Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Buffalo Story, Part 1

The year was 1940 (before I, Jim was born). A missionary conference was called at Panzi, which is about 200 land miles SW from Nkara, where we presently work in Congo. Populated by the Bayaka people, they are a tribe known by their own as barbaric, noted for their killing. For instance, if there were on the war path and a member of the travelers was pregnant, another woman would assist in delivering the baby, and then the mother herself would grab her baby and smash its head against a big tree in the forest. She then joined her husband to fight the war against any tribe that got in the way. Such behavior was exhibited so as to frighten and threaten opponents, leaving little room for competition, a strategy for Bayaka reign. Bodies of the dead were sometimes eaten, and the goal was to be so mean that their foes would flee with whatever they could carry to the islands in the Congo River until the Bayaka people moved on to another location. This practice dates back to the days of Columbus.

Fast forward to 1940. Little had changed among the tribe. Now more reclusive, they lived in bands or groups here and there in Panzi an surrounding areas. In the late 1870's the Belgians forced them to come out of the forest and dwell in the plains of Congo so that communication began to open with them.

But for years, they were considered a backward people group. They did respond to the Gospel slowly in the early 1900's. At Panzi, Mr. & Mrs. Graves were the missionaries here, who for years didn't even have a car. Mr. Graves was a robust 6'4", 300 lb. Dad gave them money so they could erect a church building. My son, Todd, and I were in that church at Panzi in 1982, a large facility with at least 500 attending the services. The Bayakas were receptive. The mission of Panzi was growing.

Back to 1940. About 20 different missionaries had gathered for a conference that year. And, oh, how good some beef would taste, they all thought. Neither the tribe nor the Graves owned any cattle. Goat and wild meat were all that were available, including antelope. However, cape buffalo could be found in Panzi, and word got out that the missionaries would love to enjoy eating a big piece of buffalo steak, not only for its flavor but its capacity to feed up to 20 people.

Toma Kasabashi, who worked with Dr. Smith for many years as a builder, was also a hunter. He was of another tribe called the Bachok (bah choke) These tribes knew each other but kept their distance and did not intermarry. Their language was also very different.

I am sure that Toma got the word out that there was a need for some tasty beef. He and Dad probably discussed the possibility of hunting a buffalo and what a treat to the palate that would be! To me, personally, buffalo is one of the tastiest meats I have ever eaten. So after hearing Dr. Smith was looking for a buffalo, a chief from a village about 20 miles away came walking into the mission station and began to talk about a herd of buffalo on his land.

After Toma talked to the chief, he then went to Dad and informed him of the news of buffalo meat, and the discussion between the three of them took place early one morning. Laban, being a farm boy from New York, knew how to bring the bulls down, exactly where to hit, and how close to get before shooting. He also knew that the cape buffalo, a very mean beast considered one of the top 5 most dangerous animals in the world, can chase you if he gets wind of you; he can follow your scent for up to 2 miles and aggressively pursue you.

Dr. Smith's oldest son, Herb, was also in the truck. He was then 9 years old, and Dad told him he was to stay with the truck. Too dangerous to go. They checked their guns, and off they walked into the plains, the chief leading the way with his hunters, followed by Laban, Charlie, and Toma, to the herd.

They walked a good distance from the truck. Some of the chief's hunters rose up over a knoll, and there they were: "Bo ina, bo ina." they said. "There they are; there they are," to which the chief agreed. Everyone understood and, with pounding hearts, they gazed in the distance to view the beasts. This could either be dinner or death.

. . . to be continued.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas at Nkara, Congo

Picture yourself as an average Congolese national waking up at our mission station of Nkara to Christmas morning. This is what you would look around to:

Your bedroom consist of one small wooden bed frame covered with a grass-filled "mattress" gathered by you on a dry, sunny day. No dresser or chest of drawers enhances your bedroom, just a small trunk with yours and your siblings' clothes locked inside; no comforters or soft sheets to cover up with, just maybe clothes or old rags. If you have visited the little boutique recently, run by Kinanga, you may have been able to purchase a small lacy curtain to cover your screen-torn window.

The living room consists of a couple of unupholstered wooden chairs surrounding a small coffee table, and off to the side of the room is a somewhat larger table and 2 more chairs used for guests who drop by to visit and chat. The coffee table may boast a doily crocheted by the woman of the house after attending the Women's Literacy school, where she has learned to sew, write her name, and read the Bible for the very first time. Some of the walls may be lined with outdated Penney's catalogue pages with which children have been rewarded for memorizing Scripture in Sunday School. No Christmas tree will light up the room, and no decorations will give a festive mood.

There is no inside plumbing, no closets, no picture windows. The home will either be made of cement block, approximately 600 square feet, with a tin roof, or it will be a mud/stick dwelling with a thatched grass roof, about 400 square feet. As many as 4 children will sleep in one bed. The average-sized family has 8 to 10 children because so many die in childbirth or from malaria, typhoid, measles, pneumonia, or who knows what. So your home may have 3 bedrooms with 4 or 5 kids in two of the bedrooms and a third "master bedroom" for the parents.

Your feet will not feel the comfort of rugs. There will be no pretty dishes, no wallpaper, no paint on the walls, few towels, and no kitchen cupboards. An outside kitchen, which is really more like a smokehouse, sits close by. That way, if the kitchen catches on fire, at least the whole house doesn't burn down. Meals are cooked over an open fire, no ovens, unless you have had one made out of mud brick. In either case, the aroma of Christmas cookies will not entice your senses.

Stark is the atmosphere, drab the surroundings, but you can make a big difference in the lives of these-hard-working men and women of Laban and their precious families. Please take a minute to think about sending a staff member what we call a Dream Package, which includes a great meal in their eyes of beef, rice, greens, beans, bread, their staple of luku, and a coke. A piece of cloth for Mom and a shirt or pair of shoes for Dad, plus an item of clothing and most likely a small toy for each child. All this for the price of $300.

Your kindness will brighten up the dullness and flood their lives with holiday cheer and the love of Christ.

"He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and that which he has given He will repay to him." Prov 19:17

Merry Christmas from Congo to you!!!