Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MAF - Unsung Heroes of Congo

Today my husband, Jim, along with director and founder of Towers for Jesus, Jim Hulse, and I traversed miles and miles of rugged plains, steep valleys, savannahs, jungles, paved roads, and steep hills in a matter of one hour and 20 minutes. Amazing, isn't it? This is possible because of an organization called MAF: Mission Aviation Fellowship. In years past, we drove the trek from Kinshasa to Nkara or Nkara to Kin in either our 1957 army truck (in 1980) or our Chevy blazer taking 24 hours or 15 hours respectively. But today, Rod, our pilot got us there in no time.

Sensational as it sounds, it is lots of hard work for this pilot. He, on most flight days, gets up at the crack of dawn, drives the MAF van to homes of passengers, loads the van with all accompanying freight, only to unload and reload the freight into the beautiful 9 passenger Caravan before takeoff. This is back-breaking effort. Did I mention that he also drove us all the way to the airport? The passion for flying is a driving force, I am sure, but even greater must be his passion for Christ. The country of Congo is no piece of cake in which to serve the Lord. So the call of God on Rod's life has to be strong and his hunger and thirst to see souls saved here is a much more intense driving force.

Over the years, we have met and grown to love many MAF families. They are the cream of the crop, unsung heroes, valiant men and women fighting the good fight. We so miss our good friends the Carlsons who have moved from Kinshasa to Lumbumbashi, far south from here. The Frances gave us our home for a whole week while they were on vacation. Rod and Val continue to show us their hospitality when we are in town and are planning a visit to Nkara soon as well as Brian and Esther. Brian is an MAF mechanic who keeps these planes running smoothly. Where would we be without them? Location-wise, maybe we would be stuck on some 2 lane highway or a dirt path somewhere in the bush. Who knows?

Jim and I and a host of other missionaries, nationals, government officials, dignitaries, business people, and everyone else who depends on your services, are so grateful for you, MAF. And today in particular, for you, Rod, and all you do in your service for Him.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just the Basics

At our bush mission campus, we have a dispensary. Last October, Pastor Kilasi joined the team and has made a tremendous difference because he is a certified lab tech. So now people can actually be diagnosed with malaria, typhoid, Aids, anemia, worms (which kind as well), malnutrition, diabetes, and other conditions.

Marvina, our midwife delivers more babies in our county than anyone else. But she works in deplorable conditions. There is so much that needs to be done to the place. One very basic need has been mattresses covered with dark plastic made larger than a twin bed so that the mamas who give birth and continue to bleed can lie comfortably on surfaces that can be washed easily and kept clean.

450 miles away in Kinshasa, I finally found a place where these odd-sized mattresses can be ordered and custom made. And the only reason we found the place was because Pastor Kanzila who pastors a church in the city suggested we take a look. There they were, simple sponges of any and every size and plastic coverings of dark brown that can be made to fit any size bed you need.

So we will order three this week and pay the grand total of $175, have them trucked up to Kikwit, where our truck will pick them up, and deliver them to Nkara to be placed on the new wooden bed frames. Such a simple improvememt will bring great comfort to many women who will bear children there the remainder of the year.

There is one huge need we still have. We continue to lose mamas and their babies from inadequate medical care. One of our orphans, Mavanga, a good former friend of our son Jack (former, simply because they have not seen each other in years), has two years of medical training left before he becomes a doctor. The fact of the matter is, we just can't wait that long before we start saving women's lives.

The former doctor at the nearby state clinnic has lost 26 women in 4 years to C sections. We are told he performed the operations with a razor blade. A new doctor has arrived who is now working at the state "hospital", and asked to talk to us. He probably wants a job with Laban Ministries because the state does not pay him enough to live on, and he is supposed to provide for everyone's needs with little or next to nothing as far as meds, supplies, and equipment. We are seriously praying about whether or not to even consider taking him on.

It may seem like such an uncomplicated decision to make, but Laban already has 82 employees and struggles to keep their pay checks current. However, 500 people are dying each month in our neck of the woods, many of whom are from complications of pregnancy due to the need of a C section. The nearest hospital is a 2 day walk. How do we continue to allow these women to die before our eyes? If we have a hard time now keeping up with salaries, how do we take on a doctor and his family?

Only God knows the answer. We trust He will give us grace either way He leads, but He must lead. We cannot make this decision on our own.

But for today, we are happy to have found these basic provisions for women who deserve so much more.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Thoughts on Graduation at Iwungu

These are several of my observations at graduation on Sunday, July 11th, at the mission station of Iwungu:

* A cross carried by a chorale made out of wood, with sardine cans at the bottom. The sides were red and green with a green soda can at the top. Necessity is the mother of invention. There is no pretense here; they work with what they have.

* "Mu menga ya Yesu" (the blood of Jesus) wafting through the air.

* The singing of "There's Power in the Blood" reminds me of Laban and Marcella and their incredible legacy on this area of the Babunda tribe, which brings tears to my eyes. Though many have been delivered from the fires of hell because of this remarkable couple.

* Another chorale group fervently singing, "Be careful those of you who teach. Teachers will be required of so much more than listeners."

* Sitting for three hours in celebration of this big day could be miserable because of steamy temperatures, but the Lord mercifully gave us an overcast day with gentle breezes.

* Thinking how handsome the professors and students of Laban II look in their beautiful new shirts and pants the Lord provided.

* The blessing of dignity that new clothes gives these poverty-stricken students makes my heart sing. They left their families for two years, one trimester at a time, have walked mile after mile, have left their wives and children destitute because of the economy of Congo because of lack of jobs. Have gone without even bare necessities such as soap, meat, and other items stocked on our shelves with little regard. They have endured hardship as soldiers of Jesus Christ. It is because God has surrounded them with songs and shouts of deliverance that they have come this far. Psalm 32:7.

* So proud of the academic dean here at Iwungu, Pastor Kapem N'koy Delphine. He was steeped in the religion of works when he entered Laban Bible Institute at Nkara in 1981. His brilliant mind soaked up the life-giving Word of God and he soon embraced Jesus. The scales that had blinded his eyes fell like shackles. Kapem speaks three languages fluently and has poured out his life as a drink offering to our incomparable, Ancient of Days, here in the obscurity in the bush of Africa. In our eyes, he is a prince.

* Thinking how privileged we are to work with this quiet, respectful group of professors/pastors at Laban II.

* Trying to hide my laughter as another chorale walked up to the front of the church in all sincerity, kneeling with hands held skyward, with many dressed in white shirts and dark skirts or pants, and some in powder-blue robes, when Jim pointed out the writing on the back of one man wearing a bright orange t-shirt which said, "I am a pumpkin!"

* Love the way they sing - strong bass, many parts - they answer each other. One will start and sing a stanza or two and then this beautiful chorus joins in and repeats what the leader just sang.

* All in all, it has been a super day. Obscurity and abject poverty do not go hand-in-hand with royalty or nobility in man's eyes. But God's eyes are unlike ours. They search the whole earth to show Himself strong in behalf of those whose hearts are blameless towards Him. Here in our midst are many unsung heroes. Sometimes clad in rags, holding hearts sold out to Jesus Christ. Their nobility is not found by lineage; it is defined by courage, humility, sacrifice, death to self and a zeal for God that enables these men and women to pursue and continue to look at the things that are unseen which are deathless and everlasting. 2 Corinthians 4:18

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

He Has His Way in the Whirlwind

Three years ago, our mission campus was invaded by a village long considered an enemy of Laban. I've mentioned before that the intruders wanted, "just a little of Jim's blood." The property here on the mission campus continues to appear to be under dispute. The village of Mpene refuses to acknowledge that the land was personally purchased by Jim's father in 1948. The price in those days was nominal, but still it was an official sale. We have in our custody the original document displaying the thumbprints of the chiefs of Longo and Nkara (they could not yet write their names). This signified the purchase and ownership of the land given to Dr. and Mrs. Smith. However, since an act of suicide through drowning in our lake, we believe in the early 1930s, of the men of Mpene, they equate that act with ownership of the campus.

Mpene is the only village that did not welcome Laban and Marcella in the late 1940s when the mother and father villages of Longo and Nkara opened their arms to them to live here and minister to everyone. In the summer of 2007, I got a call from Jim saying that he was being confined to our home and could only go up the hill to make phone calls. Even then, he had to be escorted by the police. Out of this whirlwind of rebellion, while Jim had to stay put, he began to teach the military entourage the Word of God in our home. When the soldiers guarding the radio station heard this they asked, "When do we get our own Bible study as well?"

So the days of "quarantine" were spent, morning and night, in opening up the Word of God. The captain of the police in our area, was a hard core soldier who showed little if any mercy to people who owed the state money, were caught in a crime, or were in prison. Today, I found out from Pastors Ezekiel and Hosea, who took over where Jim left off after he came back to America, that it was when the captain heard the Bible being taught that he opened his mind and heart to Christ. They said his almost ruthless tactics have so been altered that now, before he makes any judgment on a civilian, he reads Scripture to them and prays about each decision involving them.

The regional military headquarters in Bulungu is comprised of 1000 police and their wives. Bulungu is 25 miles, or three hours from here if the barge across the Kwilu is working. We plan to go with Ezekiel and Hosea once a month to Bulungu. The Bible studies held in our home three years ago have grown to about 800 men and their wives at the headquarters, who welcome Ezekiel each month. These pastors spend a week there after riding their bikes the 50 miles. Many, many are making professions of faith and now some of the earlier converts want to attend Laban Bible Institute here at Nkara. Next time we go, we will be privileged to watch some of them baptized in the Kwilu River.

They meant it for evil, but out of that evil intent, salvation has come to many. What glory is Yours, Lord, for You are mighty to save. You really do have Your way in the whirlwind and the clouds are the dust of Your feet.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Addendum to Aza

Life is disjointed here in Congo. Before I can finish one task, three others are in my face. Therefore, my blogs are totally unpolished and, sometimes, not well thought through or even totally complete. This leaves me feeling unsettled, but, nevertheless, sharing even incomplete writings is perhaps better than not sharing at all.

In particular, I felt this way about Aza's story. These are some of the things that I failed to mention about this interesting man.

Aza walked on our mission campus about 25 years ago with his wife, Marie, and their little boy, Ntonto. Jim took one look at Marie, who asked if she could attend our Bible Institute, and wondered how long she would last. To his delight, she came alive in class, is a favorite speaker at women's gatherings, and now the director of our Women's Literacy Center. I personally love to hear her pray. She offers much praise to the Lord and her words are coated with grace. The tone of her voice brings me great comfort. She can expose the Word of God beautifully as well.

Back to Aza...Due to his flight in running from the rebellion for 5 years, he never learned to read or write anything other than his name. When he finally came out of the forest, his mother rejected him. She failed to take into consideration the changes her boy would have gone through after five years and told him, "You are not my son." Last fall, Aza entered our newly formed Men's Literacy Center, along with two other staff members. We wait eagerly to hear him read his first sentence.

Out of all the years he worked with us in Congo, he has been a blessing to us, with the exception of an incident that occurred in 1989 when Jim had his accident in Kinshasa. Aza, along with another young man, stole one of Jim's guns. We had to let him go and we really missed him. About 7 years ago, he appeared on the station, confessed what he had done, asked for forgiveness, and asked if he could return here to work. Jim rehired him. He and Marie had four children, but they took in two orphans whom he and his wife loved as if they were their own biological children. Their home sometimes overflow with young people who come to seek the face of God through prayer. Aza is so thin, that when he turns sideways, and sticks out his tongue, he looks like a zipper!

Never has Aza allowed bitterness or resentment negate his grateful attitude. He comes every night, after working all day, to make sure that our water barrels are full. The water is driven up to the barrels via a pump through an underground hose. Aza always has an encouraging word on his lips. He is from the Mupende tribe, who are known to be jacks of all trades. They are also known for their witchcraft. He knows gardening and his job here is to keep close watch over the diesel fuel and gasoline and distribute each.

Lately, he has accompanied us on evangelism trips and his moving testimony has brought grown men to tears - a rarity in Congo. He doesn't own a bike (neither does 95% of the pop. in Congo) and he will never drive a car of his own. His mud/stick home, roofed in tall grass known as mafunga - humble as it is - in God's eyes, is a cathedral ringing forth daily praise and adoration of the God head.

What beauty the Lord has brought out of the ashes of Aza's life (Isaiah 61:3). Truly, "The Lord raises the poor out of the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap and the dung hill that He may seat them with princes, even the princes of His people." Psalm 113:7-8

Aza, you are a prince. We are indebted to you for enriching our lives. We are wealthier for having known you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aza's Testimony

From 1960-1965, there was a loose uprising which began the year of Congo's independence from Belgian's rule. It was a would-be Communist takeover that failed consisting of five years of war, torture, death, and unimaginable suffering. This invaded much of Congo. Jim asked Aza to share his testimony at Nkwaya yesterday, July 4, 2010. The following testimony is from one of Nkara-Ewa staff members. This is his story in his own words:

You will rejoice and weep at my testimony. The war began in 1960 and lasted until 1965. I was about 12 or 13 at the time. The war came on suddenly, without warning. My mother was in the forest and my father had just died. Word came that rebel soldiers were approaching my village. As you know, the normal procedure to run from war here in Congo is to place the father in front, children in the middle, and the mother at the end. All the utensils and food must follow because the children must eat. All the people began running in this order. But remember, I had no father, and my mother was in the forest, so I was all by myself.

I began running, following the others to the Valley of Water. A canoe was waiting there on the shore. The elderly were taken first and then the mothers and their children. I began to tremble. I stood alone. The man tending the boat took me, even though I had no one to belong to. No arms to hold me, no one to hide me. I talked to God. He hid me. We all ran to the forest and I found myself in the middle of a war I had known nothing about up to this time.

The days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. I was starving. I went from family to family as I found them hiding, but they said, "You cannot eat with us. We don't know you." The war was on me. My clothes wore out. I had no food. I thought, Maybe I will starve, maybe I will die. Airplanes were overhead and all I could hear was the sound of flying bullets.

Most of the daylight hours were spent in a crouching position. I knelt for hours. Eventually, I was totally naked. I managed to find bananas and vegetables. This is how I survived in the forest for five long years. I was haunted by my mother's cries. I knew she must be desperate to find me. I had no medicines, I had no meat. And my feet were injured from all the running without shoes.

I talked to God a lot. I pleaded with Him to let me see my mother again. Then a plane came one day in 1965 and dropped a letter saying, "You who are hiding in the forest, come out."

I ran out, bearded and naked. They dropped white shorts for us. I still remember the dead bodies - the dead mothers with their dead babies ripped out of their wombs, laying either on top of them or beside them. It was difficult to keep from stumbling over them. In fact, one night I slept in a cemetery and didn't even know it.

But God spared my life. He heard my prayers. I am healed.

Today I am married to Marie, who is the director of the Women's Literacy Center, and God has given us four beautiful children. I serve a mighty God who kept me in the palm of His hand.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Church at Nkwaya

To give you an idea of what church is like in Congo, I outlined an experience on Sunday to share with you.


Nine prayers were said by nine different people as an introduction to the service. We would call that the invocation. They prayed from the following:

* Refuting the evil spirits
* Asking for forgiveness
* That the Holy Spirit would manifest Himself
* Blockage for all the enemies of Christ, to break all power, and to invite the Lord Jesus Christ to come
* Prayer for the nation of Congo, its president, ministers, to put all in God's hands and ask for development such as electricity, hospitals, and good water.
* Acknowledgment that without God, these developments will never take place
* Laban Ministries put into the hands of God
* Giving of thanks to God for hearing them

Each individual who prayed did not pray sentence prayers, but paragraphs imploring the heart of God.

Formal introduction of each member from the Laban Ministries' team.

Prayer was followed by two numbers from one chorale. And the pastor pleaded with the other chorales not to complain that they could not sing because we had such a long program ahead of us.

An hour and a half of exposing 2 Corinthians 5:1-21 from 12 different people.

30 minutes for a baby dedication for three children.

30 minute meeting for the women by Nancy after all the men and children got up and left the church.

30 minute meeting with the village chief discussing problems using Joshua 1:8 to encourage him.

After all this, they asked if we could have another session of teaching that evening, stay overnight, and open up the Word of God the next morning.

Church is not an hour long here on Sundays. It is the life breath for a desperate people who look to God for their hope and deliverance.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Seeking Chiefdom

The chain of command in Congo is the foundation of its culture. Every village has a chief. Over the village chief is what is known as the groupement or a second village chief, whose higher authority makes him chief over several villages. The village population is comprised of a clan or clans within its tribe. The largest tribe in our immediate area is the Bayanzi tribe. Their native tongue is Kiangi. Each tribe has its own dialect and there are over 400 dialects in all of Congo. So how do we communicate with more than one tribe? Through the trade language of Kituba.

Seven years ago, a person with authority on our staff called another man to come here to be trained as a broadcaster for Radio Glory. He was a graduate of our third Bible school some distance from here. Following his move here, his family came as well. Truly, he had a radio voice, seemed so at home in that setting, and his voice has been heard by millions of listeners. Our 2500 watt transmitter reaches far and wide to cities and other bush missions. We have little competition here in the "nseke" or "plains."
Jim has always called Radio Glory a "voice in the wilderness."

When entering the village to evangelize, as soon as the women heard this gentleman speak, their eyes lit up and they were able to put a face with the voice and the name they had heard so many times on the air. For about five years, he seemed to be doing well. He endeared himself to his listeners, always attended our prayer meetings at Nkara, and appeared to have a good handle on preaching the Word of God. He handled himself well. Then something happened to change all that. Chiefdom become a strong urge in his soul. He began challenging the director of Radio Glory. He sent letters, signing his own name as director, instead of Pastor Mboma's name. A few months ago, he held a private meeting with the other announcers, without calling the director, to discuss a problem they were having with the director's wife. He lied. He openly disrespected our authority as well, and committed acts that were culturally offensive to the director.

After many telephone conversations with members of the staff and our leadership here, plus interviews after we arrived here, we, with the consensus of the board in America, decided to let him go. It has been a sad week. Jobs are very hard to find in Congo.

Is seeking chiefdom ever worth it?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Police Wives

Every Wednesday morning we go to the captain's house about a mile or two from our home to see the wives of the policemen who serve in this part of Congo. Three years ago, two of our graduates started going to encourage them and teach them Scripture. I first met them then as well. They were a pathetic group, spiritually asleep, no Bibles, living a transient life-here two years, there two years-and married to men who, instead of holding positions of honor, are neglected. Not only grossly underpaid, but have even gone without pay for a year. Some have chosen to rob, rape, and injure the local population in order to survive and release their rage.

Last week I went to share the Word of God with them. Their group had tripled in size. Their energy and enthusiasm was great, wearing big smiles, and they were just a delight to my soul. The captain's wife opened in prayer. A song followed, then another lady prayed asking the Lord to forgive us and make us clean, realizing we have lapses in our lives and thoughts that may blind us from the sins we have committed this morning. Another song followed. More prayer after that to invoke God's blessing on the time together and to assure the Holy Spirit He was very welcome to dwell among us as a group. More singing. Another prayer offered to bless the Word of God. I shared Zephaniah 3:17, "The LORD your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing."

Sheer ecstasy overwhelms my soul as I embrace the truth of God rejoicing over me with singing, quieting me with His love, and taking great delight in me. I can't get enough of the fact that the Lord would sing over me and they couldn't either. What amazing tools in the Lord's hands can be these women. They are being lifted from the pit of fear they have been handed. These couples are now finding power in restraining from sin, pursuing God's Word, and giving themselves over to holiness. That's the dynamite power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.