We know that Congo has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. We know that common sicknesses like malaria, typhoid, and measles are often the cause of death for both children and adults. But when it happens to someone that we know, and when we walk with them through this tragic process, the statistics take on a face and it weighs on our hearts.
For the last two years, we have consistently attended the neighborhood worship gathering on Wednesday evenings with our local parish. Each week, Mulami (Deacon) Simon has been our guide to show us the house that is hosting the meeting. During our first year in Congo, Simon invited us to be part of the celebration when his wife came home from the hospital with their second daughter, Tshituka. The women sing as they dance down the street to the house with the new baby, and then everyone is served beans and rice – a joyful celebration!
Since then, we have enjoyed getting to know their family and have eaten beans and rice with them many times at their house and at ours. Simon has escorted us all over our local district (neighborhood) to visit people in the church, pray for people who are sick, or to support those who are mourning the death of a loved one. Simon and Vicky lived in a house next to the church, and the church gave him a small stipend for watching the church building. Simon seemed to know where everyone lived and was always our first source of information about events going on in the parish. We have been grateful for someone we can count on to help us learn the back paths and help us to connect to people in our neighborhood.
Neither Simon nor his wife has a wage-earning job. They have a field of palm trees and can sell the palm oil. Sometimes Simon uses his bicycle to go to his home village to get Cassava or other staples that can be sold for a higher price in the city. Sometimes they are able to earn an income in casual labor or other jobs – but always unpredictable and insufficient. Usually they would eat one meal per day – on good days, they would eat twice. Frequently, they would share with us that they were unable to buy medicine for a sickness, or that they were hungry. Often, we would give them some food or a contribution towards one of these needs.
Unfortunately, a few months ago Simon had a “falling-out” with the leadership of our parish. He felt ostracized and hurt, so moved to a different house at the edge of town. He has stopped attending our parish and the cell meetings, so we do not see his family as frequently.
This year, Simon’s wife Vicky was pregnant with their third child. She experienced some pain and sickness during the pregnancy, and we prayed with them often for health for her and the baby. She delivered in early September, but the baby died a few hours after it was born. She was told it was because of malaria. When we heard the news, we went to visit them early in the morning. We grieved and sat with them, grateful to see that there were other friends who had come also to sit with them in their grief. We had brought a dozen doughnuts to share, and I think their two young daughters, Ntumba and Tshituka, ate half of them, slowly but eagerly eating them in small pieces and crying for more when they were finished.
Two weeks later, we learned that they had gone to Mama Vicky’s home village because of a disturbing conflict in her family. While there, their daughter Tshituka, who had been sick, died. She had been thin and may have been malnourished or had worms… we are not sure. They have not yet returned to Kananga, so we have not seen them to hear more of what happened. But we grieve that this tragedy has overwhelmed their family – losing 2 children in the same month. Because of their recent move and the falling-out with the church, they no longer have the social support in Kananga of neighbors and friends during a time of grief like this.
Please pray that God’s shalom would continue to be known in Congo. We long to see people have healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and to know the peace and fullness of life that only Jesus can provide. Pray also that God would make us people of hope in this environment of discouragement and suffering.
Tshituka, in April of this year