Thursday, February 27, 2014


Congo feels sometimes like a paradoxical combination of hopeless suffering and inspiring potential.

Women's conference offering

Joy and warmth as the women sway down the aisle in church,
despite the persistent struggle of mother who always seem to have at least 1 child sick with malaria.

Lush beauty of a valley filled with trees and the songs of tropical birds
Contrasts with erosion as a new ravine is formed and threatens homes

Eager children walk long distances to go to school,
and then often have extra obstacles to overcome like lack of materials, a school roof that leaks, or a family that can not afford the school fees.

Families who struggle to find the money for their next meal,
yet will give sacrificially of time and resources when a friend or neighbor is sick or in crisis.

People long on time, with great patience and perseverance,
Yet whose time does not often yield the means to support their family.

A culture of high respect for authority,
which then suffers silently under corruption and tyranny.

Passionate, persevering prayers seek out God’s help,
Yet then a fatalistic resignation to accept whatever happens.

A place with frustrating inefficiencencies from my Western view,
Where I am grateful for the flexibility and patience modeled around me.

I feel embraced by generous hospitality,
and then repelled by presumptuous demands.

Even the climate conflicts – the warm sun is accommodating and comfortable year round,
Yet it harbors those destructive tropical diseases.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Marcel Ilunga


As a leader of the youth of Kananga Presbytery, Marcel Ilunga requested our department help their choir travel to Mutoto to minister through song to the church there.  Because we were also planning to go to Mutoto, we collaborated to travel together.  The trip proved a bonding experience with Marcel Ilunga and the youth. 

Youth choir in Mutoto
Kananga Presbytery Youth Choir, Mutoto (January 2013)

We gave ourselves fully to get there and back, amidst horrendous road conditions and several flat tires and times getting stuck.  That was in early January, 2013.  On Monday morning, February 17th, 2014, at 3:03am, Marcel Ilunga breathed his last breath.  He was thirty years old, married, and the father of two year old Manasseh.

Upon our return to Kananga in late January, we learned that Marcel Ilunga had been quite sick.  When we attended the neighborhood cell group meeting on Wednesday, his sickness became a central topic of conversation.  I asked, “When can we go see him?”  We collectively agreed to meet at church the following morning at 7am.  Early Thursday morning about fifteen of us wound our way down into the valley.  Upon our arrival, we saw Marcel Ilunga surrounded by family and friends.  He looked thin and had a placid expression.  We sang a song and prayed for him.  We didn’t stay long.

The following Monday I was travelling with a group.  As I drove I overheard Pastor Manyayi mention Marcel Ilunga’s name.  Later I asked him about it.  Manyayi informed me that Ilunga had died that morning.  I couldn’t believe it.  Yes, he was sick, but now he was dead?  This promising young man known for his zeal and politeness, dead?  How could that be?  It didn’t seem right.  I was puzzled and dismayed.  The following morning we joined the throngs to honor his life and remember him in death.  The Kananga 1 parish was packed to overflowing. 


After the closing benediction, we passed the peace and everyone gathered on the road to walk together to the cemetery.  It was a hot day and the sun was intense.  Kristi and I walked just behind the vehicle which carried Marcel Ilunga’s body. 


I walked with Ilunga’s Uncle, Pastor Manyayi, and Tatu Dona.  Kristi walked with Marcel Ilunga’s sister and her infant child.  Fairly regularly, the car would stop and a chorus of young people would sing and dance.  Maybe an hour later we arrived at the cemetery.  The coffin was lowered into the ground and two young men worked feverishly, shoveling mounds of earth and tossing the dirt into the fresh grave. 


Women wailed.  Men watched.  Children imitated.  Pastors prayed and led us in song.  I had this image of Ilunga climbing out of his coffin, out from the earth and joining us once again.  Death has robbed us of a bright, shining star, stolen from us in the prime of life. 


On Tuesday morning at our office, I had asked our colleague Pastor Mbikayi about joining us for Ilunga’s funeral.  Mbikayi declined.  He had seen too much death in the last two weeks.  He didn’t want to face the tragedy of a promising young man now also dead.  Marcel Ilunga, I can only trust that you are now in a better place.  By faith, I believe that our paths will cross again.  Even though our time with you was brief, you made a lasting impression.  Your funeral bears witness to a life well lived.  May God bless your soul. 


John 11:25-27 (NRSV)
25 Jesus said to [Martha], "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."  

Monday, February 10, 2014


Last week there was one moment when I looked at the plastic bottle of water on our table and really felt overwhelmed by the simple conundrum of how to dispose of it. Then I realized how silly that seemed, and how this bottle represented one of the myriad of ways daily life here in Kananga is a far cry from that of the U.S.!

In the U.S., it feels like trash pick-up is predictable and efficient – you can choose to recycle a variety of things, and the rest of the trash gets dumped in a land-fill and you never see it again. The city of Kananga, on the other hand, created just one year ago a system of installing cement receptacles in the neighborhoods for trash collection. The theory is that a truck will periodically come around, collect the trash, and take it to a common land-fill. People gradually got in the habit of taking the trash to the receptacles, but unfortunately, the trucks have not been taking the trash away, which means the road may soon be taken over by the encroaching piles of trash. Frustrating! I end up storing up things to throw away because I’m not sure what to do with them. We are able to recycle, but we have to personally go find people who want re-use things that we want to throw away (tin cans, glass bottles, etc.).

Our neighborhood trash receptacle (circled),
which says “Kananga Mankenda” (Clean Kananga) on it.

Grocery shopping, of course, is another adjustment. It is fun to reconnect with the women who I made a habit of buying from, but it does feel like more planning, patience, and time is required for buying the daily groceries! Last week I was reminded that in Kananga if you see something that you might want to buy soon, you had better buy it immediately or you might not find it again. As one seller carefully measured out the sugar for me, I was tempted to move on and tell her I would come back for it. But I checked myself, and found the patience to take one thing at a time. Each item on the list is its own transaction!

We have been blessed with many friends and colleagues who have come by our home to welcome us back to Kananga. Each one, before getting into any conversation, says a prayer of thanks to God for His protection on us in our travels and for bringing us back to Kananga. We anticipated the interruptions, and are grateful to reconnect – but sometimes I still struggle to know the right way to handle unexpected visitors! Last week we had arranged for one friend to come see us in the evening with his wife. Since he would arrive around 7pm, we made extra food and planned to eat with he and his wife. At about 6:45 that evening, as we were in the middle of cooking, another good friend, Mamu Therese, showed up to visit. We invited her in and took a break to talk briefly. But we really preferred not to have her and our other friends at our house at the same time…so I told Mamu Therese that we really wanted to see her and her family, but that we needed to find another time. I felt bad (we didn’t even serve her a drink! Oops!), and I wondered how she had perceived the situation. But, we pressed on, and 5 minutes after she left our other friends showed up, and we finished cooking and enjoyed our dinner with them of beans and rice.

We are figuring out our “system” for daily tasks so that it does not always feel like extra steps are required (e.g. fill the water bottle before brushing your teeth, or have the gloves, matches, and kerosene handy to start the fire in the morning). We wrote out a list of the daily tasks – like boiling drinking water, feeding the parrot, and giving tea to our night-guard, simply because it feels like the daily tasks here are far different from those we might do if we were living in the U.S.! As we adjust to the rhythm of life here, we are able to have the mental energy to engage with people around us and plunge back into various ministries that we had been involved in before we left. We appreciate your prayers for our transition!

Visiting a friend with a new baby

Kristi making peanut butterKristi making peanut butter at home!

Monday, February 3, 2014

“Reality Check,” Life in Congo

Overall, returning to life in Congo has felt like a relatively seamless transition.  Last week we enjoyed visits from friends as we got situated in our apartment.  On Saturday I had a couple of things planned – preparing myself to translate Sunday’s sermon to be delivered by Pastor Penner of First Presbyterian Knoxville (TN), and going out to get gas for the Land Cruiser for our trip to Tshikaji the following day. 

At around 1:30pm, I went downstairs to start the Land Cruiser.  It wouldn’t start.  “Okay,” I chuckled to myself, “back to the realities of Congo!”  I went to the small market across the way and asked Tatu Martin for help.  He and I collected a few others and we push-started the mammoth vehicle.  So far so good.  I went to the Elf service station.  They were out of diesel.  I made my way down to Mona Lux.  They filled her up. Crossing my fingers and saying a short prayer, I turned the ignition key and Tshikunda (the name of our vehicle) roared to life.  Victory number two achieved.  I moved the car from the pump and turned it off so I could enter the Mona Lux convenience store to look for a few items for Kristi.

Returning to the vehicle, I turned the ignition and it wouldn’t start.  Slightly frustrated, I pulled myself together and approached the guard of the station and asked he and a few others to help me push-start the vehicle.  Our initial try failed.  We tried a second time but now the car would not even move forward.  My hypothesis was that the front brakes were somehow locked up.  I didn’t have many units in my phone, so I asked Kristi to call our mechanic friend.  Available, Tatu Tshibuabua hopped on a moto and came to assist.  For about 30 minutes I waited for him under a nice big tree with Tatu Albert who sells local art.  We drank cold bottled water as Tatu Albert taught me the traditional Tshiluba word for February.  Finally I spotted Tshibuabua and we crossed back to Mona Lux.  Previously, I had told the guard that our mechanic was coming.  He was gracious, allowing the vehicle to remain stationed in the middle of the service station.  This time, however, he rebelled at the idea of us fixing the vehicle in plain view.  I told him that the vehicle simply wouldn’t budge.  We had no choice and we could speak with his supervisor if he wished.  Tshibuabua went to explain. 

Returning, Tshibuabua began his work and suddenly I found myself accosted by a young boy selling traditional hats and mats and a woman selling green oranges.  This boy remembered me, and I remembered him.  His name is Kalonji Placide.  He lives with his grandparents and sells traditional items to help with school fees.  He is incorrigible and also a tough bargainer.  I bought a traditional hat from him and two oranges from the woman. 

I then went to the other side of the vehicle to support Tshibuabua.  After about 20 minutes, Tshibuabua diagnosed and temporarily fixed the problem.  We were on our way.  We went home and Kristi served us cold drinks.  Saturday was a good ‘reality check” as we re-enter life in Congo.  Thankfully I was able to keep my cool and make the best of a challenging situation.  It was nice to be surrounded by helpful friends, willing to help us get us out of a bind.