It is good to be home again. The trip to the Congo was wonderful. Incredibly wonderful and amazing. But home is a good place to come back to. And the hot shower with unlimited water well experiencing no showers for a couple days in the tropics sure changes one’s appreciation for these little luxuries.
How do I begin to describe the trip I have just returned from? If you have never had an experience in which God has been very present, you may think that my trip just consisted of a lot of fortunate coincidences. But to me this trip just had God’s handprints all over it. From the very beginning, God was in the planning and the working out of travel, visa’s and funds. The time was right God seemed to be telling me this was the right thing to do at this time and the church at home here seemed to be ready to get re-involved in this part of the world again. So when I tell you that all the trip went well I am not kidding. And this is not the norm while traveling in this part of the world. I had a sense that I could just relax that someone a whole lot bigger than me was in control.
We landed in Bangui in the Central African Republic, arriving on the once a week Air France flight from Paris. All seven pieces of our luggage arrived too not a thing went missing from any of our bags. And as the luggage was inspected nothing was pilfered from it. The dental supplies were held in customs overnight and the next day were not even opened. We just loaded them up into the SIL Cessna that came to take us to the Congo the next day. And, again, when we arrived in Gemena they were not opened in customs and we were not hit with a big amount to pay to satisfy the long unpaid inspectors looking for easy prey.
We were treated royally by Dr. Jacques Kongawi in his home where we spent our first week He provided us with hot showers, comfortable beds, e-mail access,satellite TV and the best in African food. His hospitality was just the beginning of a great visit to the Congo. During the time we spent with him we visited old friends over at the Catholic mission, Peres Marcel, Cyril, Joe and others, including Jim Fultz and Margaret who are translators with Wycliff. Went out to Jacques farm at Bodenge as well and spent a relaxing day during which we saw not only the farm but, along the road, some of the homes he had built for leprosy patients, and even a newly diagnosed case of the disease (I went out later that week to help as he examined and started treatment for this patient).
The next two weeks were spent at Karawa. This is the mission station where we lived for about 13 out of our 16 years as missionaries. There have been some huge changes, some lesser ones and some things have not changed a bit. The first week I was teaching and this took up all my time so that I didn’t even get to walk around the mission till the second week we had been there. When I wasn’t teaching, I was busy talking to the guys I had trained in the past or receiving visitors. Some of the biggest changes were physical – the palm tress on the two lanes bordering “Time Square” are all new and therefore not the towering stately palms that I remembered. The homes are now occupied mostly by Congolese staff. They had been looted but were still intact. There is only one missionary family and one single woman where we were about 40 expatriates plus all the missionary children at the school before. There are few vehicles – some are just carcasses left after the war and growing weeds. And the people – they are so poor; so incredibly poor. They have trouble paying the few dollars that are asked for medical care so that the hospital is four months behind in paying the staff. Still they continue to give what care they can. And healing services are held twice a day in the hospital chapel.
Between teaching and work, I listened to stories. The war was a hard experience. They do not want to go through another. They have already lost everything they once owned. Many lost family members. Theft and rape were the norm. AIDS is rampant. Frank malnutrition could be seen in the children. And it was planting time. Many were so poor and the price of peanuts so high that they didn’t know if the gardens could be planted with this nutritious crop – many would only be able to grow the nutrition poor manioc and maybe some corn.
I did some work. Looked at broken down equipment to see what repairs could be made. Saw some interesting cases. But mostly I think I was sent to bring encouragement.
The last week of our trip was spent in Kinshasa. We flew down on HEWA BORA Airlines – a Congolese run company. The cost was reasonable and we were even served an in flight snack that outdid the current Air Canada snacks – a sandwich (pretty dry), a bottled cold drink and an apple(apples are an exotic fruit there).
We were met at the airport by my friend Dr. Kasuku. A person’s success can sometimes be measured there by their influence at the airport – who they know to make things go smoothly. So, I would say he is well known. We got through the crowds of preying officials and porters unscathed and into his Toyota Prada. He was the final of our most generous hosts – we stayed with his family and he made himself available to take us wherever we needed to go.
In Kinshasa, the girls met their birth families. Sara for the first time met her birth mother and father whom we had been told originally were unknown. Grace had many memories – but everything looked so much smaller than she remembered. She met aunts and uncles and a half brother, but her birth mother died about a year ago and her father is truly unknown. She now has a picture of her mother to treasure and a bit of an emotional load to deal with knowing that she has a younger brother.
There will be pictures posted – I just need time to get them downloaded and posted in the gallery. Look for them in the next few days.
And there will be more stories to tell.