Monday, February 28, 2011

Jackoo’s first blog…

A tall Congolese man named Jim, who says he was not my previous owner, brought me to 16 Lac Fwa street in Kananga on September 9th, 2010, the day after my new owners’ 3rd year wedding anniversary.  Jim carried the cage and sat me down on the ground, in my wrought iron cage, as he gave a description of me to the potential new owner.  “This parrot costs $50.  The former owner needs the cage back.  This bird is 10 years old, which is young.  He could live to be 50.  He has been treated well.  He doesn’t bite…he just kinda gnaws on your fingers with his beak.  He sings, speaks some Tshiluba and some French.  He hasn’t been out of his cage much, but he can come out.  The owner is selling him because he needs the money.  His wings have grown back, but he doesn’t know how to fly.  He likes to nibble on wire.”

“Does he have a name?” inquired the potential new owner. 

“Yes, his name is Jackoo, which means ‘parrot’ in Lingala,” quipped back Jim. 

“Okay,” replied the potential new owner.  “We will keep him for a few days and let you know if we want to keep him.”


This is the way my new life started with my new owners, Bob and Kristi Rice.  What Jim said about me is largely true.  He didn’t mention, however, that to buy me in the United States would fetch a very mean price, $1500.  I am quite proud of that fact.  Bob and Kristi got quite the bargain for me here in my homeland of Congo.  Yes, it is true, I speak some Tshiluba, “Wetu au.”  I also know some French, “Bonjour.”  My favorite thing to say by far however is my name - “Jackoo, Jackoo Jackooouuuuoooo!”  I like to sing and I like to nibble on everything.  Bob and Kristi are amused that I can also do an impeccable imitation of a goat, a sheep, a chicken, a dog, and a cat.  I have heard them say that they got the bargain deal with me! (six animals for the price of one!).  And yes, I don’t bite...well, not usually.  There were two times when I bit Kristi’s fingers.  They were cleaning my cage and trying to put me back in.  Heh, give me a break!?  I felt a bit nervous shultzing around in the big wide world of tile floors!  What is a guy to do but feel a little defensive?   

Jackoo - that's me!“Jackoo” – that’s me!  


I overheard a missionary friend of Bob and Kristi say that parrots are the second most intelligent non-human animal behind chimpanzees.  Hah!  I resent that statement.  I will beat a chimp at “Name that Tune” any day of the week and twice on Sundays.  Bob recently read that parrots have the intelligence of a human three year old and the emotional intelligence of a two year old. I will concede these facts, though I am not happy about them (“animal pros” do seem to know what they are talking about).  I am hoping, however, that we parrots can find a way to take over the world!  We can put humans in cages and laugh at the funny things they say and do.  That will be the day.  Actually, Bob and Kristi are good owners overall.  I cannot complain too much.  They went to the metal workers in town and had made them make two nice new homes for me.  My indoor home is a very large silver “etage,” second story suite.  It has plenty of climbing rails and a nice wide swing where I like to perch.  They have added a rope which I sometimes play with and nibble on. 

DSCN4231 My indoor “etage!” (swanky, eh?)


I probably could use a few more toys, but they will figure that out with time.  Actually, they have given me a small, red, empty tomato can which I LOVE to play with.  I use it to clank and make noise (dinner time yet? come on people…), scratch my back, and push it along and chase it around in my cage.  I also do some incredible acrobatics with it (someday we will post a UTube video so you can see for yourself!).  Hey Ringling Bros, need a new parrot?  Kristi has also added a blue cup where I can always find water.  My throat gets a little dry sometimes after all my chirping, singing, talking, animal imitations, and gregarious laughter.  I can makes lots of noise and sometimes I think it may be disruptive.  Although, I do confess that I become very quiet when new visitors come to Bob and Kristi’s home.  In that sense, some might think I am shy.  Bologna, I am not shy.  I am just scoping out these newbies.  Once I feel comfortable, I like to show off my repertoire of heavenly sounds and noises.  Okay, okay, Bob and Kristi may not always refer to my sounds and noises as “heavenly.” 

Bob and JackooThat’s me on Bob’s shoulder!

 Kristi tempting me with cracker Kristi tempts me with a cracker  (she is one of the few to outwit me!!)


Bob and Kristi also had a second home welded together for me, which is black and somewhat resembles my old home, accept that it is easier for them to get me in and out of the door.  They customized it so that it can hang it from their balcony above Lac Fwa street.  Outside on the balcony is where all the action is!  Lac Fwa has lots of foot traffic and I love to interact with passers-by.  The children seem to like me the most.  They often greet me in either Tshiluba, French or international jibberish.  I always respond!  Bob seems to think that I am like that poor kindergarten child who has trouble fitting in.  Thus, I make all kinds of sounds and noises to try to gain attention and be popular.  Well, so far it seems to be working.  I love “playing the field” on the street – whistling back and forth with others, making large-booming-cackling laughing sounds that remind Bob of a large Italian woman (matriarch) as she jovially squashes her nieces and nephews.  I think that perhaps I can becoming something of ‘an item’ on Lac Fwa – an amusement to some, a friend to children, and hopefully not too much of a nuisance to others.

welcome to my outdoor home!My outdoor “2nd home” on Lac Fwa street (I love corn!!)  



Well, I have exhausted your ear for now.  Bob and Kristi like to blog.  This is my first entry.  I will write again.  I promise!                                      

Monday, February 21, 2011

New roofs appearing in Tshikaji!

We have some exciting new developments to share related to the rebuilding efforts in Tshikaji village. We described earlier about the tornado and the initial response by the CPC (click the links to view). In January, the CPC Tshikaji response committee began the most dramatic step of distributing new roof sheeting and building homes for people whose homes had been destroyed. A grant was given by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) towards the rebuilding of homes in Tshikaji. The committee started by verifying the housing status of all the families who had been recorded on a list of people with destroyed or damaged homes. Then, those families were classified into 3 categories: 1) 70 families who needed replacement roof sheeting, 2) 40 families who had their home severely or completely damaged, and would have a complete roof rebuilt, and 3) 7 widows or families whose home had been destroyed completely and who are severely poor, and would have  complete house built.


On Saturday, January 15, we attended the initial distribution of roof sheeting. There was much excitement as those families on the list came to collect 15 iron sheets each. Chief Kamenge from Tshikaji participated in the distribution, as well as Pastor Mboyamba, the legal representative for CPC. We were impressed at all the preparation the committee had done to make it a quick and efficient process.

carrying roof sheeting at distribution carrying roof sheeting on head carrying roof sheeting on bike

The following week, builders came to Tshikaji and began building complete roofs for the families in the second category, whose homes had been destroyed. If some or all of the walls had been destroyed, the family would have to find or make the bricks for the walls. The most expensive part of a house is the roof, especially if it has the metal roof sheeting. It is also one of the most important ways that a health can protect the health of the family, by protecting from the rain, which is why this was chosen as the way to make a significant contribution towards their rebuilding efforts.


Last week, in early February, I interviewed Joseph Kalonji, whose house was destroyed in the tornado. Tatu Kalonji teaches English in 2 of the secondary schools in Tshikaji, and if you have visited Tshikaji he may have helped you as translator. On the day of the storm, he was not in Tshikaji, because during the school break he transports goods a distance of 200km on his bicycle to earn some extra money. His wife was attending a funeral, and his 3 children were at choir practice at the church. His wife and children returned to the house that evening to find the roof completely blown off, part of their walls destroyed, and their possessions strewn all over the area. They learned afterward that the roof of a neighbor nearly 200 meters away had been lifted the tornado and crashed into his roof, which knocked it off. This was a powerful storm! His table was broken, many of his books were ruined by the rain, and other possessions were lost in the severe wind or stolen when they were scattered. They collected the possessions that they could, and went to stay with Joseph’s mother. Some of his other siblings live near his mother also, so with some rearranging they were able to make a room his family. That is where they have stayed for the last 5 months, since their home was destroyed.

P1080917Joseph Kalonji shows me his precious English Dictionary – 
damaged from the rain, but rescued from the debris.

Joseph is a deacon at the IMCK parish of CPC, and has been a significant help to the committee through all the stages of responding to this crisis. He was on the list of those who would have a complete roof built. He had just started to build a frame and thatched roof when he heard that he would receive a roof with metal sheeting. This has proved a tremendous benefit for him for 2 reasons: a metal roof is much more durable and long-lasting than a thatched roof, and 2nd, the size of the new house will be slightly larger than his previous house.

P1080920Joseph had just started to build the thatched roof on the left, when
he received the metal roof on the right through the support of PDA.

This project has been a great demonstration to us of generosity and cooperation between the church in Congo and the church in the U.S. A big thank you to PDA for their generous contribution to this significant effort! If you attend a PC(USA) church, did you know that one-third of the “One Great Hour of Sharing” offering on Easter Sunday is given to PDA? We encourage you to support this strategic way that the church responds to environmental disasters both near and far…and sometimes those that are not headline news! You can also contribute directly towards their support of Tshikaji here, and note that the contribution is for Tshikaji.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tatu Famille – poor…yes, but blessed!

Luke, the well-known doctor and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul during the 1st century, writes this excerpt in the sixth chapter of his Gospel record.  He tells how Jesus went down and stood on a level place after being high on a mountainside.  A great number of people from everywhere gathered around Him.  Luke notes how power was emanating from Jesus.  Thus, people were trying to touch Him.  Looking then at his disciples, Jesus says -


“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours in the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy  because great is your reward in heaven…”
(Luke 6: 17 – 23a)


We arrived at Oasis Parish at about 10am Sunday morning.  After greeting some church members inside, I joined the pastor and a few elders outside as we welcomed worshipers into the small, dilapidated excuse for a school building.  And then he came.  I noticed that his right arm was completely inert.  Either he was born that way or had some accident leaving him crippled.  I felt a blend of compassion and mild pity as he walked by.  Yet no shame darkened his countenance.  Worship that morning was exuberant and joy-filled at this small parish on the outskirts of Kananga.  The  young men’s choir began singing a lively worship song in Swahili.  Then I noticed him again.  Perhaps everyone in attendance noticed him now.  While everyone was sitting, he stood and began dancing will all of his might, perhaps a picture of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.  A young girl sitting next to him looked embarrassed.  He took no notice.  He was oblivious to all.  His unadulterated focus was worshipping his King and Creator.  The pastor hadn’t even opened his mouth to preach a sermon, yet this crippled man’s display of joy was sermon enough for me this day. 

Tatu FamilleTatu Famille (dancing with joy!)


Many of us Evangelical Christians from the West have the idea that the “beatitudes” (Luke’s account above) are a benchmark to strive towards.  At least, I will confess this view for most of my Christian life.  Yet, what I have learned as a result of reading Kingdom Ethics by David Gushee and Glen Stassen, and was reminded of on this day, is that the ‘beatitudes’ are by no means something to strive towards, rather they are an eschatological reality of how God treats those who suffer under the weight of poverty and injustice in this world.  Jesus’ words describe what some theologians dub “the reversal of fortunes.”   God’s Kingdom is an upside down Kingdom; it is completely antithetical to the mind-set of this world.


To demonstrate this reality, we have Exhibit A, the man with the crippled arm at Oasis Parish (I later learned his name – Tatu Famille).  Tatu Famille lives in a country that has the second lowest GDP on earth - the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He lives in a culture where physical strength is needed for daily survival.  He lives in a culture where the right hand is symbolically superior.  By the standards of this world, his life amounts to zero.  Yet, he shows no marks of shame.  His face betrays a peace and a joy that CEOs and Wall Street financiers could only dream of.  He is poor, yes.  He probably weeps at times, yes.  He is probably hungry on a regular basis, yes.  I am sure he has been excluded, marginalized and rejected, yes.  Yet his life points to the eschatological reality of God’s reign breaking into this world.  In Jesus’ words, Tatu Famille is blessed.  To Tatu Famille belongs the Kingdom of God.  He will be satisfied.  He will laugh.  He is blessed and will be blessed as Jesus ushers forth His coming Kingdom!  Thus, he is able to rejoice and leap for joy!  When the prophet Malachi describes the final day of God’s vindication, he portrays those who revere God’s Name as those going out and leaping like calves from their stalls (Mal. 4: 2).  Perhaps Jesus alludes to Malachi’s prophetic words in his assessment of how the poor of the world will respond at Jesus’ final vindication and consummation of all things.  Tatu Famille has already begun leaping.  He knows the grace and the goodness of God!  I am no longer a betting man, but I would wager my entire earthly sum that Tatu Famille will also be leaping for joy in eternity, in the presence of our Almighty, Awesome, Powerful and Loving God.  Lord, thank you for such a wonderful sermon!       

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ela Tshiayi! (Office Opening in Kananga!)

We have often heard the term in Kananga, “ela tshiayi”. Literally, it means to “serve tea”, and gradually we have come to understand that it implies throwing a party to celebrate something, such as graduating from school, a job promotion, or moving into a new house. When we moved into our apartment in Kananga last year, we were told often (sometimes by complete strangers) that we should “ela tshiayi” and invite them to inaugurate our new living situation.

So—fast forward to January 2011. We were given offices to use as part of the Evangelism Department, and were excited about finally having a place to meet with people and ‘work’ aside from our apartment. The ceiling was rotting and falling down, the awning was broken, and it desperately needed some new paint. We arranged for those repairs to be done in December, and told a few colleagues that when we were able to start working in the offices, we wanted to ‘ela tshiayi’ to initiate this step in our work with the church.

Our idea was to invite our colleagues in the Department of Evangelism and a few of the church leaders to see the offices and pray together at a short gathering, and then serve tea and donuts. We wanted to keep it short and low-key, and thought that morning might be a good time to hold it. We met with the Director of Evangelism to get his input, and he supported the idea. He initially suggested that we hold it in the late afternoon, but then conceded that late morning might be OK. We reviewed the menu: we would serve tea and coffee…
“And what else?” he prodded. “What about those people who don’t drink tea?”
“Water?” we suggested, “Soft-drinks?”
“And what else?” he questioned again.
”What are you looking for? We thought that ‘kuela tshiayi’ meant serving tea, and we thought that would be a good option for an office opening….”

So…in the end we decided on serving beer and soft-drinks, with peanuts and donuts. Diabetes is quite common in this region, especially among older adults, so beer is a sugar-free drink of choice. With advice from some other colleagues, we nixed the tea and coffee (“because by 11am the sun is hot, and people don’t drink tea when it is hot!”).

We cleaned up the offices (trying to clear off years of dust and sort through ages of papers). The morning of our gathering, Bob picked up a few pictures that we had framed and we were really happy with how everything looked. Nearly all of our invitees came, and very close to on-time despite a rainy morning! They did a brief introduction/ceremony, and then we walked through the offices and prayed over the space and our work there. Then, we gathered in the Protestant Center for refreshments and celebrating. Ironically, since it was raining and cold that morning, I decided at the last minute to make tea and have that as an option – and was amused at how many people opted to drink both beer and tea! Be flexible and hospitable—two key strengths of the culture in Kasai we have learned to appreciate!

Ela Tshiayi - cleaning Bob cleans off a book-shelf and tries to arrange files.

Ela Tshiayi preaching Pastor Mbikayi shares a word as we open the celebration.

Ela Tshiayi eating

Dr. Mulumba and other church leaders enjoy refreshments

Ela Tshiayi Pierre

Pierre was our ‘protocol person’, and made sure everyone was served

Bob in office  Bob shows off his newly arranged office


Kristi sitting at her desk