Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Clean Sheet of What?

The excitement was mounting!  Just weeks away from our first furlough after 3 1/2 years "on the field" as they say, Jim, Shawn, Nicol, Todd, little Jackie, and myself were all ready to head back to dear friends, missed family, catching up with supporters, central air, running water, shopping malls, high heels, clothes with fashion instead of faded, worn out duds, mobility, and fine fast food!  

And we couldn't wait!!!

Home schooling for Shawn, Nicol, and Todd was coming to a close as the spring semester was about to end.  

But we had one small problem, not for Nicol or Todd, but for Shawn.  

The Congo of those days was at a low ebb.  After former President Mobutu told the ex pats to go home; that Congo (then Zaire) did not need them, well--they up and did!  And they took all of their gear and products with them.  Supplies were at an all time low.  

And one supply we could not do without was. . . 


We had run out.

She still had a very important assignment to mail to the US which was due before we were to leave the country.

So we did what had become a natural response to any need.

We prayed.

The year before, visitors had come from America to spend time with us at Nkara.  One was a pastor from Hixson Tennessee, whom we had never met until he planted his feet on the mission. Of all things, the mission board we were with at that time made an appeal to ministers over the radio to come to Congo and actually visit us.  And this pastor took Dr. Zodhiates up on it!  Totally a God orchestrated encounter, he eventually became a dear friend.  

Having had no idea of the dearth we faced, he apologized repeatedly for not bringing gifts for the family.  After a couple of weeks, we said our good byes and agreed to visit his church when we got back to the States.

So, you may well imagine our surprise and delight when we discovered that a package was waiting for us in the city of Kikwit, about 60 miles away from us and sent by this very pastor.  Most packages were intercepted long before they got to us, so we pretty well gave up on asking anyone to send anything.

But, this one made it.  Hurray!

Since there was no easy way of communicating with people in America those days, we had no idea it was on its way.

Jim hand delivered the precious cargo to our dining room table, and we all gathered around to see what treasures might be inside.

Not one time did we suggest to this dear man what he might send us.  This was a loving project he took upon himself.

And that made it all the more intriguing.  What could possibly be inside?  After all, it was a good sized box.

With only days away, Shawn, almost 14, and I had gathered in our bedroom many a night with the other children, who were now almost 12, 9, and almost 3 along with Jim to spend our evenings together.  It was the prettiest room in the house, with wedge wood blue walls Jim had so lovingly painted, sheets with a matching blue pattern in them serving as drapes over the 4 windows, and a matching bedspread--all purchased in the States by a generous cousin so we could have some pretties in dark Africa--and it became a refuge for our family. 

There were times, many times, when I felt like I was losing my mind I would go to this room and pray for sanity and the grace to stick it out.  The Lord always, always came through.

It was on this almost sacred ground that we prayed, we talked, we laughed, we cried, and we dreamed--of furlough and returning to all we had known previously.  

And it was in this room that I prayed in the quiet of the night as I lay on my bed that the rapture would take place in those early days of our arrival at Nkara so I could get out of what I considered the worst nightmare of my life--being a missionary in Congo!

We waited no longer.  Jim got a knife and slit the box open.

And right there

On the top of all the other goodies

Was of all things

A ream of the paper we had prayed for!

The paper that would enable Shawn to finish her report

The paper through which God showed His loving care

The paper which was a picture of God's faithfulness

The paper the Lord told Pastor B to buy and send

And not only to send but to put right on top so we could see God's face when we opened the box

The paper that would be appreciated more than the toys and goodies that lay beneath it; that is, by Shawn at least.

And that night as we gathered once again in that beloved haven of a bedroom, which even boasted a small piece of bright red carpet (the only carpet in the whole house which Jim had taken out of the top of our Suburban to cheer me up and put on the floor of our bedroom)

Shawn, sitting on the floor of our bedroom, glanced up at me, and said as she held her gift,

"Mom, have you ever seen anything so beautiful as a clean sheet of paper?"

I shall never forget that day.  

A day that is one of my most beautiful memories of living in Congo with our whole family among us.  It still brings tears to my eyes and joy to my soul as I think of Shawn's words.

Words of deep satisfaction and even joy over such a simple commodity as a sheet of paper?

Words she would never have uttered had she not had to do without.

Words of bounty because she knew what it was to experience lack. 

Words of thanks because she had a dead line that could not be met without paper to write on.

That deadline could only be met by God's supply.

God had supplied.  Big.  Time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our solace: a bottle of Coke!

She missed her sister terribly.  The pain was almost unbearable, not only for Nicol who was 10 years old, but for me, her mother watching helplessly.

We had been in Congo for less than 2 years, returning to the scene of a great awakening among the Bayanzi people which took place in the late 40's.  Life was far from great at this point in our lives.

It was now late fall of 1980.  Nicol spent a good deal of time with the Congolese children, especially after Shawn left to attend 7th grade at school at Karawa, the Swedish Covenant mission station. . . 600 miles away with no available roads, accessible only by air.

We struggled and struggled with the thought of packing her off to boarding school, but she was down to about 80 some pounds at the age of 12, suffering severe homesickness and culture shock.  Virtually everything had been pulled out from under her:  no more grandparents, no more friends she grew up with, no more familiar surroundings, including department stores, grocery stores, playgrounds, school grounds, tasty food, and snow or at least a change of seasons.

So. . . we decided to try the option of different surroundings.

Because Nicol played with African children whose parents many times had to choose between a can of sardines or soap for the family with which to bathe, she developed recurrent cases of lice.  We had no good and tried treatments for lice, we resorted to what we did have--kerosene.  Mind you, we lived 400 miles in the interior of Congo, not exactly a place filed with Walgreens or CVS pharmacies

Bout after bout of these lice plagues, delayed culture shock (Nicol adjusted extremely well in the beginning), malaria encounters, and missing Shawn put Nicol in a pit of despair and loneliness.

Things came to a head.

I found Nicol in her bedroom sobbing.

My heart broke.

I felt guilty for ever bringing her to this isolated piece of Africa.  What had we done?  What were we thinking?

She poured out her heart to me as she lay on her bed.

I listened.  We were alone.  We cried together.

She said, "Mom, when I look out my window, all I want to see is Grandpa's green Catalina (Pontiac) driving down that hill, and instead all I hear is people speaking a language that is not my own, and I'm surrounded by unfamiliar faces."  No cousins.  No relatives other than our immediate family.  No activities to look forward with other American playmates.  No ice skating.  No roller skating.  No gymnastics.  No Shawn.

What to do?

I had no way of bringing Shawn home for the weekend on such short notice,  no way of convincing my parents to come for a visit--no way, and no way of sending Nicol back to the US for a visit.

We were stuck.

"Stuck" in living out God's will for our lives.

It's one thing to know that God has called you to be a missionary.

It's another thing to live out your missionary role.

To perform the expectations others put on you to fulfill the role of a missionary.

To live out the life God has for you.

To feel like a missionary.

 It takes time.  It is a process.

We needed more time.

The will of God did not yet fit like a glove as I had been told in Bible college.

I didn't even know if I could hold out.  Some days I felt like I was going to lose my mind.

I felt like I was living on Mars totally inept for the call that was so evident on my husband's life.

I never felt called.  I know it goes against the grain and everything you might have heard about having to have a call on your life.

I went because I belonged with my husband, and I was sure of God's call on his life.

It was this simple:  If God called him, He also called me.

But as far as sensing a separate call from the Lord on my life to serve Him in Congo--no.  It wasn't there.

So, there we were.

I told Nicol to wait a moment.  I would be right back.

In our attic was a case of cokes. . . a very precious commodity.  A treaure hard to come by.

Cokes all the way from Kinshasa, hundreds of miles away, not available locally.  Saved for very special occasions.

This was a very special occasion.

Usually shared by two people, each shared bottle was sipped slowly by both.

But drastic situations call for drastic measures.

Down I came with not one coke, but two.

Nicol's eyes brightened.  We had made this case last for a long time.  She knew she was valued and loved.

She rose to the occasion.

We sat on the edge of the bed with feet dangling and even swinging as we sipped away.

Each one being solaced with her own bottle of Coke.

Life was good again.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Imagine with me. . . Christmas in 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 consists 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 mission boutique lately, 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 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 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, no TV, 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.  Each year, we offer the gift of a Dream Package, which includes a new piece of cloth for the mother, a new pair of shoes for the father, a dress or shirt and pants for each girl or boy, cokes for the family, and a feast consisting of dried fish, fresh beef, bread, rice, beans, saka saka (or close to our spinach) and a toy for the children.  Congolese parents are just like us.  They want to offer their children the benefits of a special day like Christmas, which include presents.  Your kindness will brighten up the dullness and flood their lives with holiday cheer and the love of Christ.

Proverbs 19:17 says that whoever gives to the poor actually lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay that person.  After all, the Lord is no man's debtor.  Just earmark your check "Dream Package", and send it to P O Box 251, Taylor MI 48180.

Blessings and gratitude from us and from the staff of Laban Ministries International in Congo, Africa!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Total Awe

Christmas, 2012

What an unfathomable act of humility it was for Christ to become an embryo and nestle in the womb of
Mary, a woman He Himself created.

What must it have been like for Jesus to limit Himself to that seclusion for nine months?

"Who being in very nature Jesus did not consider His equality with God something to be grasped, but
made Himself of no reputation, taking upon Himself the form of a servant."

The Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah "had to be made like His brothers in every way in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people."

To you, Lord, "who earnestly remembered us in our low estate and imprinted us on Your heart, for your mercy and loving kindness which endure forever," we give you great praise!