Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A little picnic

On Monday we went for a much-anticipated outing to see the Lulua river with our friend and colleague, Ruth Brown. It happens that all three of us have birthdays in April, so we thought a short excursion on Easter Monday would be a fun way to celebrate. We invited our friends Pastor Mukendi and his wife, Mamu Helene to accompany us and be our “guides”, since they have visited this area before. Our trusty old Land Cruiser (“Tshikunda”) spent two days in the shop with various repairs (after a longer trip the week before), and then we packed up a picnic and set off, eager to get outside the city.

Just a couple of of kilometers outside of Kananga, we heard a strange noise and realized we had a flat tire. We pile out, find the jack, and enlist someone along the road to help us. As we start the process, we realize that our jack doesn’t have enough oil to work properly and raise the car. So, they start digging a hole under the wheel (only on dirt roads is that an option!). Serendipitously, another vehicle passes that loans us their jack, and we get the tire changed. Whew!

Our first stop is Malandi Makulu, a recent Catholic mission. The priest in charge graciously shows us around and tells us about the rich history of the place- the first place that a worship service was held in Kasai, Protestant or Catholic. We drink in the fresh air and the views of the lush green valleys near the Lulua river. We live in the center of Kananga, so it feels great to be outside of town for a change! One of the staff offers to show us the gravesite of Rev. Sommer, a German protestant pastor who was apparently the first missionary in the area, although he died just a year or two after he arrived. We set off on foot down the road, enjoying the quiet and beauty of being in the country, but hurrying because of dark clouds threatening rain.

Malandi Makulu - walking on road

The rain comes just after we reach the overgrown cemetery. Our guide invites us to take cover in his house, just across the road. He finds some chairs from neighbors and squeezes them into the main room of his house. There is barely room for the 6 of us, but we are grateful for shelter from the rain and use the time to ask more questions and hear stories about the history of the tribe in this region and the coming of the Belgians to the area.

When the rain stops, we head back to the car and on to the real goal of the day – to get down to the river! We drive about 10 km on a small dirt road, until we reach a village called “Bena Kanku”. The road starts to get narrower, with deep muddy ruts and ditches that look ominous. “Should we leave the car here and walk?”, we wonder.  “No, the road is better up ahead, we can make it,” our guide encourages us. So, we push on, until we get one tire stuck in the mud. People show up to help (for a fee, of course), shovels are found, and a crowd of kids quickly gathers. It is a long hour of digging, finding sticks to give the wheels traction, trying to move, and then digging again.

Malandi Makulu - stuck in a rut

Finally, we are out! We leave the car parked in someone’s yard, and villagers assure us it is just “a 10 minute walk” down to the river.  It is already 4pm, and we need to be home by dark at 6:30. After 30 minutes of walking and the river not yet in sight, we decide reluctantly that we can’t continue. We spread out our picnic by the side of the path, and enjoy the scenery and good fellowship. Ruth even dyed eggs in honor of Easter! At this section of the river is a boat crossing, so there is heavy foot and bike traffic of people coming or going from Kananga with goods to sell. Several stop in surprise when they see us “You’ve come to sit in the weeds??”  “Yes, we like the weeds!”  Bob replies jovially.  We enjoy our brief picnic and begin our trek back up the hill. 

Malandi Makulu - picnic

Malandi Makulu - Easter eggs

Malandi Makulu - Women walking with goods

Back at the car, we face the commotion of people claiming to have helped get us out of the ditch and wanting payment. Bob pays the key people he had worked with, and we feel the relief of being done with that ordeal. Just about 200 meters down the road, though, we are again stuck, with the mud almost covering one back wheel. This time, the crowd is larger, pressing in on those who are digging, with everyone offering advice at once. We start to wonder if we will be spending the night in this village. Ruth and I set off to find some branches and sticks to stick under the wheels – looking for a way to be useful and get out of the chaos. Bob is left to try to keep the work going without a conflict erupting. Gratefully, this time getting out of the mud doesn’t take a whole hour, and we can be on our way again. Some of the men of that village made a good deal of extra money that day!

As we drive back over the bridge on our way home, we take a few quick pictures from the car of the Lulua river. We pull into Kananga just after 6pm, glad to be safe and home. It wasn’t exactly the relaxing picnic that we had anticipated, but it was a good adventure. We’ve now seen a new section of the region, learned more of the history, and enjoyed some beautiful scenery and time of fellowship with our friends. All’s well that ends well, right?

Malandi Makulu - Lulua River

A brief view of the Lulua River at twilight as we cross the bridge

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Let the little children come to me…

There we sit under the shade lent by a tree.  Her name is Eme Kalenga Mpoyi.  She is fourteen years old.  Her grandfather brought her to the Foyer (Home) when she was eight.  He had taken her in but could no longer care for her.  Eme’s mother died when she was an infant.  Her father absconded, neglecting his parental duty.  Eme’s dream is to finish school.  She has just started secondary school (high school), and will decide next year what focus she wants to learn.   

Eme is one of sixteen girls cared for at the Foyer in Mbuji-Mayi.  A house mother lives full-time with the girls.  Several workers and volunteers rotate hours to care for them.  The hope is that the girls can return to their families.  The Foyer has a garden where the girls learn to grow and harvest corn, manioc, beans, and a few other plants and crops.  The Foyer hopes to buy a sewing machine so that the girls can learn to sew.  Two large rooms serve as a dormitory.  There is an outside area for sitting and learning.  Early each morning the guard teaches them from God’s Word.  The girls also sing in a choir at the adjacent CPC church.     

The girls learn to make shima (bidia), the local staple
in the Kasai Region of Congo

Pastor Benoit shows me around.  He is an energetic young pastor.  His father is the leader of one of the synods of East Kasai.  Pastor Benoit serves as coordinator of this center and two others in Muena Ditu and Kabeya Kamuanga.  In Muena Ditu, Mamu Meta Bukasa and others care for fifteen children, eight boys and seven girls.  She tells us that they house the children on a piece of church land, but that their housing is inadequate.  Pastor Benoit feels the pressing needs of caring for these kids and helping them reintegrate back into their families.  To feed the children at the Foyer in Mbuji-Mayi requires about $30 each day.  Church members in Mbuji-Mayi are aware of the needs and give what they can, but it is not enough.

Pastor Benoit shares the vision of the Foyer, Mbuji-Mayi

Poverty is bitter and oppressive.  Many families simply can’t care for their children.  Their resources are slim and the needs are great.  Children are neglected and in some cases blamed for the misfortunes of their parents.  These innocent ones deserve our attention and our love.  Christ says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  Will you consider partnering with Kristi and I, Pastor Benoit and Mamu Meta Bukasa to care for these children in East Kasai?  We need your prayers and whatever support you are able to give. 

Bob with children, Foyer 
Care givers, Bob, and girls at the Foyer, Mbuji-Mayi
(they liked feeling my curly hair!)


Nzambi anusankishe! (God bless you!).  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


In Kasai, visiting people, especially at the time of a birth or a death, is very important. The physical presence with the person or family speaks of your care for them and your sharing in the joy or sorrow of the occasion. If you fail to visit a friend or family member during one of those occasions, it can be taken as a serious offence. We try, as best as we can, to honor that value in the culture among our friends and colleagues here. It sure does seem like there is an abundance of both births and deaths!

The neighborhood cell group we are part of is committed to visiting and supporting people during these significant life events. Last week, Mamu Esther, a member of the cell group came to our offices one afternoon. She said that a member of the church had given birth, and was waiting for the members of cell group to come and escort her home from the health center with her new baby. She was planning to come home that afternoon, and Mamu Esther explained that it was important for a pastor to be there to pray for the child. The pastor of the church was not available, so could we go? We adjusted our plans and committed to go with the other cell group members. We had forgotten what a celebration that time often is. The baby was received with shouts of joy, and then Bob had the privilege of praying for God’s protection on his life. We were served a full meal and enjoyed some good fellowship with our cell group before racing home to beat the imminent rain.

Just in the last week, there were 3 other babies in our neighborhood to visit and pray for. Our cell group met at 6:30 in the morning to go visit two of the babies. I think the families were a bit surprised, although delighted, to see us show up at 7am!

On a sad note, after church on Sunday we visited two families who were in mourning. One older woman who had struggled with diabetes for a long time broke her arm last year and had complications and infections as a result. The second family lost their 22 year old daughter last week after a long battle with tuberculosis and complications from a surgery. We grieve to see their lives on earth cut short and the struggle of these families to fight the sicknesses. We are grateful that even in the midst of harsh tragedies like this, God gives hope and offers us Life beyond this world.