Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Home Shopping Network (in Congo!)

Knock knock knock.  Knock knock knock.  Knock knock knock.  Between 7:30 and 9:30am Monday through Saturday, this knocking drill and descending and ascending our stairwell is inevitably how our days starts.  Someone is at the door.  Another person is at the door.  A third comes, and sometimes a fourth.  One day they all came at the same time - it almost felt like they had come for a party!

First there is Tatu Marcel with his leafy, well-washed greens, his onions, his carrots, and his overpriced papayas.  His vegetables always look so delectable and tempting.  We might even buy when we don’t feel a need.  He is so gentle and mild-mannered, and he doesn’t take “no” very easily for an answer.  He is our produce section, and we are happy that he graces our door three times a week.

Then there is Bobby (pronounced bobee in French).  He is my “shakena,” meaning that we share the same name.  Bobby is fourteen years old, and he is the consummate salesperson.  He has an inside-tract with the Senegalese continent of soldiers here in Congo under UN mandate.  These soldiers receive a regular ration pack, and they sell some of the contents to Bobby who is able to resell these difficult-to-find items for a profit.  If Tatu Marcel is our produce section, then Bobby is our canned goods, fruits, juices and dairy section.  Here is a list of some of the commodities we purchase from Bobby:  apples, oranges, apple juice, orange juice, yogurt, soups, chocolate powder, couscous, eggs, and English Breakfast tea.  For anyone who has ever lived in central Congo, they will know that almost everything Bobby sells are genuine commodities, that is, they cannot be found elsewhere.  Bobby has a sad story.  His mother passed away last year and his father lives far away in Kinshasa.  Because of his Mom’s passing and his father’s absence, he is obliged to sell things to pay for schooling.  He and three of his four siblings live with his grandparents.  Bobby is bright, winsome and friendly.  He often gives us a few things extra “thianana” (free), like salt and pepper packages and canned fruit.  He always asks to see both of us when he comes, and we look forward to our visits from Bobby. 

with Bobby, cropped with Bobby, on our doorstep

Next we have Tatu Richard, Tatu Willy, and Tatu Albert Muanza.  These men bring new meaning to the expression “starving artist.”  Their visits are less predictable, but fairly routine nonetheless.  Tatu Richard produces wonderful paintings of traditional village life.  Tatu Willy makes detailed wooden sculptures.  He has a long history of selling his wares to former missionaries.  Tatu Albert Muanza sells traditional wooden sculptures and Bakuba wall hangings made from palm fronds.  We have already bought more small wooden elephants than we need, and Tatu Richard is certainly helping us make our drab malls more colorful and interesting.  We are glad to help these artists, but sometimes we feel exasperated because we don’t aim to make our apartment a museum.  The most difficult moments come when we graciously say “no,” and they respond with, “please buy something, my family is hungry.”  We have a good relationship with each of these artists, and we hope to help them and their families in some small way.                     

Lastly there is “muena nkuasa,” Tatu Kazadi.  We call him ‘muena kuasa’ because his specialty is making outdoor furniture from bamboo.  So far we have bought three bamboo chairs, a small bamboo table, and a bamboo shelf from him.  His work is very pleasing to the eye, and the chairs are quite comfortable.  In fact, I was interrupted from writing this blog entry by Tatu Kazadi who wanted to sell us a few more chairs.  We bought one, and he was happy enough.  He is a tough negotiator, but is needy like all of our other ‘starving artist’ friends.  

with Tatu Kazadi, cropped Bob with Tatu Kazadi, “muena nkuasa”

A PRAYER:  Gracious God, “Nzambi wa luse,” give us wisdom in how to respond to those who grace our door each week.  We are thankful for the gifts you give each one of us, and that You have made each person in Your image.  Show us how to respect the dignity of each person we meet, and how to show them Your love.  Thank You Lord for our “Home Shopping Network” right here in Congo.  Thank you for Your provision, Your care, and Your love.  “Dina diebe ditumbishibue diba dionso.  Utuvuije bantu ba luse.”   

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tornado in Tshikaji!

About 2 weeks ago, we spontaneously took a break from Kananga for 2 days and ‘escaped’ to Tshikaji. This village, 15 km south of Kananga, is the site of the CPC’s primary hospital in the Kasai region. A hydro-electric dam provides constant power and running water for the hospital and the connected institutions, and therefore it provides some welcome comforts for us! We arrived in Tshikaji mid-day on Monday, needing some time alone and refreshment, and discovered that the village of Tshikaji was in a state of shock and devastation. A storm, which perhaps was a tornado, whipped through the village on Sunday evening, August 29. In just a few minutes, more than 130 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Six churches were also destroyed, and 2 schools received significant damage. Two young children were killed and more than 30 people received injuries that will take months to heal. More than 700 people are left homeless.

The storm seems to have jumped around—some houses were destroyed but their neighbors were left untouched. Tornadoes are highly unusual in the Kasai region, but it does seem that is the best description of this storm. The CPC church in the village was a solid stone structure with a metal roof that was built in 1982. The roof was completely blown off and the pillars broken, but a mud-brick house nearby remained intact. The metal roof of one family we know was blown more than 50 meters from his house. Most houses in the village are made of adobe-mud bricks and have thatched roofs. Because of the vulnerability of their homes and the severity of the wind, several people had taken refuge in the church. When the roof fell, the broken pillar hit a 9-month old child in the head and killed him. In the midst of grieving and trying to recover from the destruction of their homes, it is a further blow to the community to not have a church to gather and worship in.

Lubi II church

The Lubi II church in Tshikaji. The roof has completely fallen.

Last week we walked through the village of Tshikaji with some pastors from the region. The degree of devastation was appalling—so many roofs have been blown off and houses destroyed. In many cases, people continue to sleep in their homes in unsafe conditions. Tshikaji is a region of subsistence agriculture, and most residents survive just by meeting daily needs—they do not have a cushion of resources to deal with disasters of this magnitude. To compound the challenge, this storm came just at the beginning of rainy season, when farmers are planting their fields and children return to school. This storm destroyed the seeds that many people were preparing to plant. Those left without roofs on their homes have to deal with frequent rains, which makes them vulnerable to sickness. Many children have been unable to return to school because their belongings were destroyed and all of the family resources are tied up in daily survival needs. We grieved to see the destruction in an area of such vulnerability.

Tshikaji Mamu Kanku house Mama Kanku, a member of the IMCK Presbyterian Church in Tshikaji.
Her house completely crumpled to the ground, but the small kitchen-house
beside it remained intact. The structure made of palm-fronds in the background is
their latrine, which perhaps demonstrates the economic vulnerability of the community.

Tshikaji Baba Tshiela Mulumba house This adobe-brick house completed crumpled (foreground). Mama Tshiela Mulumba and her husband had
just stepped outside the house when it fell. They attend the Lubi II CPC church in
Tshikaji, and are among the ‘destitute poor’ that are given assistance by the church.

The church leadership of the CPC recognizes the impact of this destruction on an already vulnerable community. They are looking for ways to respond to the urgent needs in this community and encourage the church in Tshikaji. A plan has been created to provide support for the most urgent needs of food security, school support, and shelter. Financial assistance has been applied for from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and we are praying for others who will contribute to the rebuilding efforts.

If you would like to contribute towards the rebuilding of the church or of responding to other urgent needs in the community, you can do so through the Evangelism Department of the CPC, and note in the comments/instructions box that it is for “Tshikaji”. You can donate through PC(USA) at this site: Evangelism Department. Please pray for protection and provision for the people of this community as they seek to rebuild their lives!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Last Thursday was a very exciting day at our apartment. We were studying Tshiluba at home at around 11am. Bob got up to get something, and I heard him shout “Kristi! Come look!” I was sure he had seen a huge spider or a mouse. “Lights!”, he said, pointing to one of the ceiling lights, which we had never before seen lit, but which was now definitely ‘on’. We shouted with joy, looked around, and noticed that some other lights were on. We looked out the windows, and realized that there was a man from the electricity company in the back-yard, just waiting for confirmation that the electricity was now working. We went down and expressed our excitement to him and to everyone else present that today we finally got electricity, for the first time since we moved in to our apartment 2 months ago!

That evening, as it got dark at around 7pm, the electricity came on again. We looked around in amazement…it felt strange to be in such bright light. The apartment felt different, and we felt like we were seeing some of our rooms for the first time, in this new ‘light’. A few of the rooms (e.g. the shower-room and the toilet-room) do not have outside windows, so they never get much light. Now we realized where we needed to do some cleaning! It felt so strange to be able to walk into a room without carrying a flashlight or a lantern…and to be able to see clearly! Cooking with the whole room lit felt like a true luxury…and to be able to read without holding a flashlight! Of course one of the big perks is being able to charge our computers and phone at home, instead of only at the once-per-week visit to the internet cafe.

It now appears, after a few days of our new-found luxury, that we will receive electricity every other day, for about 3 hours in the evening. This does not sound like much, but it feels like a true gift to us right now, after 2 months of absolutely no electricity. In the midst of all the other adjustments we are making to culture and life in Kananga, a few hours of electricity periodically definitely helps to ease some of the logisitical challenges. In fact, we are grateful that we do not have electricity every day. Sitting out on our balcony tonight, watching the stars come out to the tune of a chorus of frogs while people walked home from work, we are grateful for these ‘nights of darkness.’ They help us to stay connected with our environment and not be tempted to sequester ourselves with a computer. We still get our candle-light dinners, but we also fully appreciate the convenience and accessibility that electricity gives!

A tight-spot

On Saturday evening, August 28th, Kristi and I were driving home from a Bible study at the home of a fellow missionary couple.  This couple lives about 15 kilometers south of Kananga, in a village called Tshikaji. Our goal was to leave by 6pm, so that we would have enough daylight on our way home. Unfortunately, we got a late start and darkness began to fall half-way through our journey. Kananga and Tshikaji are separated by an army camp which one must pass through, and it is not recommended to drive through the camp at night. On the way driving down that afternoon, the evangelism vehicle we were driving stalled a couple of times and seemed to be having some trouble. I checked the oil and engine when we arrived in Tshikaji, and we figured there must have been something wrong with the fuel tank. Well, on our return journey this problem persisted. About one third of our way home, the vehicle would only accelerate to a certain point and then would slowly decelerate and would oftentimes just die. Moreover, the problem seemed to be getting worse each time the car died. About half-way through the camp we realized that the car probably was not going to make it.  We prayed that God would help us get home.  We tried to call a friend to alert him of our predicament, but the network failed, so we just continued on.   

Finally, we were barely moving and our vehicle began to make sudden jerking motions as it petered out.  A car came slowly from behind and pulled alongside us. A gentleman in the car asked us in English how he could help us. It was a surprise for us to hear him speak English, as French is the lingua franca here along with four official Congolese languages.  We told him we did not think we could make it home. He identified himself as the General, commander of all the soldiers in the region.  He said that he wanted to help us. He helped us find a place where we could push the car to the side of the road. He comforted us and encouraged us to remain calm. He sat us in his very comfortable, very nice, air-conditioned sports-utility vehicle while he appointed soldiers to watch our vehicle through the night. He then got into his car and drove us home. When he discovered I was a pastor, he said something like, “Wow, this is God’s benediction for me to help you. God has ordained this.” When we arrived home, he asked if I could pray for he and his family. I laid hands on him and prayed for him and his wife and three children. On our way to church the next morning, he called us to insure that the car had been retrieved and that everything was okay. We were surprised to hear from him that morning, as he had told us that he was going to Lake Munkamba that morning to greet the President who was on his way to Kananga.  He went above and beyond to insure that everything was copacetic for us.  At church we sat next to a colleague and told him our story. This pastor told us that he knows well of this General.  He described him as a challenging person to deal with.  He said that only God could use someone of like character to help us. He affirmed God’s intervention on our behalf.  We are praising God for His protection and faithfulness, as we found ourselves in a tight-spot on Saturday night.