Sunday, January 2, 2011

Arrival at Nkara, March, 1979

Happy New Year to you all!

In 1978, God called my husband to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite the fact that people told me I also had to have that call on my life, initially that just did not happen. Anything but. However, I loved my husband dearly and followed the voice of God by following the call my husband heard to Africa.

We spent the first 7 weeks there in the capital city of Kinshasa and then moved more interior to the large city of Kikwit, where we stayed another 6 weeks before finally arriving at the mission campus of Nkara, where Jim spent happy childhood years. While in Kikwit, the children picked up much of the Kituba language, learned songs in Lingala and Kituba, and spent hours learning to entertain themselves. Necessity is the mother of invention, and with limited resources like cereal boxes and bits of material, the girls learned to make doll houses and clothes for their dolls. Todd played soccer, and I waited eagerly for our new baby.

I also anticipated how it would feel to experience God's ultimate will for my life--serving Him on the mission field in Congo. Certainly, the feeling of "glory" would be involved. After all, this was the mission field, from which I had always run, heard weird things about, lost my father-in-law to and now his dear Marcella a short time before our arrival. And so there was a perception on my part that despite all the drama and fear, since we went ahead as a couple and family to become missionaries in Africa, there would be some dramatic compensation on God's part.

In preparation for our trip to Africa, we packed 31 50 gallon drums or barrels, 7 crates, and loaded a new Chevy Suburban with a wringer washer, dishes, and other items to set up housekeeping in Congo. They were shipped by boat in October and word came one day that they had arrived at the port city of Matadi, about 900 miles south of Kikwit in early March.

A national businessman by the name of Mungwa, which means salt, provided transportation to pick up all our shipment and transport it to Nkara, another 60 miles north of Kikwit. The children rode in his large semi, and Jim and I drove the Suburban until we reached the hill down to the mission station. Off we went to the place where both of Jim's parents gave their lives. I waited for the glory.

Dr. Smith had been building the home in 1949-1953 in which we now live while in Congo. It was almost completed on that shocking day in January of 1953. At breakfast that morning he told his family, "I feel so good today I could jump over the moon." He had completed almost all of the beautiful stone structure and was putting rafters on the roof of the porch connected to the master bedroom upstairs. Suddenly, things changed forever. His foot slipped, and he fell 6 feet to a cement floor, starting hemorrhaging internally, and after several hours of waiting for one of the other missionaries to drive Laban to Kikwit to the hospital, it was decided that Jim's older brother, Jack, who was just 13 at the time would drive the 6-ton truck himself . They could wait no longer. Jim, his mother, Jack, and some nationals made the slow, horror-filled trek into town to try to keep Laban alive. They arrived at the hospital 9 hours later, and Laban passed away 60 minutes after that.

Jack and Jim were waiting outside the hospital room where Laban lay. Their mother, Marcella, had come out once and told them that it wouldn't be long "until he goes." Their young minds could not grasp the meaning of her words. She then returned to Laban's room, and soon after that they heard the unforgettable groaning, "Oh! My God!" pouring out from Marcella's soul. She walked out of the room to the place where Jack and Jim were sitting. "Boys, he's gone to be with the Lord," to which Jim replied, "Can he come back?" Marcella left in silence and returned to Laban's room.

Jim and Jack started singing, "Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh, do remember me." He was buried a few days later in Kikwit. Thousands and thousands of people attended his funeral. Jim and Jack were in shock.

Would God require that of me? to give up my husband to His service as Marcella was asked to do? Would God ask me to give up one of my children to serve him? What about the baby I was carrying in my womb? My mind raced with awful scenarios about being stranded in the remote bush with a starving baby, after having run out of supplies to take care of him. Jim's brother, Jack, as an 18-year-old was killed in a rock fall. His baby brother had died at the age of 14 months. Would death be my experience as well? After all, people do die on the mission field through martyrdom, accidents, malaria gone wild, and untreated diseases they don't even know they have. They have personality conflicts with other missionaries, power struggles just like their friends in America, breakdowns, and broken hearts. Since I had married into this family who had experienced a life full of tragedy on one hand and exultant, incredible responses to the Gospel and spiritual victories on the other, I asked myself, "What would my lot be?" The fear could be gripping at times at the start of my new, inexperienced missionary career.

After all, my family were blue collar, practical, hard-working, backbone America type of people, who didn't move around a lot and never traveled outside the US. They loved structure, sameness, safety, 9 to 5 jobs, and did not embrace the Savior I loved. My husband grew up in a family of risk-taking, ruggedly living, faith-filled, God-loving adventurers who cried from their souls, "Bring it on, Lord." What was i thinking when I married Jim???

Mungwa's big truck made its way down what we now call aerobic hill, with our children sitting on top of the goods for the last few miles and Jim and I following in the new Suburban we had purchased the year before near Muskegon MI. Muskegon this was not. Lavish green hills and valley awaited us surrounded by a horse-shoe shaped hill. This was Nkara.

Jim got out of the Suburban, and I took over driving so he could capture it on video. Hundreds of people were waiting for us in front of the beautiful three-story brick and sandstone home Laban had built, hoping one day to house his boys returning to Africa to carry on the work. Of the two, Jack was the one who so wanted to return. He wanted to come back as a medical doctor. That dream was snuffed out one cold night in January, 1958, five years after Laban died. When dating Jim, he told me he couldn't even bring himself to talk about his brother's death until about 5 or 6 years. That was in 1964, the year we dated and married.

Childhood is such a gift. Totally oblivious to the gravity of our making the decision to go and actually moving to Congo, Shawn, Nicol, and Todd bounced off the truck, greeted people, and ran down the hill in front of our house to the lake.

We made our way through the crowd and went into the home we had visited in 1969 to see if the Lord was truly calling us to this far-away land. Surely, as I entered the doors, the glory I was waiting for would greet me.

Instead the colors of the walls almost made me pass out along with the smells my sensitive nose took in. The living room was a drab green with bright red baseboards, followed by a mustard yellow dining room, once again accented by red trim. The kitchen was a mixture of the mustard yellow and green, Bathrooms down and up were chocolate brown with black trim, and everywhere was the smell of livestock, who in the Africa culture are very welcome to occupy space in the house. Five families had lived in that home for I don't know how long. Forty-eight windows made for great ventillation, but also allowed other critters to travel about freely because there were no screens on any of these windows.

There were no kitchen cupboards, no appliances, little furniture. We would learn later that a reprobate "pastor" upon Marcella's death which took place in Jim's office downstairs, had stolen a refrigerator, beds, mattresses, clothes, and even the children's toys Marcella had purchased upon her arrival in Congo.

This same man lent us his? bed, his? dining room table and chairs, and his? living room furniture until we could buy our own. A feeling of dread and alienation swept over me as we got through the next several weeks. I couldn't communicate to anyone. There was no running water. I could hardly bring myself to use the toilet upstairs (there was none downstairs) because I was sure a snake lived inside it and might reach up and bite my tush.

We went to sleep by the sound of galloping rats in the attic. Somehow we acquired some rat poison, and when it took affect, we used to wait for the rats to drunkenly make their down to the second floor looking for water. It was our Saturday Night Live. The nearest doctor was 60 miles away, and we had no phone or short wave radio to communicate in case I went into labor. Was this a mistake? Did we somehow miss what seemed to be such clear directions from the Lord?

I began thinking about how we could get out of this mess we found ourselves in, especially me, for my husband spoke the language, which all came back to him after a 26 year absence. I was lost, homesick, and afraid. Then the idea came on my bed one night that we could leave honorably if the rapture took place! So each night I prayed and prayed that the Lord would do just that--rapture us from this isolated misery I found myself in. There was no glory here. Something had gone terribly wrong. We wouldn't dare turn around and go home. Too many people praying. Too many people giving sacrificially so we could make the move, and who would want to face Dr. David Allen's bony finger pointing at us saying, "What are you doing here. You're supposed to be in Africa serving the Lord." But if Jesus raptured us, all problems would be solved!!! It didn't happen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Twin Delivered

A few days ago, I asked our Bible school students to give their testimony. One was particularly interesting. His name is Kalala and he was raised in a village of another denomination. Kalala is a twin, and in his early twenties, he was chosen to perform ceremonies on twin babies, who, even in the 90s in Congo were frowned upon, though no longer murdered.

I asked him to describe the rites he was asked to carry out. One ritual was that each twin had to be wiped down with a white, chalky substance to invoke blessing from the ancestors (demonic spirits) and prevent illness and death. A minister from the only denomination allowed in that village told him he must die when he found out Kalala had been saved through one of our evangelism campaigns and was opening another church not of the other denomination. But he did not die. He was beaming with the joy of being delivered first through salvation and then through the freeing of God's Word. How exciting to be part of all this! It is exhilarating to the soul.