and got us food. They fed us. It was a place to stay. Those little things — after a day of biking 100 miles — don’t go unnoticed. That’s Christ-like love. That’s incredible and overwhelming thing.”
Something Orr said he saw a lot of on the roads in Georgia and Florida.
“Every single time we stopped, people have gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable and opened their hearts and minds to what we have to talk about,” he said. “It’s a really incredible thing.
“Seeing it — my heart just overflows with joy. We have people from all over the place in our group. To see them come together and work and become a cohesive unit is truly amazing.”
Orr said he plans to join the group at a Sidewalk Prophets benefit concert at City Church of Chattanooga at 7122 Lee Highway. The concert is tonight at 6:30 and is free to the public by calling (423) 648-2992 for reservations. Donations at the concert will go to the She’s My Sister campaign.
“The whole purpose of this is to stop at churches to raise funds and awareness to fight the atrocities in the Congo,” Orr said.
DeRoos said the trip has already shown her “God’s love.”
“People would wonder what we were doing when we took breaks and we got to share the gospel with them and our cause with them,” she said. “People were giving us donations. We’d go to a gas station restroom and we’d come out and complete strangers would hand us $20. Doing this, you just see Christ in so many other people.”
Which shatters the stereotype of Americans out for themselves, deRoos added.
“You know how American people can be,” she said. “But when they see a cause, they rally around it. It’s amazing to see people just donating to help.”
DeRoos said the American Bible Society’s 199-year existence and reputation makes it trustworthy for donations.
“When the spirit of God tells me to do something then I have to trust and follow it,” she said. “When I give to an organization, I know that they will be held accountable by God on how they use it. God is in this. He would never tell this 47-year-old to take this trip if he wasn’t in it. I’m too old for this.”
But in the end prayer is more important than donations, Orr said.
“What can people do to help? Pray. Pray for our sisters in the Congo,” he said. “Pray for the people who are passionate about helping to help develop these trauma centers.
“This was something I was missing before. And when it hit me it blew me away. We have to also pray for the perpetrators of these crimes. The reality is that if there’s never a change of heart in these men who are doing these things then the community will never change. It will remain broken.”