Sunday, March 28, 2010

Toyota Land Cruiser (a poem)

Yesterday we returned from Lake Munkamba, 90k from where we live in Kananga.  Below is a poem eulogizing the amazing feats of the Toyota Land Cruiser, amidst the renowned and tumultuous roads of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  


Toyota Land Cruiser


Toyota Land Cruiser, the best Japanese built

to weather hills and crevices throughout.

Up and down, down again and up -

surmount we ever, this endless bump?


Toyota Land Cruiser, nimble powerful quick -

“Punch it baby, through this endless thick!”

Like a ballerina we glide slide and pirouette

keeping form, as out-a-that hole we get.


Toyota Land Cruiser, if ever a vehicle was made -

rock stone and stubble, we miraculously evade.

Red thick clay we find, archenemy no doubt…

but I tell you comrade, we will certainly pull out.


Toyota Land Cruiser, queen of Africa’s dirt -

sway we may, out-a-control we furtively spurt.

Hang on, endless wheels roar round,

not so bad, this dang car can pound!


Toyota Land Cruiser, Six Flags may not be

but I tell you, such fun here is almost free!

Our experience is only one, so wait again for more,

Of endless tirades chant we, regarding Congo’s floor.   


a poetic description, by Bob Rice



bad roads

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Pied Piper

We have just finished our second week of language learning! We’ve been looking for ways to let the words really be imprinted in our minds, like acting out words as we practice. We have a fun example of strategic language learning:

We went to the small local market to buy a few things for dinner. Before we had reached the market, we had a following, mostly children, who seemed very interested in observing our every move. After awhile, we were rather tired of having such a following, and decided it might help to go separate ways—Bob to look for some fruit, and me to head back to the guest house (and try to keep the crowd from following Bob). I meandered slowly, greeting people en-route. I heard a commotion, and realized that Bob had seized on a language-practice opportunity with the entourage of kids. They were coming down the dirt road like a band in a parade, while Bob called out in Tshiluba “Sombai! Imanai kuru! Yai kumala! Imanai! Pingana tshia nima! Bendai ku dia balume….” (in English, that is “Sit down! Stand up! Go forward! Stop! Go backwards! Turn right! etc….”) All the kids would follow suit with his instructions, and it was so amazing to see them coming down the road joyfully acting out our most recent lesson. I wish I had a picture! You can imagine the bikes and people heading to market having to swerve out of the way, while the kids dodged mud-puddles in their march. The adults watching from their yards got a good chuckle, and it seemed a great opportunity for having some fun in the community while we learn. I was so impressed with Bob for seizing a strategic learning opportunity!

“Mutshi mukese” - as the Congolese care for their baby trees, God cares for us!

God sometimes gives us word pictures to help us remember things, and to teach us lessons.  Concerning providing for our needs, I (Bob) think about how Jesus taught his disciples how the birds of the air do not sow or reap or sore away in barns, and yet God feeds them.  Moreover, the lilies of the field neither labor nor spin, yet Solomon in all his splendor was not dressed like one of these (Matthew 6: 25ff).  Thus Jesus encourages his followers not to worry; God will take care of them. 

I believe that God spoke a word picture to Kristi and I last week.  On our way home from our walk to the nearby airstrip in the village of Tshikaji, where we are currently living, we saw several “mitshi mikese,” small baby trees.  Immediately upon seeing one of these trees, I thought to myself, “that is a picture of us right now.”  We are weak.  We are vulnerable.  We are small.  We are living in a new country.  We do not speak the language.  We do not understand the culture.  So many things are new.  We are in a position of vulnerability. 


mutshi mukeseMutshi mukese (baby tree) 

In the area where we are staying, we have seen many small trees which are protected by walls of small sticks, branches and leaves.  These walls have been carefully and purposefully placed by persons to protect the young tree from predators such as goats.  It is obvious that someone has intentionally sought to protect them. 

Likewise, I believe that God has placed special people around us who serve as a shield, as protection, as a buffer during this vulnerable period of transition.  Several leaders and members of the Communaute Presbyterienne au Congo (CPC) have come alongside us.  Among them, just a few are:  Dr. Mulumba, Pastor Mboyamba, John and Gwenda Fletcher, and Simon Ntumba.  Dr. Mulumba, the General Secretary of the CPC, met us on the tarmac of the airport when we arrived and escorted us to a pleasant waiting room.  He and a few others chatted with us, served us cold drinks, and allowed us to relax as we waited for our luggage to be handled by other members of the CPC.  Dr. Mulumba has invited us to join him for worship and fellowship the past two Sundays.  He has also arranged for us to live with six different families where we will build relationships and friendships, and learn more about Congolese culture.  Pastor Mboyamba, the Director of Evangelism for the entire denomination, has taken two weeks out of his busy schedule to spend time teaching us Tshiluba each day.  He also invited us to his home where we were introduced to his family and to Congolese culinary delights.  John and Gwenda Fletcher, PC(USA) missionaries, have bent over backwards to make us feel welcome.  They have invited us over for several meals and helped us with important logistical details.  Gwenda even spent one morning taking us to our new apartment, where we will eventually live, and helped us get a picture of what our future dwelling place will be like.  Simon Ntumba, who runs the printing press, made a special trip on Monday to come see us.  He invited us to his home on Saturday, and to introduce us to more of the town where we will eventually live.  In all of these ways and in manifold others, God is using His people here in Congo to help us during this infantile time of growing, learning, and becoming.  How good it is to know that the God of the universe cares for us, His children, even as the Congolese care for their baby trees.       

Friday, March 12, 2010

Visit to Pastor Mboyamba’s house

This week we have been studying Tshiluba with Pastor Mboyamba, the Director of the Evangelism Department for CPC. He is the person that Bob will be working most closely with, so studying Tshiluba with him is also a great way to get to know him. He has been a tremendous ‘interpreter’ for us, introducing us to Kananga, culture, the church, and all of life here. On Wednesday, he invited us to come to his house for lunch and to meet his family.

DSCN3042 Pastor Mboyamba and his wife, Charlotte, in front of their home

Pastor Mboyamba lives in Kananga, and has a large family. One of the great things about African culture is their inclusive sense of ‘family’, and hospitality for all in their social circle. That said, Pastor Mboyamba usually has a few relatives or the children of friends staying with his family. We were excited to meet them! The youngest two—4-year old twin girls who are Pastor Mboyamba’s grand-daughters, were terrified of us (white people are not so common in Kananga!), but tearfully agreed to greet us while their mother held them.

We had a wonderful meal of bidia, rice, tshiteku (pig-weed), salted fish, chicken, buse, and bananas. They have a large yard that is mostly garden, where they are able to grow most of their own food. We even got to see their goat who recently had twins! The picture below is of buse—it is common in Congo, but no one seems to know the name of the plant/vegetable in French of English. Any ideas?

DSCN3040 Buse—the leaves are chopped up, and cooked,
and make a brown soupy substance—delicious!

After lunch we saw their garden and talked about their family. Much of the conversation we were able to do in Tshiluba, although by the end of the day we were exhausted from the extra exertion that it takes to try to speak and hear in a new language! We are so impressed at the desire of this family to love and serve people in Congo, and we look forward to getting to know them more!

DSCN3039 Pastor Kazadi, Bob, Pastor Mboyamba, and Tatu Samuel, the driver.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Arrived in Kananga!

On Thursday morning, March 4th, Kristi and I woke up at 5am for our flight from the capital city of Kinshasa to Kananga, the city where we will live for the next three years.  Kristi made the comment early that morning that this trip felt “bigger” than our moving to Congo.  Indeed, this trip did seem ‘bigger’ in the sense that we would soon be arriving in a place where we had never been before, and meeting people whom we will be working closely with for the foreseeable future. 

The drive to the airport through Kinshasa was harrowing!  Our driver weaved in and out from other vehicles, stopping quickly and then accelerating.  We were equipped only with the seatbelts of faith.  The airport was bustling with activity and our “protocol” person, Mukila, helped us navigate through the officials to our waiting lounge.  We flew with Rev. Kazadi whom we met in Kinshasa.  Kazadi is a Presbyterian pastor who pastors a church in Kananga and works with the Evangelism Department of the denomination.  He works in the area of development.  We had fun together on the plane! 

We first stopped in Mbuji-Mayi, the capital city of East Kasai.  We then turned and flew to Kananga, the capital of West Kasai which was our destination.  Because the distance between Mbuji-Mayi and Kananga is relatively short, the plane flew low.  Thus, we were able to admire the undulating hills and valleys of the landscape.  Small (very small) villages were connected with narrow dirt roads.  After 25 minutes, we landed in Kananga.  Outside of the plane was a large constituency of political supporters of the ruling political party here in Congo.  They were all wearing colorful yellow bows (like scarfs) and were singing, chanting and dancing.  They were receiving a top government official; this is standard protocol.  Elections are next year, so even now, politicians and political parties are gearing up. 

As we walked across the tarmac we were greeted by Dr. Mulumba and other leaders of the church.  Dr. Mulumba is the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Community of Congo.  He led us to an air-conditioned waiting room while others went to collect our bags.  Also there to greet us upon our arrival was Rev. Mboyamba, the Director of the Evangelism Department, with whom I (Bob) will be working closely.  After enjoying some casual exchanges and pleasantries in the waiting room, we got into a Land Cruiser with Dr. Mulumba and another leader in the church named Mukulu Ilunga and headed for town.  Lunch was prepared for us at the Protestant Center.  Dr. Mulumba introduced us to the respective leaders present, and then Rev. Bope, the Legal Representative of the Church in West Kasai, gave a prayer of thanksgiving for our arrival.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal of bidia, chicken, beef, makamba (cassava leaves) and fried plantains.  Bidia is a mixture of corn and kasava flour and water.  It is a staple here in Kasai.  One scoops it with one’s hands and uses it almost as a spoon to eat other food items.

We are here!  It is exciting.  Tusakadile Nzambi! (Praise God).     

  DSCN3023The sign welcoming us to Kananga 

DSCN3028 Us with pastors and leaders of the Presbyterian Community of Congo (CPC)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Make new friends, and keep the old

We have found that people in Kinshasa are incredibly hospitable! We really enjoyed some significant visits over the weekend, and ate far too much food!

On Friday evening, we were able to visit the family of Leonard Kiswangi, a colleage of Bob’s from AE (African Enterprise). Bob and Leonard met at a celebration in 2002 in South Africa, and had kept in touch but not seen each other since then! We were very excited to be able to meet his family and spend an evening with them.  Since Leonard and Bob both are involved in evangelism, they enjoyed conversing about the church here and Leonard and his wife’s service as chaplains of a nearby university.

It was quite a journey to get there, because unfortunately Leonard’s car broke down on the way to his house. Leonard, Bob, and some helpful policemen pushed the car to the side of the road, then Leonard called his mechanic to come get it started. I wish I could have taken a picture of his mechanic, squatting on the engine in his flip-flops, using his cell-phone for a flashlight in the dark, revving in the engine to determine the problem. He got the car working, and then stayed with the car at Leonard’s house while we visited. What service! Below is a photo of Leonard’s family, including his wife, 2 daughters, his sister, and the son of a friend who lives with them.


Leonards family

Saturday evening, we were invited to dinner with the Ntumba family. Bob had met Jana last year when he was in Rwanda, and we reconnected with her last week at church in Kinshasa. Her husband, Georges, is from the Kananga area, and they were having dinner with some of his relatives. They had prepared a feast of classic Congolese food, including some specialties from the Kasai area. It was our first time to try eel. The eels were small, and Bob said that the taste resembled beef jerky! :) We learned a few new Tshiluba words and heard their perspective about cultural differences between Kananga and America.  We are very excited to see Kananga in person. We just got plane tickets today—we will fly on Thursday to our new home!


Congolese cuisine featured above (front center, clockwise):  rice, chicken, yam, biddia (manioc and corn flour mixed with water), matanda (uses leaves from manioc tree), sautéed fish and vegetables, small eel

Ntumba family dinner