Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Visits

In Kasai, visiting people, especially at the time of a birth or a death, is very important. The physical presence with the person or family speaks of your care for them and your sharing in the joy or sorrow of the occasion. If you fail to visit a friend or family member during one of those occasions, it can be taken as a serious offence. We try, as best as we can, to honor that value in the culture among our friends and colleagues here. It sure does seem like there is an abundance of both births and deaths!

The neighborhood cell group we are part of is committed to visiting and supporting people during these significant life events. Last week, Mamu Esther, a member of the cell group came to our offices one afternoon. She said that a member of the church had given birth, and was waiting for the members of cell group to come and escort her home from the health center with her new baby. She was planning to come home that afternoon, and Mamu Esther explained that it was important for a pastor to be there to pray for the child. The pastor of the church was not available, so could we go? We adjusted our plans and committed to go with the other cell group members. We had forgotten what a celebration that time often is. The baby was received with shouts of joy, and then Bob had the privilege of praying for God’s protection on his life. We were served a full meal and enjoyed some good fellowship with our cell group before racing home to beat the imminent rain.

Just in the last week, there were 3 other babies in our neighborhood to visit and pray for. Our cell group met at 6:30 in the morning to go visit two of the babies. I think the families were a bit surprised, although delighted, to see us show up at 7am!

On a sad note, after church on Sunday we visited two families who were in mourning. One older woman who had struggled with diabetes for a long time broke her arm last year and had complications and infections as a result. The second family lost their 22 year old daughter last week after a long battle with tuberculosis and complications from a surgery. We grieve to see their lives on earth cut short and the struggle of these families to fight the sicknesses. We are grateful that even in the midst of harsh tragedies like this, God gives hope and offers us Life beyond this world.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Supporting Rural Pastors in DR Congo


Twelve days ago we hit the road!  After weeks of visiting our mechanic and getting “Tshikunda” (our Department’s trusty Land Cruiser) back up to speed, she was put back to good use: plowing through sand, sloshing in mud, jostling up steep inclines and sliding nimbly down declines.  After 2.5 hours, we achieved our prize - Mutoto, a historic Presbyterian mission station. 

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Like many of the old mission stations, Mutoto sits on top of
a hill with wonderful views and cool breezes! 

We were visiting the old Mutoto Mission Station for our second time.  It is home to one of three pastoral institutes which our Department of Evangelism and Christian Education oversees.  We went for the expressed purpose of learning more about their vocational training school.  The leaders of this institute recognize that when their students graduate they will be greeted by a very difficult life serving in rural/village parishes where they may only receive $1 a month for their service in the parish. 

Thus, they need supplemental skills to help them make a livelihood so that they can feed their families and send their children to school.  Right now they have a student who is a carpenter.  He is teaching fellow students this trade.  One of the professors and one of the students are trained tailors.  They in turn are teaching the wives of students, children of students, and a few of the male students to sew.  Moreover, the Director of the Institute, Pastor Tshiaba, has experience raising pigs.  He hopes to start an animal husbandry program to help students receive and raise pigs while they are in school.  When they finish school, perhaps they can leave with 3-4 pigs in tow.  The school also has a palm plantation that will eventually bring income to help the school with operational expenses.   

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Kristi, Pastor Mboyamba, Pastor Tshiaba and his wife
surveying palm plantation

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One of the students demonstrating wood-working skills


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One of the pastoral student’s daughters learns to sew

Our Department is currently in a position whereby we can assist this institute with its vocational training school.  Within the next few months, we will help them purchase new woodworking tools, sewing machines, and perhaps a few pigs!  The Mutoto Pastoral Institute is also in desperate need of a new building for its vocational training classes, as well as new classrooms for theological study. 

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Current institute classrooms, built possibly 100 years ago!

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Pastor Tshiaba (Director) shows one of many cracks in the walls!
He has told us numerous times that the building could
fall down at any time

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The building where students and family members learn to sew

God willing, new structures and buildings will come in time.  We are excited about the initiative taken by the leadership of this particular institute, and we hope that their vocational training program can be a “pilot program” as we seek to strengthen and empower all three schools, helping to provide additional skills to students and their spouses that will make life more manageable as they live in rural Congo. 

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Pastoral students and their families worship every morning
in the mission station church

A long term dream is that the graduating students will become dedicated pastors serving in villages where they and their spouses can be agents of holistic community transformation.  Kristi and I are passionate about this focus of ministry in Congo.  Please pray with us about this vision and dream!  With God, all things are possible.

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Visiting students’ homes

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Kristi with wife and children of one of the older students

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Bob pictured with “Bob” – a student named after me because he arrived
during our visit in January 2013

Monday, March 17, 2014

Update on Jackoo

Our pet parrot, Jackoo, is back from his long holiday at “Club Fletcher” in Tshikaji. He seemed to adjust quickly to being back in the big city of Kananga, but I’m sure that he misses the companionship of Coltrain, the other parrot who he lived with in Tshikaji. We heard that a couple of times in the months before we returned, they got out of the enclosure at Fletchers, and seemed pretty proud of themselves. Neither parrot can fly, so it was fortunate that they were found before a hawk found them! We found that Jackoo, in particular seems to have picked up a knack for escaping – if the string we use to tie his cage is accessible, he will work at the knot until it comes loose enough to get the door open.

Jackoo trying to get out

Jackoo pushes on the door to loosen the knot in the string

One day, Bob casually watched him escape from his cage, but then when he tried to coax him onto his hand, Jackoo refused – of course excited about his newfound freedom. He then went out to the overhang beyond our balcony, and we could tell he was scared and not sure what to do. Since he can’t fly, being free outside is a risk, and we were afraid he would go down to the street. Bob went out to try to coax him, and of course it provided entertainment for all the passers-by on the street as they shouted advice. Bob finally coaxed him onto a stick, and he was by then happy to be back in familiar surroundings.

You can’t see Jackoo in this picture, but he is in front of Bob, while Bob tries to coax
him onto his hand on the overhang of our balcony. Note the spectators on the street below.

Another day a few weeks ago, our house-worker, Tatu Muanda, rushed to our office to tell Bob that Jackoo had gotten out and was down on the street. Bob went home to find him on a bar of the grate of the offices below us, panting and shaking and obviously scared. It took Bob almost 10 minutes to coax him onto his hand and bring him back upstairs. So…we are much more careful now about how we tie the cage shut, and he has not recently had any break-outs. We know that parrots are active, intelligent birds that need to stay occupied with toys or challenges, so we have tried various things to keep Jackoo distracted. I gave him a small white plastic bottle that I expected him to chew to pieces, but he has left it intact and likes to play with it. What we found interesting is that he also seems to crouch over it for long periods at a time, as if it is an egg he is sitting on…or maybe “she” is sitting on??

We’ve received a few requests for a video of Jackoo speaking. It is hard to capture some of the funny ones on tape, but we’ve tried to put together a short sampler of some of his noises. His “vocabulary” is not extensive, but he is great at imitating all kinds of noises. He provides some good distraction and amusement for us, as you can imagine.

Jackoo having fun with his noises

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Project Ditekemena, off we go!

Sometimes in Congo it takes a while to be encouraged by anything!  However right now I am extremely encouraged by Project Ditekemena (Hope), an outreach to help place children-on-the-streets back into families.  The last week of February we held a five day training.  Six Christian Monitors were trained who will be the focal point of this outreach.  Starting next week, they will go out and identify children whom we will place in a center (safe house) for 3-5 months as the Monitors connect with their families and seek to help them be welcomed into homes.  Pastor Manyayi is the leader of this program.  He has a real passion for reaching these kids!  My role has been to advocate for him, encourage him, and serve as a consultant with some engagement.  Receiving a $20,000 grant from Presbyterian Women (PW) last year, this project is finally getting a lift!  Pray with us that the program would truly change the lives of the 20 kids we seek to reach.  Below are pictures from our week of training, and our time together last Thursday preparing the BICE Center where these children will live while we find them homes.


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Pastor Charlotte Keba was the primary trainer, teaching everyday

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Training Participants

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Pastor Manyayi teaches on spiritual formation of these children;
he emphasizes that they have faith but need someone to lead them

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Training Participants

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Dr. Mulumba, General Secretary of the Congolese Presbyterian Church,
comes to give a word of encouragement (his message taped for a local radio station)

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Three women from the Oasis Parish cooked bidia everyday for us!

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6 Monitors, Pastor Manyayi, Pastor Mukendi (consultant, presbytery leader),
Dr. Mulumba, Bob

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Preparing the BICE Centre for the children

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Removing weeds and brush (keep snakes away!)

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Repairing and refurbishing the beds

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Cleaning the walls and painting them with “lupemba” (clay)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Extremes

Congo feels sometimes like a paradoxical combination of hopeless suffering and inspiring potential.

Women's conference offering

Joy and warmth as the women sway down the aisle in church,
despite the persistent struggle of mother who always seem to have at least 1 child sick with malaria.

Lush beauty of a valley filled with trees and the songs of tropical birds
Contrasts with erosion as a new ravine is formed and threatens homes

Eager children walk long distances to go to school,
and then often have extra obstacles to overcome like lack of materials, a school roof that leaks, or a family that can not afford the school fees.

Families who struggle to find the money for their next meal,
yet will give sacrificially of time and resources when a friend or neighbor is sick or in crisis.

People long on time, with great patience and perseverance,
Yet whose time does not often yield the means to support their family.

A culture of high respect for authority,
which then suffers silently under corruption and tyranny.

Passionate, persevering prayers seek out God’s help,
Yet then a fatalistic resignation to accept whatever happens.

A place with frustrating inefficiencencies from my Western view,
Where I am grateful for the flexibility and patience modeled around me.

I feel embraced by generous hospitality,
and then repelled by presumptuous demands.

Even the climate conflicts – the warm sun is accommodating and comfortable year round,
Yet it harbors those destructive tropical diseases.

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