En fin, Lubumbashi...
Unusual sights: At N'Djili International Airport, Kinshasa, on our trip to Lubumbashi, we saw something we had never seen before. At the airport entry gate where one pays for parking we saw the usual assortment of security forces - a grouping of police and soldiery. That is NOT unusual. However, this time two of them were not sporting the usual folding-stock AK-47s. They had...cattle prods. SO next time you feel your privacy invaded by the TSA agents, think about the poor soul who wants to argue a semantic point with someone brandishing some direct current "encouragement." Other than that, our 975 mile flight was uneventful. Arriving at the other end at Luano International Airport in Lubumbashi, we were greeted by a welcoming party of several pastors. Thus a new page was turned in our DR Congo playbook.
We had planned for a six-week stay in Kinshasa, where we temporarily pitched our tent to collect the necessary documents allowing us to stay legally in the country. As for the document chasing, all we needed to get were our residence visas, our official ID cards, and our driver's licenses. But you can't get there from here, my friend. We had help from contacts within all of the official government offices for those documents, yet it took three months to secure the three papers. The driver's license was a real kick - a whole week of "go and come." First the internet connection was not working for the bank transfer when we paid our license fees. The next day the director who had to sign the approval was away. Then there was no electricity to laminate the license the third day. We also both "failed" the rigged computerized driving test (I mean, really, where in the Congo am I going to come to an intersection with a guy on a horse, at a stop sign, who somehow indicates he is turning left, a bicyclist on my far right who is turning left in front of me and a tram on tracks that is coming in from my left???) Fortunately the nice men giving the test offered to give us special "lessons" to help us pass on our second try right on the spot - NO WAITING - for $50 EACH. TIA- this is Africa! Please don't complain to us about how long you had to wait in line at the DMV.
I have to admit it is different living in the southern hemisphere. This is a first for us. Right now it is the end of the dry season and it has been, well, dry. And COLD. More like Orange County, CA, cold, not Seattle cold, but our bones don't know the difference. We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment, about 660 square feet of space, while we looked for permanent housing. Our first days and weeks were filled with figuring out where stuff is located and how to drive in a city of over two million inhabitants that has driving rules that are more "organic" than logical. You drive like an amoeba - go with the flow, dodge, merge, squeeze, play chicken, honk (do amoebas honk?), and have eyes in the back of your head. But avoid making too much eye contact with the police who "control" this blood stream of traffic or they will stop you and ask for "a Coke" or "something for the children" and you hand over a tattered and dirty Congolese banknote worth 50 cents and resume your amoebic ways. Kind of a direct/indirect means of taxation. "Support Your Local Sheriff" is a reality here, not an old movie title.
Our main objective in the beginning was to establish rapport with the local Assemblies of God leadership and work on a plan to get the Bible institute up and going. Our goal was and is to help develop local leaders who will find local solutions to local challenges, and this training program is a major piece of the puzzle. If the rebel Bakata Katanga secessionists, who want to create a new African country out of the Katanga province where we are, can stay calm and relatively unarmed we should be able to get something done. In March, 2013 - the day after our arrival in DRC - they had a shoot-out at the not so OK Corral with FARDC (Force d'Armee de la Republique Democratic du Congo) troops, just down the street from where we spent our first few months in Lubumbashi, so needless to say we hope the situation remains calm. Bullets, like God, are no respecters of persons (Acts 10:34).
This is wonderful news: Pastor DOUMDINGAO Komba Frederic, the new leader of the Assemblies of God in Chad (where we worked the three terms prior to our move to DRC), attended a meeting in Kinshasa several months ago. Pastor Frederic is also the director of the Christian FM radio station and pastor of the main church in N'Djamena, which we planted back in 1998. Since his election as the leader of the church in Chad we have kept in contact by email. Before his arrival, we were able to schedule a meeting between him and the Congo AG leadership to discuss the possibilities of the Congo AG sending a missionary couple to Chad. That is one step toward encouraging this Congolese church to cowboy up and add their strength to the international missions force. Please pray that the followup of these meetings is fruitful.
STOP THE PRESSES!!!!! We were moving right along, minding our own business when the unexpected unexpectedly happened. Our missionary colleagues had just returned to the DR Congo in October last year to resume their work in developing the eight Bible institute campuses throughout the entire DR Congo. In early December they experienced a medical emergency in the family and had to be medivaced from here to the USA. Not only this, but the Congolese director of the Bible institute who partnered with our missionary to jumpstart this project passed away in November of last year. That left no one who was intimately involved in this work, which meant their collective work became our work. We are now responsible for the continued development of the entire pastoral training program for the Assemblies of God in the DR Congo. A new Congolese director was appointed in April and we are working to piece together this vital element in advancing God's kingdom here. This is, needless to say, a huge undertaking and we have been overloaded as we get up to speed on what is happening. This is the main reason why you have not heard from us in over a year. Sonia and I apologize for the silence, but please understand this new work responsability has had us on the run constantly. We are both teaching and preparing pastors in the classroom as well as evaluating, gathering information, and consulting with church leaders on how to provide a quality education for pastors. Multiplication is the key to the mission, and we are investing heavily in these young men and women for a better Africa.
In addition to our training program responsibilities - after years of planning and hoping - this summer we launched our EngageCONGO college internship program. Four students from American universities came in May and spent their summer vacation here in Lubumbashi. One remains with us until March, 2015, and another came to join us in September. We consider this a vital part of our contribution to the global mission as we influence the next generation of missionaries.
The absolute best way to stay up to date with us is to follow us on Facebook. Sonia posts regularly as I run around like the proverbial chicken with his head cut off. Click on one of these links to our three Facebook accounts - Sonia's daily musings, our Congo ministry page , or our EngageCONGO page. Sonia often posts pictures, so to get the latest skinny, follow those links.
But let the bells chime and the trumpets sound! Sonia was notified by Northwest University that her Master's degree final project - all 217 pages and 59,036 words of it - was accepted, so she is officially an NU grad. Her project was on the subject of improving the effectiveness of short-term missions trips.
With our new responsibilities we requested an early itineration cycle to better fit our work here into the academic calendar year. Thus, after our first two years here on the ground we will be returning to the USA to visit our supporters and share what is going on in the DR Congo. We want to show you how your partnership with us is making an impact in this part of the world. Sonia and I will be in the USA from April to August 2015 and want to meet as many of our supporters as possible. If you would like to have us visit your church or arrange for a personal meeting, please contact us by email through this link. We would love to bring you up to date on what is happening with your investment.