Monday, June 27, 2011

Field of Dreams

As I walked our airstrip today, memories flooded my mind of the past three decades we have traveled back and forth to this country of Congo. When we arrived, there was no way of communicating with missionaries at Vanga, 57 miles from here or in Kikwit, 60 miles south of us. Had there been a medical emergency or political crisis demanding evacuation of our family, our vehicle would have been our way out. Jim chose a site of the much-needed airstrip about a mile from our home. Local villagers were encouraged to help cut down the 1000 or so scrub trees that filled the land. Our staff then cleared the land of the stumps by hand with shovels and leveling began by running the 7 ton army truck (1957 Mercedes) back and forth over the rough terrain. Grass was planted and 15 months later, the first plane arrived.

MAF Pilot Gary VanWagner landed the first ever Cessna 206 to grace our little "O-Hare -y" airport. What a great occasion it was, celebrating with elephant horns, the butchering of a cow, and the attendance of hundreds of people, drums, and happy faces everywhere, praising God for this wonderful development. The coming of MAF would mean a quick medical evacuation if needed for delivering babies, treating all kinds of threatening diseases - serious malaria cases, broken limbs, and accidental injuries that otherwise may have claimed lives. In those early days, MAF pilots were angels in my eyes as they dropped long-awaited mail to us, which was a life-line to me. I will remember how forlorn I became after going without mail for weeks and weeks while still dealing everyday with culture shock and loneliness that first year in Congo.

Jim became so concerned, he drove all the way to Vanga, where MAF had dropped off mail for us and then turned around and drove all the way back to NKara, arriving at 3 a.m. I heard the sound of the motor rumbling down Aerobic Hill and quickly lit the kerosene lamp to meet him. On the table he placed a stack of letters which I sat up the rest of the night reading. Now we had our own airstrip and mail could come frequently. The airstrip also provided a way to bring Shawn home when she attended school at Karawa, Then later we welcomed our three older children back home when they attended school in Kin at TASOK. The airstrip also enabled visitors to come see Laban for themselves, which included those who helped build LBI and Radio Glory.

Lastly, I love that strip because it has been my prayer altar for years. It is such a welcome reprieve from all the demands of the mission. God has met us there through ideas He has given, through victories He has assured us of through the supply of His presence, and the conviction of sin and promise of forgiveness and restoration, through worshiping the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world and delighting in the bright hope of the believer's future. Thank you, Lord, for this sacred ground.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A typical day on the mission campus in Congo

Many have asked what a typical day in Congo is like. Although each day is somewhat predictable, events can occur that are so spontaneous they cancel any plans that might have been in place.

For instance, a severe tropical storm can come out of the blue, sending everyone to retreat to their homes or the nearest shelter, not to be seen again until all is calm.

Other "interruptions" come our way. Sometimes they are from the hand of God; sometimes they are from the enemy.

Yesterday, we should have left the house at 7:30 a.m. to go to the Women's Literacy Center at Mbila. However, a surprise trip to Bulungu, the local government center, was required to present our case in defense of our ownership of Nkara-Ewa. This meant that several lunches had to be packed for the men going, including Jim, and thinking through of all that may be needed for the trip, such as legal documents, water, shovel, and money. Than two students made their pleas to go as well, one to repair a bike, the other to go as far as Bulungu and then on to the hospital at Vanga for a large hernia that could not longer be ignored.

After seeing the group off with prayer, we headed out for Mbila. No one was waiting for us there, which isn't really unusual in Congo according to Congo time. Things simply start when they start. But an usually long delay eventually proved that a 3-year-old toddler we had seen being carried on the road 2 days previously--her limp body hanging in the arms of her father--had died. He and his reltives were half walking/half running to get the child to the nearest clinic some miles away. She died this morning, probably of malaria.

The lack of attendance was explained. In Congo, if someone dies from your village, in your village, or wherever they might be at the time, especially if they belong to your family, you become a suspect of the cause of death if you do not present yourself to grieve with them.

After waiting more than an hour, a large crowd did gather of groups A, B, and C, and we had classes.

Before leaving Mbila, Marie, the Director of the Lit Center and the professors visited the family and spoke on the meaning of death and the hope of seeing Jesus again.

We then returned to Nkara and telephoned the travellers to Bulungu. They had made it safely, having crossed the hippo and crock infested waters of the Kwilu River on the barge and were passing through various government offices.

I took a short break and then walked the mile and a half round trip to Laban Bible Institute to teach Malachi that same afternoon. Congo's scorching tropical sun beat down on me, and I was relieved to arrive in the cool shelter of the building.

After reviewing the introduction, themes, outline, and first 6 verses of Malachi, I returned home, changed clothes, and climbed aerobic hill to call Jim. I met Pastor Kilasi and Pastor Richard visiting from Iwungu, who said they had tried calling the group several times to no avail.

My mind was on heading towards the airstrip for a prayer walk, which I love doing in the cool of the afternoon. The strip is 3400 feet long and usually a caressing breeze makes it a very pleasant place to pray.

But, as I started of, the pastors and Aza of our work staff warned me not to go. "Madame, the son of Lumenga (a former member of our work staff) recently lost his mind. He's doing crazy things like undressing himself and sleeping in the dirt. Just this morning he went down to the mission and threw rocks at Pastor Mboma's windows."

As he was about to enter university in Kikwit the previous fall, he became very concerned about his ability to make it and get good grades, so he started attending sessions with magicians and witch doctors to insure good grades and success in school. Now his life is apparently in shambles, and he has the spirit of demons, even endangering people's lives if he can get close enough to them.

He became so distracted with demonic seduction that he never completed even a trimester of studies and has returned home to his heartsick parents, but they cannot contain him.

Ironically, just this moment as I am writing this blog, a voice is heard in our front yard. It is the voice of the young man I am describing chanting in nonsensical language, waving his arms in the air with a bow in his possession.

One never knows what a day holds here in Congo. We are staying put until someone apprehends him.

The most typical thing about a typical day in Congo is that you can count on the unexpected!

A Twin Delivered

A couple of weeks ago, I asked our Bible institute students to give their testimonies. One was particularly interesting.

His name is Kalala, and he was reared in a village of another denomination. Because he is a twin, he was asked to perform ceremonies on newborn twins, who even in the 90's in parts of Congo were frowned upon though no longer murdered.

He told me that each twin had to be wiped down with a white, chalky substance to invoke blessing and prevent illness and death. A minister from the only denomination allowed in that village told Kalala he and others assisting him must die when they expressed great interest in opening a church of a different faith, real faith.

But. . . he did not die. He was beaming with the joy of being delivered first through salvation from evil rites performed on him and on those which he performed on others, not to mention the horrors of hell before he trusted Christ, as well as the freeing God's word rendered to him to carry out His will.

How exciting to be a part of all of this. It is absolutely exhilerating to the soul!