Last December we were hosted by fellow missionaries in Kinshasa. Over an amazing meal of pasta and garlic bread, a missionary colleague made this interesting comment: “Missionaries who go to Asia come back as mystics; missionaries who go to Latin America come back as activists; missionaries who go to Africa come back drinking beer and telling stories!” I sure got a good chuckle out of this comment. This blog will include a remarkable story, and a mention of beer.
As means of background, some of you may know that I (Bob) have been struggling a bit with my health. I have contracted malaria three times in the last six months, I have had typhoid which stays in your blood for two years, and I have encountered other various smaller ailments which have been frustrating and even debilitating. For this reason, a missionary colleague and friend, Dr. John Fletcher, advised us to go to the States to do some further medical examinations. His advice came unexpected, was affirmed by our leadership in the U.S. and in Congo, and just felt right to us.
Getting out of Kananga last week was nothing short of a miracle. In July, a Hewa Bora plane crashed in Kisangani. For this reason, the Congolese government has grounded all Hewa Bora planes. Thus, currently there is only one passenger carrier (CAA) operating out of Kananga to Kinshasa. Because the Thursday flight is booked full on a regular basis to begin with, and with Hewa Bora currently out of commission, chances of us getting seats were virtually impossible.
On Monday evening we visited two of our closest Congolese friends, Mukulu (Elder) Ntumba Simon and Mamu Tshibola Therese. We told them our situation and plans. They were very supportive and prayed for us. We discussed with Mukulu Ntumba and later Dr. John and Gwenda Fletcher ways to get a Thursday flight, considering both the CAA option and the UN. On Tuesday we learned that the UN does not allow non-UN-personnel to travel for medical purposes. Feeling deflated but not losing hope, we figured God had another plan. We then learned that that our friend, Mukulu Ntumba, had gone to the governor’s office that afternoon. To our surprise and great joy, we shortly thereafter learned that we had two seats for the Thursday flight. Apparently the governor’s office had intervened. Mukulu came by that evening to fill in the details. The Vice-Governor of the Province of Kasai Occidental had two children on that flight. When Mukulu Ntumba told him our medical/health situation, he generously gave up his two children’s seats. The Vice-Governor, Pastor Kamuesa, is a Mennonite pastor and serves as the Legal Representative for the Mennonite Church of Congo. God amazing grace was demonstrated to us through this man!
Kristi and I arrived at the airport at noon on Thursday. Our plane would leave at five. Two close colleagues stayed with us all afternoon, and would see us all the way to the airplane door. When we arrived at the airport, I still felt anxious about our situation. After all, we hadn’t yet received our tickets. I told Kristi, “I will only rest when we are actually inside and have seats.” It became apparent that my anxiety was adversely affecting our small group sitting in the airport lounge. I turned to Kristi and said, “I think a beer would really mellow me out right now.” Kristi, knowing that I only drink occasionally and sensibly, agreed. Thus, we were able to spend the next three hours relaxing with our colleagues, laughing and reflecting on experiences together, patiently waiting for our plane. Even though actually getting on the plane turned out to be an amazingly chaotic experience, even for all the members of “the governor’s party” (which included us!), everything worked out in the end.
We stand in awe of God’s amazing grace, demonstrated through Pastor Kamuesa and his children, our friend Mukulu Ntumba Simon, and our fellow missionary friends Dr. John and Gwenda Fletcher, all of whom helped us in amazing ways. May God receive the glory!