Living in a third world country has its challenges, its stretching until pulled taut, its dark shadows, its exultant spiritual victories and defeats, its unanswered questions, its attacks, joys, sorrows, burdens, heartaches and heartbreaks, and experiences lived out sometimes by necessity that one would never live out in a place like the States.
Somewhat like living in America has but with some differences:
For example, bush living offers no electricity or running water unless you buy your own generator and install your own plumbing, the free flow of which is also dependent on rain fall. After decades we do have running water because of a simple well Jim put at the foot of the hill in our front yard. The water is pumped through a hose by an electric pump from the well to 55 gallon drums outside of our kitchen. But, when the dry season sets in and we have company, that well gets tired and low on water. So. . . we have to get water in buckets from another source. Though this system is a million times better than what we had before, it has its faults with debris and a pump that needs frequent maintenance. The water is then boiled and filtered before we drink it, while in America, every home I know of has running water and electricity without interruption. Filtering but no boiling. But perhaps we should.
Another difference. Our country was founded on religious freedom and has sent out more missionaries than any other country in the world. We used to be Bible based, Bible centered, and sin was recognized as sin.
Congo's history, on the other hand, is steeped in human sacrifice, superstition, holding Jesus in one hand and satan in the other, practices lying as if it were an art, trusting fetishes and demon power to get good grades, pass exams, cast curses on other people, and using lightning to kill its enemies. And while I sound rather outspoken about their involvement in the world of evil spirits, I have observed that they are much more aware of the spirit world than we are.
There are no answers to some of their keen spirit awareness. Some of it is very real. On one occasion my husband was persuaded by the Holy Spirit to deal with a young demon possessed girl. He complied. The young lady had suffered terrible bouts of demon takeover and struggle. She was delivered. Hallelujah.
Travel is an incredible challenge in Congo. Imagine living in a country as large as a third size of the United States and having not one paved road, let alone expressway, that runs either the length or the breadth of the country! Not one! In the rainy season, the sandy paths are washed out by torrential downpours. In the dry season, they become consuming sand pits that defy vehicles to keep moving. Prayer before, during, and after even a short voyage is commonplace. Every time we get in the old beat up Land Cruiser we take to Mbila to hold classes in the literacy school there, someone in the car leads us in prayer before we take off. Another leads us in prayer when we arrive thanking God that we made it, and when we return to the mission, a final prayer is offered up of thanksgiving that we actually made it back home. A successful round trip--what a concept!
The enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are very plentiful in Congo, including witch doctors. They wear clothes like we do, have smiley faces, and pose as fathers, mothers, prostitutes, and pimps. They can look disheveled or handsome, charming or dirty, angry or evil. Enemies who are "pastors" and have a side job of being school principal or vice verse can demand female students to sleep with him in exchange for passing grades. One such "pastor" threatened to chop off heads of our legitimate pastors who taught the Word of God if they opposed his actions in any way. He made potions and medicines to sell in order to give people power to know the unknown, pass in school, and overpower his enemies by casting curses on them. As principal of the school, he charged tuition and dorm fees for each student living on campus, which was supposed to include daily meals. Instead, he pocketed the money, and the students were forced to go scrounge the forest for something to eat.
One of the great joys is working with people who are rich in faith and pray as natural as they breathe. So when anyone wants to meet with Jim or me or both of us, before they do anything else, they say, "Let's pray." They think nothing at all of calling an emergency prayer meeting at will, after which they will gather to pray for a need we may become aware of or sense we are in a headlock position with the enemy. Consistent and tireless in prayer, they are like bull dogs, pleading persistently, prevailingly, wrestling for hours, pouring truckloads of energy into asking God for deliverance, provision, miraculous healing, souls needing salvation, traveling mercies or a spiritual breakthrough to name a few.
A common heartache among missionaries is staff betrayal. After years of working side by side--national with missionary--ugly truth surfaces: theft, moral failure, lies. As piercing as David's recollection of betrayal was in the Psalms, probably from Absolom, his own son, so the heart of the missionary is shattered when he or she finds out what has been going on behind his or her back involving someone in whom there was confidence and trust.
It. Hurts. Deeply.
Unanswered questions never to be understood here on earth. Case in point: After serving at two mission campuses, Dr. Laban Smith (from what we know the first oral surgeon in the history of the Congo) was invited to come preach the Good News among the Bayanzi people. He and Marcella saw 10,000 people respond to the Gospel from 1947 to 1952, 1200 baptized at a time, eye witnessed by Jim after 2 years of instruction to be sure they understood what they were doing. The work was flourishing. They were happy serving Christ in Congo. God was being implanted in the hearts of many. A Bible school was on the docket. Life was good.
Then, suddenly, at the height of their ministry in 1953, Laban died in a fall building the home we live in when we are in Congo.
But two words come to mind: trust and glory. Life is all about the Lord receiving the most glory and trust in a God who is just and loving We rest in these two words.
Surging, exultant victories have been an amazing thing to see in the area of evangelism. Such power is witnessed when the Gospel is unleashed in a village where darkness has reigned supreme and spiritual hunger is voracious. To see people imprisoned and strangled by sin's clutches and ignorance released from that hopeless, lost state is incomparable. "The Word of God is powerful, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of both joint and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Amen and hallelujah!
Rebirth. The lost found. Victory over satan. Hope for the first time ever. God visibly lavishing His love on those bound for hell. Mercy. Grace Redemption. Forever with Jesus. What can compare to this?
Hospitals are few and far between in Congo, and the lack of local clinics which rarely have a doctor on hand means total reliance on The Great Physician. This total reliance has delivered people from high malarial fevers, sudden onset of unknown illnesses, and babies born not breathing time after time after time. I've seen this with my own eyes. . . more than once.
Which brings me to the point of the title of this blog. "But, Mama you said. . ."
It was a sunny day. We gathered in a nearby village for the sake of one of our staff members, Kimpala. Young and tender, he had been working with us for about 4 years. His wife would eventually bear 9 children. In those days (1983) the Congolese would bear up to 10 children in hopes that half of them would survive the wiles of malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, and other tropical illnesses.
We had jut returned from furlough, which basically means an indescribably busy "break" in America, during which time missionaries aim to visit all their supporting churches, gain new financial support to keep up with the growing needs of the ministry and family, spend quality time with family members, get their children settled in a good school, hopefully live in the area of the home church where the children can find refuge with friends in a church setting, listen to the children discover that they do not fit in a society from which they have been absent for a term (our term was 3 1/2 years), and that the country they left was no longer the country to which they were returning plus fun fun times of eating food so missed, like cheeseburgers, fries, and candy galore!
Now we were back in the bush. Shawn and Nicol were miles away attending The American School of Kinshasa. Todd was still with us on the mission.
Jack was 4 years old.
The average Congolese had a life expectancy then of about 47 years. So that means that dealing with death in some form or other was a common experience for our family. Sometimes people losing loved ones would come to us for boards to build a casket with or ask for money to buy cloth to cover the casket with or sheets with which to cover the body.
Life for most Congolese is hard and short. Period.
Since death was a reality, Jack had questions. Though he was too young to process death and even begin to understand the concept of a soul, much less the concept of a soul being eternal, we attempted as best we could, to explain that when a person dies, the body goes into the ground for a time, but the soul immediately goes to heaven. He parroted what we told him. Life continued.
Then Kimpala's little became ill very suddenly. She clung to life for a matter of a few days.
They took her to our dispensary, where meds were prescribed, which she took.
Maybe too little too late. Maybe just too late,
And now we were seeing it again, before our eyes.
The death of a baby.
She lay there in a tiny casket, so beautiful, with thick, black, oh so soft curly hair.
After the service ended, we all walked to the site of her burial.
They lowered the casket into the sandy, Congo soil.
And as they were doing so, Jack looked up at me and said, "Mama, I thought you said, when people died, they went to heaven?"
"Well, Jack, you see the soul goes to heaven right away."
"Then, why are they putting her into the ground?
Back to the drawing board. We had more ground to cover.