Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Two weeks ago Sunday we learned that Tatu Kabasubabo’s mother died.  After our cell meeting the following Wednesday evening, we went to the madilu.  The following Sunday Pastor Thierre called me to inform me that his father had just died.  The next day, after a long seminar, Pastor Mboyamba and I went to the madilu.  Two days later, Pastor Kabue called me from Kinshasa and informed me that Pastor Mukendi’s brother-in-law had just died.  We didn’t go to the madilu, but we kept them in our prayers.  Within the last two weeks we learned that Tatu Marcel who sells us tomatoes, celery and carrots, had recently died.  After church on Sunday, we visited the madilu.     

DSCN4875Madilu of Tatu Marcel -  
these women will stay in the home and grieve for 40 days

By now you are asking, “What exactly is “madilu?”  The Tshiluba word madilu could loosely be translated “funeral” in English, yet ‘funeral’ does not do justice to the full breadth of madilu.  Madilu comes from the root word (verb) kudila, which means to cry or grieve.  Madilu begins when a loved one dies.  In Kananga, where we live, madilu usually lasts for about three days.  During these three days there is usually some kind of memorial service either in the home or at church,  and then there is the burial.  During these three days friends come to the home of the deceased or to the home of the family member who is hosting the madilu to show support, friendship and sympathy.  Our language teacher tells us that one of the best ways to reconcile with someone is to visit their family during this period of grieving.  During madilu, women stay inside the home while all the men sit and stand outside.  During the night, most people host a vigil and do not sleep.  The host family is expected to provide refreshments for each guest, usually in the form of coffee or tea.  The “official madilu” is finished when the host family disperses everyone by feeding them a meal of bidia (the staple food) early in the morning on the final day.  When the ‘official madilu’ finishes, immediate and close family members continue grieving in their home for several weeks and sometimes as long as 40 days.  The most striking image of madilu is the long procession of loved ones and friends who carry the coffin to the cemetery.  This procession can include as few as ten people, and as many as two to three hundred.  People are usually singing as they walk.  At the front of the procession is a cross, followed by the coffin. Most people walk, but there might be a few vehicles as well.  In our visits to madilu, we have been counseled by a couple of close friends to always enter the home where the women are grieving and pray for them.  We are counseled to give a small monetary gift to the host family to offset the expense of hosting visitors.  We are counseled to sit and stay with the family for as long as we are able.  Staying for a just few minutes or up to an hour or longer is acceptable; showing up and expressing concern and love  is what matters.                

Last week I had my most memorable experience of madilu.  Pastor Mboyamba, a close colleague and friend, called me late afternoon on Friday.  Through a cracked voice and a bad phone connection, I heard him say that the child of Pierre, his assistant and close relative, had just died.  Hearing all types of wailing and screaming in the background, I could tell that it has just happened.  My heart sunk.  I asked him if there was anything I could do.  He said that I could come and help the following day.  The following morning I arrived at Pastor Mboyamba’s home around 10:45am.  There were probably about thirty men sitting outside, and thirty to forty women inside wailing and grieving.  I embraced Pierre and greeted those present.  Twenty minutes later a church leader arrived with a small casket.  The child was placed in the open casket, and it was placed on the steps of Pastor Mboyamba’s front porch.  White powder was doused over her face and dress.  The pastor offered words of comfort, gave a short message from the book of Ecclesiastes, and asked a few church leaders to pray.  Because there is only one morgue in the relative vicinity and because this family was poor, we would need to bury her within twenty four hours of her death.  Several others and myself had come with vehicles.  We were charged with transporting the grieving to the cemetery, about three miles away.  The area of the cemetery where we buried five-year-old Marie Louise Ntumba was littered with small graves of children.  The casket was placed in the ground as the mother and father shrieked in horror and sorrow.  Earth was placed over the casket and some took handfuls of dirt to toss in as well.  The pastor shared more words of comfort, reminded everyone that ‘from dust we came and to dust we will return’, and led us in a few songs of lament and hope.  The following day Kristi and I visited Pastor Mboyamba’s home again.  We greeted Pierre and offered condolences. To our surprise, women were dancing and singing inside the home.  A large men’s choir was singing outside.  Although subdued, the mood seemed somewhat festive and jovial.  We were fed a nice meal and enjoyed good conversation with colleagues and friends.  We went home tired after a long Sunday.

Madilu is central to Kasaian life and culture.  Death has a way of bringing people together here.  Madilu “interrupts” life … or does it?  Madilu is life.  Madilu reminds one that our days here are short, and that we must make the most of them.  With Pastor Mboyamba and Pierre and his family, I grieve the loss of five year old Marie Louise Ntumba.  May God bless her precious soul.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bon jour!

That’s right—it’s me, Jackoo! And very happy I am to say hi to all my fans again!

I had a fabulous six months in a new place while Bob and Kristi were gone. My new friend, Coltrane, and I had a great time talking and singing together. He lives in a huge house with real wood trees to climb on and a bath. It was so refreshing to have so much wing-room! I heard the place is called “Club Fletcher”; hopefully I can go back for a visit sometime. It was a little awkward at first…I’ve never lived with another bird before in the same cage, and Coltrane can be a little feisty sometimes. But we got used to each other pretty quickly and became great friends.

Jackoo fletcher cageBob and Emmanuel standing in the Fletchers’ outdoor bird house in Tshikaji

Now, I am back in the big city with Bob and Kristi…home sweet home! There are so many sights and sounds from the busy street below the balcony, and I know the school kids missed me calling to them. It feels good to get back into familiar habits—splitting my time between singing on the balcony and enjoying the quiet in the living room. And, of course, I’m glad to see my “peeps” again…they were happy that I haven’t lost my finesse in hopping onto their hand.

One thing I picked up at Club Fletcher that has been useful for amusing Bob and Kristi is my “bon jour” greeting. I heard them say that I sound like a suave Frenchman! I’ll try to show you a little video…it took some work learning to speak and wave at the same time, but I’m quite good at it now. Listen closely for my voice! That’s it for now…I’ve got to get back to doing my part in keeping this neighborhood lively!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Joy despite adversity…

Since returning to Kananga two and half weeks ago, we have learned that many people here have been suffering in extraordinary ways.  First of all, there is the pervasive post-election despair.  Many Congolese had high hopes for change, and went out in large numbers to vote.  Even the preparation process for voting wasn’t easy, requiring registering months in advance for a special vote card.  Many Congolese feel that the voice of the people hasn’t been heard. 

There is now also a financial crisis in Congo and many people in Kananga are hungry.  The government has imposed an untimely and ill-advised “Value Added Tax” which bumps up the price of all goods by 16%.  A close friend told us yesterday that a group of business people sought the audience of the Minister of Finance to plead on behalf of the people; their pleas were sadly rejected.  So, the suffering continues.  An artist friend here in Kananga, Tatu Albert, complains incessantly about intense hunger.  This last year, Congo was rated last of all countries on the Human Development Index which measures standard of living.   

In the midst of all these challenges, we witnessed such joy in worship our first Sunday back in Kananga.  As people came forward for their third or fourth offering (two offerings were to help needy members in the church), I nearly broke down in tears as I witnessed such joy and confidence in the midst of adversity, pain and heartache.  As a pastor, I was asked to give the benediction at the end of the service.  I prayed my heart out, and listened as the gathered congregation acknowledged with me that we serve a God who listens, who does miracles in our midst, who can intervene as he did for Moses and the people of Israel, a God whom we can trust.  Believing that God is powerful enough to act on our behalf, I then spoke words of blessing and peace to God’s gathered people.  What incredible joy it was to greet these dear brothers and sisters in Christ after the service, having been estranged from them these last five months during our medical leave in the United States.

Habakkuk, the prophet of old, prayed thus -

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(Habakkuk 3: `17 – 18)

Thank you LORD for the faith you give your people despite adversity, pain and heartache.  We pray for those who suffer in Congo – please hear the cries of your people!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mental snapshots of our first week back in Kananga….

We are back in Kananga! Last week was a flurry of settling back into our apartment, reconnecting with friends and colleagues, and trying to get figure out where to pick up with projects and work that had to be put on hold when we left. We are waking up with the roosters, taking bucket baths, and making bidia again. As we transition back to this very different world, there are a couple of stories that stood out to me from our first week:

I went across the street one day to buy a bar of dish soap. Tatu Martin has a little stand on the street very close to our house, and I could see that he had some soap. However, Tatu Marten was nowhere to be seen, and there was no one to take money in his stead. A girl of about fourteen walked by, perceived my question, and wondered aloud “Where is Tatu Martin? What are you trying to buy?” She told me the soap was 100 francs (about 10 cents). I got out the money, but was still not sure who to give it to. She took the money, tucked it under some of Tatu Martin’s merchandise on his stand and went on her way. I returned home, and as I entered the gate I saw Tatu Martin returning to his stand. I was struck by this small example of trust and honesty in the midst of this environment where so many Congolese are struggling right now just to have food to eat.

We arrived in Kananga about 10 days ago. We had told very few people the date we would arrive, but word travels quickly. We have been blessed by all the people who have come by to say hi and rejoice with us that we have returned. Every single person who has come to see has, first thing, wanted to pray with us to thank God for answering their prayers for our healing and return to Congo. What an inspiration…that our friends in Congo consistently put thanking God for his help as a top priority.

We had lunch at a local neighborhood restaurant, “Mamu Annie’s”. Mamu Annie has become a friend, and we love her exuberance whenever we stop by to eat or just to greet her. This week we ate our lunch at a table near a few young, well-dressed Congolese professionals. An older woman came in with a pot on her head, and offered the contents to them. One young woman bought a bowl of the mixture, and gracefully put a spoonful in her mouth, just as if it was ice cream. The older woman offered the pot to us, and we were impressed to see that tomatoes and onions had been mixed in with the termites this time! We declined, and the people at the next table encouraged us to try it, thinking perhaps we did not understand what it was. “Oh, we know. We have eaten termites…just not today,”  we replied. When I saw that woman savoring her spoonful of termites, I was struck by the difference in food cultures. Somehow, my mouth does not quite react that way to those prickly, crunchy bugs!