Saturday, May 9, 2015

The cast came off!

You may not know that for the last 6 weeks Bob has had a cast on his arm. This means, as you might have experienced yourself, that doing even simple tasks like typing or bathing became much more laborious as he adjusted to having to do them with one hand. Bob has valiantly and patiently persevered through the six weeks, answering graciously the perpetual question of “What happened to you?”

This week, the six weeks came to an end and we took the cast off. Our doctor colleague told us that we could immerse the cast in water, and the plaster would gradually weaken to the point that we could unwrap the bands that held it in place. It was a slow and messy process, but it worked! Bob’s hand and wrist “looked like he came out of a nuclear shower”, as he described it, but after some time and several washings it is now looking more normal.

Bob cast removal 1Bob cast removal 2

Bob cast removal 3Bob cast removal 4

Somehow, it seemed that I was more excited about this event than Bob was. Perhaps because I am more optimistic and Bob is more realistic. I was thrilled that he would finally be able to use two hands again, and wouldn’t have to type by pecking around with just one hand one letter at a time. In reality, using the hand again is a slow process as he gains flexibility and strength again. But, it does seem to be better, and we praise God for the healing. Sometimes you don’t appreciate something until it is gone (or hindered for awhile!).

One interesting aspect of this experience is that SO MANY people have told Bob that he could have avoided having a cast for several weeks by using the traditional Kasaian treatment for a broken bone, called "Kalunga." In this practice, white clay or palm oil is first lathered on the broken limb. Then fibers from the strong branches of palm trees is tightly wrapped and secured to immobilize the arm or leg. Lastly and most interestingly, they then ceremoniously break the leg of a chicken! Bad for the chicken, but good for you because when the chicken's leg heals so do you! (this generally takes less than a week). When Bob was asked why he didn’t use kalunga, he sometimes said “sorry – you have to forgive us for our skin color and different culture!” Interesting learning process though – we had some wise locals tell us that kalunga often does work, but it is best to get an x-ray first, to make sure that the bone will actually heal correctly.

Ah yes – and you might wonder exactly what happened to cause Bob to have a broken arm. He was walking in Kananga one morning, and his feet got caught in some box binding. He came quickly crashing to the ground, breaking his fall with his hands. In the process, he injured his wrist. We thought it was just sprained at first, but when it didn’t heal, x-rays confirmed that a small bone was broken. So – if you are walking in Kananga, always always watch the ground in front of you!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Chickens for Bibles


It was early evening in the village of Mashala in the Dimbelenge Territory (West Kasai Province, DRC). . The sun was just going down and we were sitting in a circle, enjoying conversation, laughter, and fellowship. My colleague, Pastor Mukenge, was selling Bibles and songbooks and other Christian literature. One youth came to him wanting to buy a songbook, but he only had a chicken. I thought about it for a moment, and decided that I would buy the chicken for two thousand francs in exchange for the songbook he earnestly sought. I did not have a great need for a chicken, but I wanted to help this young man get a songbook. Pastor Mukenge then bought a giant rooster from another inquirer for two Bibles!

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Pastor Mukenge, buys beautiful rooster
to help youth buy 2 Bibles

That night as I was going to bed, I could hear my colleague negotiating deep into the night with youth about buying Bibles and songbooks, often in exchange for chickens. Early the following morning youth came again to visit us. We would continue to negotiate Bibles for chickens. Later that morning I bought a handsome white rooster from an elder so that he could buy a Bible. We weren’t always able to help (one can only go back to Kananga with so many chickens!), but folks were grateful in cases where we could.

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Bob with church youth who arrived at
crack of dawn seeking a Bible!

The main purpose of our Bible Subsidy program is to dramatically reduce cost to help church members and leaders have Bibles and songbooks. Village folks often don’t have much cash, but they do have chickens and other things of value which they are willing to sell in exchange for the privilege of having God’s written word in their grasp. I am grateful for our trip to Mashala and seeing the deep desire of God’s people to lay hold of God’s Word. May this program continue to flourish and take whatever creative turns will best serve the Congolese people. We extend our gratitude to all the churches and individuals who have generously given to make this program possible.  “Tuasakadila!” (thank you!).

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On this particular trip, our Department of Evangelism was also
able to make available 50 children’s Bibles (gratis!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why do we sell Bibles?

Recently, a keen friend posted this question in response to our spring newsletter:

Hi Bob and Kristi, We were a bit surprised to read that you sell Bibles. I always thought missionaries give them away for free, especially to the 3d world countries and there are some organizations that donate them. Is this something new?

We thought that probably there are other people with the same question, so we wanted to post our response here. We really welcome your question, suggestions, thoughts – it helps to remind us that we are not alone as we serve with the church in Congo!  Here is our response to her question:

Great question! We are very glad that you asked - we like to hear feedback when you read our letters! You are right - some missionaries, past and present, give away Bibles and some organizations donate them. That has happened in Congo also in some cases in the past. It is good to get God's Word into people's hands, especially those that do not yet have a local church presence or do not know Christ.

However, it also creates a culture and mentality that the Bible is something to be given for free - not something of value worth purchasing. So, in our context here in Kasai, this meant that when the presence of missionaries decreased, so did the presence of Bibles. The Bible Society in Congo continued to import Bibles and sell them (yes, the Bible society sells Bibles, though not at a profit), but there was not much demand to purchase them among Presbyterian churches here.

In our first couple of years in Congo, we traveled to many rural regions, and heard about the tragic lack of Bibles and songbooks. As you know, Congo is a very poor country, and most people could not afford a Bible. The current price for a Tshiluba Bible in Kananga is $12. Also, Bibles were not available at all in the rural areas outside of the provincial capital. Whenever we heard people express that need, we asked people how much they could and would be willing to pay for a Bible if they were available. The response was between 4,000 and 5,000 Congolese Francs ($5-$6). We put our heads together with our Congolese colleagues, wondering what we could do to help meet this need.

In 2013, we started a subsidy program to bring the price down to what people could afford. Yes, we started selling Bibles - for about $4.50 in the rural areas and $6 in the urban areas. Our purpose was to make Bibles accessible - especially to people in rural areas. There are whole congregations without 1 Bible amongst them! We want people to be able to own them and read them and use them, but we also want each person to be able to give something as a sign of participation and sacrifice that demonstrates the value it is to them. This means that we are selling Bibles at a significant loss, and can only continue the subsidy program with the donations and participation of generous people outside of Congo who agree to help make Bibles accessible. But, it also helps protect the Congolese Christians from getting stuck in an environment of dependency on American church. This subsidy program has been received with great joy and gratitude from members of the church here. We have described some of the impact in our Spring 2014 newsletter and in a few blog posts. If you have further questions, we welcome you to e-mail us or post another comment.

In 2014,we and our colleagues in the Department of Evangelism sold a total of 1,328 Tshiluba Bibles, 730 Tshiluba hymnbooks, and 135 Children’s Bibles (in Tshiluba). That was done with a total subsidy of $10,136 – which came from numerous individuals and churches, including children in a vacation Bible school and a man who made and sold jam all summer to give the proceeds for Bibles in Congo. Wow! Thank you for participating with us in getting God’s Word in people’s hands and hearts. What we have sold so far just whets the appetite of the thousands more in Kasai who would also like to buy their own Bible. If you would like to participate, the link for giving online to the Dept. of Evangelism of the CPC is here – just designate in the comments that it is for Bibles.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Youth Alive! (Congo)


There are few people in all of Kasai who encourage us more than Frere (brother) Victor Muine.  Victor is a leader in the youth movement of the Congolese Presbyterian Community (CPC).  Earlier this year he mobilized about twenty youth in Kananga, including six seminary students, to go to the rural presbytery of Muanza-Ngoma to host a two day seminar to strengthen the youth in that region.  The goal of the seminar was to help youth understand their role in the church.  They encouraged their compatriots to know God’s Word and to share their faith with others, and to do so with humility and respect. Victor Muine and his companions walked for six and a half hours to arrive at their destination.  They were warmly received by 245 youth of the presbytery, all of whom slept on mats in the modest church building.  For food, the youth from Kananga brought fish, tomato/onions, and corn flour.  The youth from the villages provided charcoal (for cooking), manioc flour, and manioc greens.  Three adult leaders were also in attendance to encourage the youth.  They encouraged the assembly, expressed value to them by being with them, and appreciated their zeal for serving God.

Youth relaxing after serviceFrere Victor Muine (second from left) sits with and encourages the youth
of Bunkonde Parish (Muanza-Ngoma)  

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Victor sang three solos at Bunkonde parish emphasizing our need for unity
and for leaders to serve with reverence, humility and love
(song is a powerful medium in Congo!)

Victor Muine shared with me that other presbyteries are seeking their presence as well.  Many of these presbyteries are very far and would require a day two to arrive by foot.  Just two days ago Victor shared with me that he and two others were able to visit the presbytery of Lulua.  They left at 6am and arrived at 7pm, a thirteen hour walking journey.  They spent two weeks in this rural region and were able to visit all eleven churches. 

Please pray for Frere Victor Muine as he and others seek to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and encourage other youth to do the same.  Pray also that God would show Kristi and I how we can come alongside Victor and the youth of Congo.  They are not only tomorrow’s leaders, but also the leaders of today.  May God bless Victor and the youth of Congo for all of their efforts.

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Bob with Victor (to my right) and other youth leaders,
gathered from the West Kasai Synod

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Surgery Recovery Update

We are still in Kinshasa, but wanted to give you a brief update on the three Ditekemena kids who were recently operated on in Kananga. They all were discharged from the hospital about 2 weeks ago, and are back at the BICE center with the other kids. They have been given their own ‘sleeping house’, so that they can ensure it is kept clean and sanitary to prevent infection. Caregivers rotate so that someone is available and with them 24 hours a day.

Dominique, who had major surgery on his spine, is now wearing a ‘body cast’ (like a vest to cover his torso) to help him keep his spine straight as he recovers. He is able to walk with the help of a walker, and his wound seems to be healing well. Before the surgery, he could only walk by placing his hands on his thighs to support his torso – so to see him walking upright is amazing! However, he is not eating well and seems to have lost some weight. He is also experiencing some pain in his lower torso.

Espoir had surgery to straighten his leg. The leg will remain slightly bent, but is much less pronounced. He is able to walk using crutches and a leg brace. The leg that was operated on can now touch the ground and already hold much of his weight. He has a ‘fixiter’ on his knee to keep the leg in the right position. He is in good spirits, and has started resuming his studies. He is not able to travel to school yet, but his friend Pierre often brings home assignments for him to work on at the center.

Espoir with new chair

And little Andre, who had surgery on both legs to correct bowed femurs, is also recovering well. He was experiencing some significant pain, but that has improved. He will not be able to put weight on either leg for another six weeks. He has a wheelchair to use though, and is able to get from his sleeping house to the schoolroom in the wheelchair.

Andre

This week, Gwenda, Ruth, and Marcia went out to visit the kids and to deliver some specially made chairs and tables to help these kids be able to do their school-work and sit in a way that will aid rather than hinder their recovery. So, Dominique got a chair that fits him and a stool to rest his feet on. In Kananga, unfortunately, you can not just go out and buy a walker, or a wheelchair, or crutches. So, a walker was custom-built for Dominique, and a wheelchair was borrowed from the hospital for Andre and then modified to accommodate his small frame and need to have his legs straight.

Kids with new chairs

We have also mentioned Kanku, who has cerebral palsy. He did not have surgery, but has been given several exercises to do that should help increase the flexibility in his ankle and the strength in his legs. A boot is being custom-made in Kenya and will be brought in May to help him keep his foot in the correct position.

Unintentionally, Bob decided to identify with these Ditekemena kids in their recovery. He fell in Kananga just one week before they had surgery. He hurt his wrist, but it didn’t become apparent that it was broken until we got a second x-ray last week. A very small bone called the scaffoid is broken, so he has been put in a cast that will immobilize his thumb and wrist for 6-8 weeks. So, he is learning to do things with one hand and adjusting to being limited in his activities. We saw God’s provision in some significant ways  in this process of Bob getting treated, so are very grateful for the friends and medical professionals who have helped to discern what the right treatment was and making it happen.

Thank you for your continued prayers for healing for each of these kids (and Bob!). Pray also for the leaders of the Ditekemena program – for wisdom, health, and grace as they care for all of the kids and give special attention to those recovering from surgery.