Saturday, August 27, 2011

And the winner is….Schisto!

The last 2 weeks have been full of doctor appointments and medical tests. Bob has done more blood, urine, and stool tests in 2 weeks than the rest of his life combined! (OK, maybe that is an exaggeration…) One of the key results is that he tested positive for a parasite disease called Schistosomiasis. While the hospital we are working with found a positive result for schistosomiasis (colloquially, “schisto”, for the non-medical folks), the CDC does a more specialized test, and we are still waiting to receive their results. These worms enter your skin in fresh-water sources, carried by snails. Fortunately, there is a medicine that can cure people of schisto. For the last month, Bob has felt unusually tired and weak – lacking energy to go out or be active, and taking multiple naps every day. Yesterday, Bob took the medicine, praziquantel (it is just a one-day course). We are hopeful that in the next couple of weeks his energy will come back and his immune system will regain strength after its long fight with this parasite. We found out this week that I (Kristi) have also tested positive for schisto, although I am asymptomatic, so will also take the medicine while we are in the U.S..

Thank you for the many words of encouragement and prayers for Bob’s recovery! We trust that God is healing Bob’s body and will give us health and energy to embrace life and ministry in Congo!

Our hope continues to be that we will return to return to Congo in early October.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

God’s Amazing Grace!

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!

Mukulu Ntumba Mukulu Ntumba Simon advocated on our behalf!


DSCN3821Mukulu Ntumba Simon and Mamu Tshibola Therese, Kristi and I  at the CPC’s
IMPROKA Print Press in Kananga (June 2010)


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!                              

Monday, August 8, 2011

Looking for answers…

In the past year Bob has been sick several times. His body has valiantly fought through 3 cases of malaria, 1 of typhoid, a bacterial infection, flu, inner ear infection, and several other times when he was very weak and tired but no sickness could be diagnosed. Last week, when he got a serious case of vertigo and tested positive again for malaria, our missionary colleague Dr. John Fletcher recommended that we get further medical tests outside of Congo. Perhaps there is some other sickness or problem in Bob’s body that is making him more susceptible to these other sicknesses? We had not expected this advice, but realized that these repeated periods of sickness are draining us physically and emotionally. Living in Congo is not easy, but when you are not healthy the challenge gets compounded.

Our PC(USA) leadership agreed with Dr. Fletcher’s advice, and urged us not to wait to pursue these exams. So, just one week later, we are in Kinshasa getting ready for a return flight to the US. Bob is still weak from his latest round of being sick, so we are laying low and Bob is taking lots of naps.

We are praying for God’s insight in this process to show us the right course to get healthy again. Our hope is that we will be back in Kananga by mid-October. There are a lot of good things going on in CPC that we would like to get back for, so please pray with us that the medical exams will be successful in making some determinations. We are hopeful also that this trip will be ‘holistically restorative’ and renew our vision and perspective for ministry in Kasai.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mother comes home

Tatu Muanda, hardworking, quiet, and congenial, works in our home 3 days a week. We hired him soon after we moved into our apartment last year, to help with cleaning, laundry, and some cooking. He tends to be so easy-going and reserved, that we did not find out for a few months that his wife was in the distant city of Luiza with some relatives. She had traveled to Luiza for the funeral of her mother, then lacked the means or motivation to return home to Kananga. So she stayed in Luiza with some of her grown children and relatives…for 2 years. “She will return.” he told us, “Maybe next month, when the kids are out of school.” One month stretched into several, and we asked Tatu Muanda repeatedly if he had heard anything and if there was anything we could do to help. “She will come,” he always said confidently, “we just wait.”

Mamu Monique with Kristi

Just last week, we heard that his wife, Mamu Monique, had made the 200km (120 mi) trek with some of her children. Then this week she came to our house to visit. We rejoiced at the reunion of the family, and were relieved that Tatu Muanda is no longer alone. “A whole week on the road,” she recounted “walking and stopping to sleep, and walking again. Our whole bodies hurt so bad when we arrived!” She marveled that her blue flip-flops had survived the arduous journey “usually I don’t wear any shoes, but my daughter gave me these for the road.”

Mamu Monique - shoes

“In Kananga, we didn’t have any food to eat, we were dressed in rags. We were so ashamed!” She reflected, referring to life in Kananga before she had gone to Luiza 2 years ago. “So, when my mother died, I went to Luiza. At least there you can grow food because it is rural. In Kananga there is no way if you don’t have money! Tatu Muanda refused the long walk though, so he stayed here.” Now that Tatu Muanda is employed with us, they have some income to buy food and other necessities. While this does not make them rich, we were thrilled to see that at least it was enough motivation for Mamu Monique to return home. She returned with a few of her children and grandchildren. “Now we all want to live in Kananga!” she said.

Not only did she return by foot on the long, sandy, road, but she carried a large squash with her to give to us. “I heard that Tatu Muanda was working with you, and so I decided that I had to come see you. I had to see Muambi Disanka and Mamu Luse!” (our Tshiluba names), she exclaimed. We marveled at her strength and stamina to carry a 10+ lb squash on that multi-day walk. We asked her to show us how she carried it, and she demonstrated how she positioned it on her head with a cloth.

Mamu Monique with squash

So, welcome home Mamu Monique! We are humbled by the labor of love of transporting this squash such a long distance. We enjoyed with much gratefulness some wonderful squash and peanut soup just before we left Kananga this week.