Sisters in Zion – Three Generations
I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but a few weeks after our arrival here, I said to Brent, “What are we doing here? I mean, Look around! How can we make any difference when there is so much need. Does the gospel change anything for them?” By “WE”, I was meaning the Church.
There is a wonderful woman named Solange, who works for the Mission complex and who was baptized about a year and a half ago. A few hours after my question to Brent, Solange was in his office cleaning, and so he asked her to sit down and tell him how her life had changed since her baptism. With a big smile on her face, (she is ALWAYS smiling) she answered that everything had changed! She and her husband had been living parallel lives but were now on the same path. They didn’t have enough money to make ends meet before but since they began paying tithing, they have been blessed financially. Their family now all attends church together, holds weekly Family Home Evening, has daily scripture study and family prayer. (She says her children demand it.) She said that there was no love in their home before but they now love to spend time together as a family. (They have six daughters and one son, adorable one and a half year old Joseph Smith.)
Solange and Joseph
With the question, “What are we doing here?” in mind, I thought it was high time I filled you in a little, on the Church here in the great DRC Lubumbashi Mission! Hmmm… Where do I begin?
– Our geophraphical mission boundaries are huge but we are responsible for only the places in those boundaries that our Area leaders tell us we are. We have been told to concentrate on centers of strength. The good side of that is it cuts down on the overwhelming sense of responsibility we feel to reach out and help all the little groups or clusters of members wanting recognition. (There are at least 50 groups of 40 members or more each, scattered within our mission boundaries.) The bad side of that is we feel like we are turning our back on those asking for our help. We have three Stakes here in Lubumbashi and one more Stake a flight and a five hour drive away, in Luputa. We have four Districts and what is called a Mission District, over which Brent is responsible. It can take us two days to get to some of these places and of course, two days to get back, if the flight doesn’t get cancelled. (By the way, one of the airlines we sometimes are forced to take is a first come, first served airline, and they nearly always over book. That can result in a stampede to get out the gate of the airport and onto the plane. We have experienced that first hand and it was scary. I now understand a little better how people can be crushed to death.)
– Church members for the most part, don’t have the money to take a bus to church. If they don’t live close by, they can’t come regularly. We do have some big North American style churches here but they cost a lot and are difficult to maintain in a country and a culture that is not used to such buildings (and toilets, where there is seldom water to flush anyway.) We have many more small buildings that were once houses, that have been turned into chapels. They work great, but there is a constant need for more.
This is Lubumbashi Stake Center. It also has an Institute Building and Distribution Center. This is definitely among the nicest of our buildings.
The Cultural Hall at the Likasi Building. The members do a pretty good job of keeping the buildings clean. This is how all the women clean the floors. It looks like a killer on the back but at least it’s easy on the knees!
The Kipushi Building. I think this is the nicest set-up we’ve seen yet. Again, a house transformed, but when we arrived a half hour early, we drove through the gates into a beautifully landscaped yard and a spotlessly clean building.
This is the Branch President and his daughters. The four of them arrived on his motorcycle but there must not have been room for his wife. She arrived a little late and seemed a little out of sorts. Oh well! Her children were beautifully dressed from head to toe, thanks to her efforts. And isn’t that all that matters? Ahhh… Sunday mornings with a house full of kids to get ready. Boy! Do I remember that!
The members heading for home, after church. On the other side of those gates lies their real world. It was like leaving the Garden of Eden.
– There are far more men that attend and join than women. I won’t even attempt to explain that one right now, but I think part of it has to do with the fact that many women don’t speak french and are illiterate. And when the sisters do come, they never come on time. Young Women and Primary are often taught by the youth and the children themselves, instead of adult women. AND… imagine this all you primary teachers… In many of the wards/branches we attend, the primary children all sit together for Sacrament Meeting (which is in the third block), not with their families! That means the one primary teacher, who is often a teenager herself, has the responsibility for the children for three hours! I will add that for the most part, they don’t get off their chairs (often shared by two or three) and sit quietly. The children at home could sure learn a thing or two about behavior from the children here.
At church today, the little girl on the left (about 10 years old) was one of two girls keeping about 20 children in order throughout Sacrament Meeting. They were amazing!
Relief Society today. This is how they ALL carry their babies. He was out like a light the entire time.
Brent, entertaining the crowd with his Swahili. They love any attempt on his part to speak their language. Only 40% of the people in the DRC speak french, though it is their official language. Many of their meetings are in Swahili or a mixture of both. It’s tough when many of the members speak and understand very little french, and this is a french speaking mission. However, when there are over 200 tribal dialects, you can understand the need for one language to unite them. That language in the DRC is french.
This man and his family have been coming to church for quite some time. Though they cannot be baptized until they are legally married, he knows and loves the teachings of the gospel and bore his testimony in class today on the importance of temple covenants. He was born without the use of his legs and uses a wheelchair/bicycle contraption to get around. He has a beautiful wife and five children. Contrary to what you might think, having a handicap here in the DRC is no handicap at all!
– We have around 170 young missionaries, three senior sisters and only two senior couples (other than our medical couple and humanitarian couple). Nearly all of our missionaries are Congolese and come from Kinshasa. That is not good for the few foreigners that do come here on their missions, or for Congolese themselves. They have very little idea what people and customs are like in the rest of the world and so tend to see things very one-sided. (In some ways that is a blessing.) For the most part, they think the rest of the world is pretty much the same as here. Brent accompanied two sisters to a teaching appointment in a VERY primitive part of Lubumbashi. He must have had an expression of disbelief on his face because one of the sisters asked him if our home in Canada was like that. He replied, “Oh no! It is way too cold in Canada to only have curtains on the doors and windows. We would freeze!” She was satisfied with that.
– The people in this country are faithful people who believe in Christ, for the most part. That makes missionary work here unlike most places in the world. A pair of our missionaries usually have 10 investgators out to church each week, teach 20 to 25 lessons (they could and should be doing WAY more than that) and it is not unusual for them to have 15 people baptized in a week.
This is our Likasi Zone, one of nine groups of missionaries we have. Getting them to smile for a picture is like pulling teeth. It’s just not something they like to do here. But say “Bonjour” and shake their hand, and their whole face lights up!
You may be wondering why our missionaries are nearly all Congolese. A big part of it is that for members from the DRC wanting to serve misssions, other countries will not give them Visas to enter, as they are afraid they won’t leave afterwards. Another is that living conditions here are just too difficult for young missionaries from most other countries, including those in Africa. Why don’t we have more senior couples, you ask, when there is SO much need? Well… the few that are willing, have been denied for health reasons and the ones that are healthy enough, are not willing! Consider this a shout out for any french speaking seniors. You are so needed!
Our office manager Justin, the Drapers, Sister Davis and Sister Riendeau, who has since returned home. Retirement? These wonderful people (with the exception of Justin) are here for 18 months on their own dime, doing whatever needs to be done to help the young missionaries and the members here in the DRC Lubumbashi mission. Not what most people would think of when they hear the word “retirement”.
– It is difficult here for our young men to marry. Despite strong counsel from church leaders, members continue to practice the dote. This is a custom (throughout Africa but VERY strong here) where, putting it simply, men must pay for their wives. (It goes to the wife’s father and extended family.) I was just told by one elder returning home next week, that he would need about $5,000 for a wife. When jobs are nowhere to be found and when they are, only pay about $4/day, it takes awhile. My heart aches for these wonderful young men, whose lives after their missions are so unbelievably difficult. (Just thought I’d add that the government fee to get married here is around $60 to $80… plus a plastic chair. Really!)
This is a picture of a young man from Burundi that had to fly down here for an interview with Brent, before he left on his mission to Cote d’Ivoire. His name is “Innocent”. He is an orphan who was found when he was nine months old, still wrapped on his dead mother’s back. His dead father was nearby. He is about 5’4″ tall and looks like he weighs about 100 lbs. This was the best picture Brent could get of him, before he had to hurry off. His shirt’s first owner had obviously been a much larger man, but that didn’t bother him one bit. Can you see the hope in his eyes?
One more example I would like to tell you about is Frere Joseph. Remember our guard in the pink silk suit jacket? I love that man! He is one of the pioneers here in Lubumbashi and has been a member of the church for almost 30 years. He is in his late 50’s and like everyone else here in the DRC, has had a hard life. I don’t know what he was doing before he got his guard job here a few months ago, but what I do know is that he was very happy to get it , for $4 a day. Nights on duty he admits, are difficult for him but with the grace of God, he says he is able to do it. Fairly often, if our door or windows are open, we can hear him quietly singing the hymns of Zion, in the early morning hours. Other times, you might catch him preparing his lesson for church on Sunday. He is happy, grateful for all he has been blessed with, and full of hope. In short, he is the definition of a faithful man.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone that joins the church feels the same way Solange does… but, they could! She may be a bit of a Poster Child for why we do missionary work, but her response to Brent’s question along with the light of hope in her eyes and so many others, has shown me what IS possible here. What are we doing here?!!! Our purpose as missionaries is to help change lives through the Doctrine of Christ. And honestly!… What could be better than that?!