Saturday, March 28, 2015

Surgery Recovery Update

We are still in Kinshasa, but wanted to give you a brief update on the three Ditekemena kids who were recently operated on in Kananga. They all were discharged from the hospital about 2 weeks ago, and are back at the BICE center with the other kids. They have been given their own ‘sleeping house’, so that they can ensure it is kept clean and sanitary to prevent infection. Caregivers rotate so that someone is available and with them 24 hours a day.

Dominique, who had major surgery on his spine, is now wearing a ‘body cast’ (like a vest to cover his torso) to help him keep his spine straight as he recovers. He is able to walk with the help of a walker, and his wound seems to be healing well. Before the surgery, he could only walk by placing his hands on his thighs to support his torso – so to see him walking upright is amazing! However, he is not eating well and seems to have lost some weight. He is also experiencing some pain in his lower torso.

Espoir had surgery to straighten his leg. The leg will remain slightly bent, but is much less pronounced. He is able to walk using crutches and a leg brace. The leg that was operated on can now touch the ground and already hold much of his weight. He has a ‘fixiter’ on his knee to keep the leg in the right position. He is in good spirits, and has started resuming his studies. He is not able to travel to school yet, but his friend Pierre often brings home assignments for him to work on at the center.

Espoir with new chair

And little Andre, who had surgery on both legs to correct bowed femurs, is also recovering well. He was experiencing some significant pain, but that has improved. He will not be able to put weight on either leg for another six weeks. He has a wheelchair to use though, and is able to get from his sleeping house to the schoolroom in the wheelchair.


This week, Gwenda, Ruth, and Marcia went out to visit the kids and to deliver some specially made chairs and tables to help these kids be able to do their school-work and sit in a way that will aid rather than hinder their recovery. So, Dominique got a chair that fits him and a stool to rest his feet on. In Kananga, unfortunately, you can not just go out and buy a walker, or a wheelchair, or crutches. So, a walker was custom-built for Dominique, and a wheelchair was borrowed from the hospital for Andre and then modified to accommodate his small frame and need to have his legs straight.

Kids with new chairs

We have also mentioned Kanku, who has cerebral palsy. He did not have surgery, but has been given several exercises to do that should help increase the flexibility in his ankle and the strength in his legs. A boot is being custom-made in Kenya and will be brought in May to help him keep his foot in the correct position.

Unintentionally, Bob decided to identify with these Ditekemena kids in their recovery. He fell in Kananga just one week before they had surgery. He hurt his wrist, but it didn’t become apparent that it was broken until we got a second x-ray last week. A very small bone called the scaffoid is broken, so he has been put in a cast that will immobilize his thumb and wrist for 6-8 weeks. So, he is learning to do things with one hand and adjusting to being limited in his activities. We saw God’s provision in some significant ways  in this process of Bob getting treated, so are very grateful for the friends and medical professionals who have helped to discern what the right treatment was and making it happen.

Thank you for your continued prayers for healing for each of these kids (and Bob!). Pray also for the leaders of the Ditekemena program – for wisdom, health, and grace as they care for all of the kids and give special attention to those recovering from surgery.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Not limited to “Bonjour!”


Greetings from Kinshasa!  We began our French language learning last week and are making good progress.  On Tuesday, however, I hit a wall.  I was terribly discouraged.  My teacher/tutor didn’t seem sympathetic, or patient.  From experience I knew that going out and practicing some simple texts (French phrases) would be helpful, but I felt intimidated.   

I shared my feelings with Kristi.  She encouraged me and prayed for me.  I resolved to go out and practice.  I put together a short text whereby I would introduce myself, express my goal of learning French, and ask how long the person had been living in this quartier (quarter).  I started with an “easy target,”  Aisha, the guard of the home where we are staying.  He was chatty and I learned a few new things about his life.  Just 100 feet away I found three men sitting under a tree – Sabalo, Fabrice and Ekofo.  There were surprised and pleased that I stopped to speak with them.  

I then descended into a livelier, poorer section. I stopped by a small shop where I met Serge Muanda.  He seemed rather reticent initially.  However, as I worked through my French phrases, he warmed up and the conversation went very well.  I said goodbye and found my way up again to higher ground.  There, sitting across the way from a palatial home, I met Moises Tshionyi.  Moises was upbeat.  I quickly learned that he is a guard of the compound, serves as an evangelist, lives a ways away in a very populated commune, and is originally from Mbuji-Mayi.  I had to discipline myself to not speak Tshiluba but to engage him in French.  He was gracious and we had a wonderful encounter.  My confidence was growing with each experience.  This was fun!

My second to last conversation that day has proven the most interesting.  On a street corner I met Junior Mfenge selling phone units. I went through my text and he was responsive.  I later learned that he is  a medical student at the Protestant University of Congo and his father died about five years ago.  Yesterday Junior visited us, and just this afternoon we went with him to visit him mother in the bustling commune of Lemba.  Tomorrow we will go with Junior to the French service of the large Protestant Cathedral.   

Sitting with Junior (left), his Mother Mamu Marie Kitoto (right)
his sister Omba, and his niece Pelagie

Junior treated us to cokes and labored with us through our
halting and semi-certain French….

Today I am giving thanks.  Kristi and I have strengthened our foundation in French.  Moreover, in a short amount of time we are feeling like “belongers” in the little pocket of Kinshasa where we are currently residing.  As we learned in seminary in our Language Learning and Mission class, language learning is a social, not just an academic activity.  Resources for the successful language learner are people, rather than just books.  Today as we sat with Junior and his mother and sister and niece and drank sodas, I had three people helping me pronounce the word “renouveler” (to renew).  It was a bit humbling, but I am no longer limited to bonjour and a smattering of French words and phrases. 

Fran├žais – c’est bon!  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Back to basics

“Je suis cool
Tu et cool
Nous sommes Aqua KOOL!”

…proclaimed the billboard in Kinshasa. “Look, it’s a grammar lesson on a billboard. How convenient!” Bob observed as we rode by in a taxi. We arrived in Kinshasa last week, and will spend four weeks in intensive French language learning. We had to come anyway to renew our residence visas, and it felt like a good opportunity to improve our minimal French.

So, we now have 2 young women who come every morning to the house where we are staying, and spend 3 hours teaching us French. Because we have different levels of French, each of us meets separately with a teacher. The teacher provides material and instruction according to her view of what would be best. However, we have realized that the downside of this is that we may learn words or forms that we don’t find particularly useful. For example, Bob’s teacher wanted to start with body parts…so Bob can tell you the word in French for eyebrow and the bone/knob that sticks out on the outside of your ankle (what is that in English??). But when is he going to use that? I can tell you the word for cigarette butt (megot), but can’t ask the guard to take out the trash.

We have seen God answer prayers already in providing the teachers he did for us. We trust and pray that He will also help us to  provide suggestions to our teachers and communicate our goals in a way that this month really is useful for our ministry here. Learning a language is often challenging, frustrating, and tedious. We sometimes feel nervous and ashamed being in such a Francophone city like Kinshasa and stumbling to say basic phrases. We depend on the patience and grace of our teachers and the people we interact with to help us communicate. French feels complicated and our tongues often struggle to accommodate the strange sounds in French.

No, you can’t get proficient in a language in just a month. But if we can just get a foundation, we hope to continue learning when we return to Kananga, although at a slower pace. We will continue using Tshiluba as our primary language for communicating in Kasai. But we have found that French would be helpful for some of the meetings we are part of, utilizing resources in French here, and for communicating when we travel to other regions of Congo.

On y va! Here’s to another adventure in learning to communicate!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kuata ku mundundu!

“Kuata ku mundundu” is a Tshiluba expression which essentially means, ‘'be strong, take heart.”  Literally, it means “grab onto something sturdy and strong.”  The Psalmists in the Bible constantly cry out for help and assistance.  King David cries out to his rock and salvation, his fortress and his refuge.  His hope comes from God alone (Ps. 62: 5-6).

Listening to little seven year old Andre cry out “Nzambi!” (God!), as he was transferred from his bed was heart wrenching.  Seeing all of the blood soaked into the gauze of the bandaged leg of Espoir was more than some of us could take.  Listening to Dominique, whose body received the most trauma from surgery, cry out and ask for water pierced our hearts.  The surgeries for all three Ditekemena* children this week were a success and we are hopeful for good things.  Now, however, begins the long period of recovery.  Dominique was fitted with a support jacket yesterday to keep his spine and the inserted rods and wires straight and in place.  Andre’s left leg is fitted with a cast that extends from thigh to foot and his right leg is very tender after the operation.  Espoir still has rods jutting out of his right knee.  There is a good possibility that all three will return to the BICE Center next week where their care givers will care for them during this period of convalescence.

Andre elevates his leg after surgery

Espoir ambulating the day after surgery;
very encouraging sign!

Dominique’s body received most trauma from surgery;
care givers move him from side to side every few hours

Dr. Theuri and Ms. Mirriam have given a real lift to all of us this week at the Good Shepherd Hospital in Tshikaji which is part of the Christian Medical Institute of Kasai (IMCK).  Dr. Theuri operated a mountain of cases, conducted trainings on ponsetti (club foot), and allowed medical students and doctors observe his craft.  Ms. Mirriam has made the rounds in the hospital instructing nurses regarding physical therapy; we also took her out into the community where she was able to help families who have children with cerebral palsy and other physical handicaps.  It has been an inspiring week and a joy to watch these two servants in action, taking time for “the least of these” and using their skills and gifts to bring forth healing.  Both are using vacation time to be here, “unpaid.”   

Mirriam teaches Ditekemena care givers techniques to help
Kanku’s left foot and ankle develop strength and flexibility

Just this evening we learned that Dominique, whose spine was straightened with a bone implant and rods and wires, sat up, stood and walked for the first time since Tuesday.  According to Pastor Manyayi, the Director of the Ditekemena Program, a crowd gathered outside his hospital room and cheered.  People were saying that something like this hasn’t happened since the days of Jesus – a genuine miracle!  Dominique’s face was transformed into something radiant; his height raised, he made gentle steps towards a new tomorrow.  Truly, the crowd declared, this doctor is skilled and gifted. 

We want to again express heartfelt thanks to the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF) for arranging this visit.  God willing, both Mirriam and Dr. Theuri will be able to visit us again in central Congo.  May the Name of the LORD be lifted up and praised for this good work!   

Dr. Theuri is an orthopedic specialist at the CURE children’s
hospital in Kijabi, Kenya; he serves as an elder
in his church and teaches Sunday School

The Ditekemena children and their care givers before surgery

*The Ditekemena program was initiated by the Congolese Presbyterian Church to reach out to street children, place them in a safe and loving environment, and to build bridges with their families so that they can return home or be received into a home which will care for them.