Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Saturday, December 19, 2015
23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
During this time of year we celebrate the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. As the apostle Matthew quotes the prophet, he shall be called “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.” The Incarnation, or the presence of God amongst us, is probably the most incredible reality we can ever attempt to wrap our minds around.
On Monday night, around 9pm, Kristi and I arrived back to Kananga with six of our colleagues of the Department of Evangelism of the Congolese Presbyterian Community (CPC). We had just spent 13 days on the road, visiting the two large city centers of Ilebo and Mueka and the famed old mission station of Bulape. In under two weeks we had logged over 1,000 kilometers on Congo’s infamously deplorable roads. We are thankful to have returned in good health and to have arrived home safely despite fresh dents on the vehicle and bruises on the body.
we enjoyed travelling, working, eating together and laughing a lot!
Our winch saved us half a dozen times!
where the whole village came to greet us!
welcome us waving flowers and palm fronds!
members of different nations (tribes) serve one another and
pronounce blessings to each other at “The King’s Table”
The Incarnation is not some theologically aloof concept beyond our lived realities. It is the actual reality of God with us through the ups and downs of everyday life. Moreover, as God’s children we have the gift and privilege of incarnating God’s love and care to one another simply through our presence and service. Here in Congo, that often means simply showing up and visiting people who feel forgotten. Yes, we will not always be received with gratitude and joy, but neither was Jesus always received in such manner. But, as the Apostle John relates, “To all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1: 12). According to Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr, the Incarnation exemplifies God’s redeeming work. It shows that God was saying, “It is good to be human, and God [is] on our side” (Rohr, 2008).
Emmanuel, God with us!
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Last week our team for the savings groups made a trip to East Kasai, for the purpose of visiting women’s groups who have active income-generating projects, and also existing savings and credit groups. We have just started the savings groups in West Kasai, but our vision is that they will start in East Kasai next year, so we wanted to explore what was available in terms of savings, and also what the needs were. We had a great time of learning together, and appreciating the hard work that many people are doing as they seek to work cooperatively to care for their families and communities. Here are just a few highlights:
We sat with a group from the Anglican church, who have a few existing savings groups
This parish on the edge of town called Nzaba Munya has an active women’s
group who works a field together, operates a water cistern, and is generous
in helping the widows and orphans in their neighborhood.
A woman at the Nzaba Munya parish catches overflow water from their cistern.
The cistern collects rainwater from the church roof. They sell it to the community
as an income generating project – without this source of water, people
have to walk about 3 miles to get water!
Finally, we had a long, muddy drive home. It is about 120 miles from Mbuji-Mayi to
Kananga, but it was an arduous 8 hour drive. Glad to travel, glad to be home!
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Sure enough, it was 5:40am and the drumming and singing began. I rolled out of bed, put on my jeans, a tee shirt and my fleece and found my way to the small chapel. The antiphonal singing was almost angelic. Coupled with the drums and body movement, I recognized that I was amongst African angels. Mount Carmel is a Catholic Retreat center in Kananga. It also serves as a seminary for those studying and preparing for the priesthood. From time to time I go there for a couple of days of silence, solitude and prayer.
There are many things I appreciate about Mount Carmel. First is the natural beauty. Mount Carmel is set on the side of a sloping hill and the views are expansive. I love walking in the peace of its downward slope into the valley, along a wide grass path with palm trees on either side. This time I was thrilled to see a miniature Kingfisher with its bright orange and purple uniform flit in front of me, taking a seat on a branch only 10 feet away. What a joy! God of wonders.
The seminary students are another blessing at Mount Carmel. They are so attentive and conscientious of all of my needs. When I visited last spring these students kept coming to my door with various things I would need (candles, water for drinking, water for bathing, fixing my light). On this recent visit I forgot a towel; when I expressed my need it was met in short order. One of the beauties of these students is that they come from all corners of Congo. I have met students from Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Goma, Kinshasa, Tshikapa, and beyond. These students will spend ten years together learning theology and philosophy. Every year they travel to a new region where they will live and study together. They are trained and formed by older priests and “priors” who teach them, eat with them, and do life with them. What an experience these young men are receiving!
There is the wonderful air of hard work and sustainability at Mount Carmel. They have their own beautiful gardens where they grow their own food. They raise pigs. They also produce jam and wine which are sold in town. The seminary students are busy each day keeping the place groomed and clean. There is the aura of an industrious spirit coupled with peace and beauty and hospitality.
When I go to Mount Carmel I am a visitor by definition, but I feel at home. I am welcomed during the daily hours of worship. I am always included in the morning and evening meals. I am welcomed into “their world” for a brief period. Even paying for my room and board is a very casual affair. At the center of all this hospitality and love is Pere (Father) Matthieu. Recently ordained to the priesthood, he has become a peer and friend. He is always happy when I come and makes sure that I am cared for in every way. He calls me “muan’etu” (one of us) and has even been willing to break theological and ecclesiastical tradition by serving me the bread and wine of our Lord (the Holy Eucharist). While I deferred from accepting this generous gesture, I appreciate his ecumenical spirit and willingness to break down the walls that separate us even in our Christian traditions.
It is places like Mount Carmel that provide the salve of healing and space which our bodies and spirits need as we serve in Congo. I ask God’s manifold blessings upon Mount Carmel, a place where I witness the goodness and bounty of God.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Last week I heard about some significant good work being done in Kasai – made more important by the backdrop of the suffering that it alleviates. In Congo (and in many developing countries), many women get a fistula in one of their organs as a result of poor medical care for childbirth or related to rape or sexual abuse. The fistula is usually in the bladder, the rectum, the vagina, or a combination of those or other organs. The result is usually that the woman ‘leaks’ urine or feces constantly. This means that she smells, and is therefore often ostracized by her family or community.
In October, just last month, one hundred vaginal fistula surgeries were performed during an intensive two-week period at Good Shepherd Hospital, the largest hospital run by the CPC in Kasai. Dr. Leon Mubikayi, a gynecologist and specialist in this type of surgery, came under the support of SANRU (an organization in Congo focused on rural health) to visit Good Shepherd Hospital, doing up to 10 surgeries a day during his visit. While about 50 of the patients came from Kananga and the surrounding areas, another 50 came from distant rural regions of a radius of about 200 miles, including Tshikapa, Luisa, Luebo and Mweka.
Nurse Kapinga Annie is in charge of the maternity, gynecology, and prenatal care division at Good Shepherd Hospital. She reported that most of the women received a fistula during childbirth. Some tried to have the baby at home in a rural area, and when complications caused them to stay in labor for multiple days, the baby died and their bladder or other organs were punctured in the process. Others did go to a health center, but the center and its staff were not equipped to deal with the complications. Five of the cases treated were fistulas received during surgery – usually a hysterectomy.
Nurse Kapinga Annie (far right, standing) with patients
who received surgery in October for fistula repair.
The surgery to repair a fistula can often take several stages or multiple surgeries, depending on the degree of complication or the size of the fistula. For example, a woman named Lusamba from the region of Katende went to the health center to deliver the baby. It was her first pregnancy. She was in labor for 2 days before they referred her to the nearest hospital, where a C-section was performed. By that time, the baby had died from the trauma of labor, and she had a large fistula. Her husband left her because of the shame she brought on him, always smelling like urine. Now, 7 years later, she has had 3 surgeries and the fistula is finally completely repaired. She praises God and is overjoyed for this victory.
Of the 100 women treated, 17 had been living with a fistula more than 10 years. Another 21 had been living with a fistula more than 5 years. Three of the people treated were children. Two of them (aged one year and two years) were born with a congenital fistula. The third, a 13-year old girl, was impregnated by her brother-in-law. She delivered the baby, but with severe complications and a resulting fistula.
Nurse Kapinga said that it was a significant effort on the part of the hospital to provide the materials and staff for this intense period of surgeries. Dr. Mubikayi also came with some equipment, medications, and materials (such as specialized thread for sutures) donated for these surgeries. The staff changed the sheets on the beds of these patients twice a day. They also washed their clothes to ensure that the patients felt a sense of dignity and felt clean and free from the smell of urine. Even though additional beds were put in the ward, because of the unusual number of patients some were placed two to a bed for recuperation. Dr. Mubikayi has come before to perform fistula surgeries, but this is the highest number ever performed in one visit. Dr. Mukendi, a staff doctor and gynecologist at Good Shepherd Hospital also does perform fistula surgeries occasionally, but the added experience and expertise of Dr. Mubikayi was helpful for the volume and degree of complication of some of these surgeries.
We are grateful for the significant impact in the lives of these women, achieved through the partnership of several organizations, including Good Shepherd Hospital. Nurse Kapinga said that the need for fistula surgeries in Kasai continues to be high, and she hopes that people in rural areas could be motivated to deliver babies in a medical facility, and that there also could be more training for the maternity staff at these health centers. We pray that these women who have found physical healing will also now be accepted back into their communities and families after many have lived for years in isolation and shame.