We often get asked a variation of this question, and I often find myself mulling over this question in the midst of life in Kananga.
The short answer: yes
The honest answer: some days yes, some days no!
Much of the physical parts of life are challenging. We do not enjoy not having running water, or being kept awake by police arguing just outside our window. The culture is very different from the U.S., and even though we are getting more familiar with it, we still sometimes feel awkward or frustrated. For example, it is accepted and common for people to ask someone for something, especially when they perceive that person to be more wealthy than they are. Culturally, Congolese often feel to us to be demanding and confrontational in the way that they interact…which mean we often feel like people are demanding things from us and then insulting us if we fail to meet their request. “Give me your watch” is a common “request”. Living around the level of poverty in Congo is often depressing and overwhelming. We do not enjoy seeing malnourished children, students who can’t pay school fees, or going to funerals of young people.
Yet, there are aspects of life in Kananga that we really enjoy. We see how God has helped us in specific and significant ways to build relationships, learn the language, and begin to understand the culture. Both the language and the culture of Kasai stipulate that all children in the community are “our” children—not yours or mine. When someone gets sick or in trouble, there is often a sacrificial response of care and solidarity from friends and family. And among many people, there is a clear realization that God is not distant, but close, even in the midst of the very harsh life circumstances.
I remember visiting Pastor Manyayi and his family one afternoon. The wind picked up and dark clouds rolled in. We voiced concern about getting home, given the storm that seemed about to break. “It won’t rain,” Pastor Manyayi reassured us, “at least not yet. Maybe around 8pm this evening.” We relaxed and enjoyed the rest of our visit. Later that evening after we had returned home, the rain did start, at almost the exact time he had predicted. I love being in a place where people can “read” the signs of the weather, since they have not grown up with the luxury of a daily weather forecast on the radio!
The crux of the matter is that we are convinced that God has called us to serve Him in Congo. We don’t live in Kananga because it is an “enjoyable” place to live, although it can be. And we don’t live in Kananga because we think that we can “fix” the physical or spiritual problems people face there. We make our home in Kananga to be present with people, and share in the hope that God is revealing His love in and through the people of Congo and growing His church. We know that God wants people in Congo to know His incredible love and grace. We are glad to be here as representatives of the church in the U.S. – a sign that God has not forgotten Congo, and neither has the church in the U.S.