Elder Mukundi and Elder Mbelec greeting us at the Mbuji Mayi airport. Those hats really do help shade their eyes and keep them cool in the heat of Kasai. I love them!… the elders and the hats!
So… we have two and a half months to go and in a blink, we’ll be home. Have we accomplished anything that matters? Have we made a difference? Well, I know Brent has, though he doesn’t see it. But the role of the “Mission President’s Companion” (that would be me), is somewhat vague and undefined. My main role here is to take care of him, support him and do whatever I can to ease his burden. I’m good with that! I think that’s what I’ve always done! (and quite happily I might add) However, there are other ways I thought I would be able to serve, that frankly, just haven’t panned out!
My eighteen month mission that I served in Italy, as a young missionary, was the most spiritually rewarding experience of my life. I returned home on a spiritual high and a somewhat Utopian view of what I thought mission life, and therefore life as a Mission President and wife would be like around the world. When we received the call to serve here in the Congo as Mission President, though we were surprised at both the timing and the place, we felt fairly well prepared (if one can ever feel prepared for something like this). We thought we would be able to draw on our previous experience and put it all to use, in what we knew would be a very demanding two years. The interesting thing is… we discovered that nothing we felt we might have to offer seemed to be needed, wanted or of any use here. And that the character traits or skills that were needed, we just didn’t possess! It’s like we spent our lives packing and preparing for a possible future expedition to the Sahara, and found ourselves dropped off in the middle of Antarctica instead! Or like showing up for a renovation job with all the tools needed to do the electrical work, and discovering that it’s really the plumber they need! I won’t bore you with even attempting to list the many frustrations of trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole” but I can say that we have tried our best. I’ve just had a difficult time finding my purpose.
Well, enough of that! Time to play catch up! It’s been a long time, so here’s a few pictures of the past few months. (You will notice that my pictures are rather dull. I seldom take pictures anymore. What can I say? I’ve lost my eye and my interest for new things I guess.)
Speaking of someone with a purpose… This is Ilunga. He is one of the hardest working men I know. He works from 6:30 to 5:00, six days a week, as the gardener for the Mission Complex. Each day he greets me with a typical Congolese greeting. Taking his hat off with his left hand and putting his right hand over his heart, he gives a slight bow, a big, beautiful smile, and a warm “Bonjour Soeur Thomas”. He doesn’t have to work as hard as he does. He works hard because he loves to work! If there’s nothing that needs doing, he makes work for himself. About five or six months ago he decided to dig up all the “lawn” in the complex and replace it with clean new dirt into which he hand plants little sprouts of grass. Simple and easy enough? It has been a huge job (he’s still at it) and he has done all this with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. I wish I could say that the results were worth the effort but unfortunately, I think it looked better before. The sprouts he plants look like what we in Canada would call quack grass, and everything he weeds out of it looks an awful lot like our nice grass from home!
Back in the fall, Brent met a South African business man launching a building project called Luano City. He was able to connect him with the church employment specialist, which resulted in jobs for over sixty of our faithful members. It hasn’t been problem free. Honesty and trust are always an issue here, but even for these few months it has been a huge blessing for so many. The big question is, what will happen when Brent is no longer here to act as mediator?
Though some of the men have been trained, thanks to the Church’s training programs (Elder Atkinson, you left your mark.) most of them have to learn on the job. Measuring, leveling, and pretty much everything that goes along with it, is new to them. This has definitely been a case of “two steps forward, one step back”.
November took us to another Mission President’s Seminar in Johannesburg. It was fun to visit a crocodile park and get up close and personal with some of the residents. Even crocodiles can be cute… when they’re babies!
Here’s Brent with an albino python… or is it an albino boa? Well, whatever it is, it is a big yellow snake and I felt no need to hold him, no matter how friendly he was supposed to be. The guide told us about one of the workers that went into one of the cages to change a light bulb. He thought the snake was asleep (not this snake), but the snake got him by the leg and by the time the other workers got to him, the snake had coiled around him so tightly, he couldn’t draw breath. I don’t remember how they got him free, but the guy said that he felt like he had a truck sitting on his chest. By-the-way… the Congo is full of snakes but we haven’t seen a one! Well, Brent claims he saw one on the road to Likasi, but there were three other people in the vehicle and we didn’t see it! Just sayin’!
Okay. Now this is more like it! You still have to be careful of those teeth and claws!
Brent LOVES cats! He loves the strength and power he can feel, no matter the size.
We drove through this lion park in a big vehicle protected with metal grating. The young woman acting as our driver and guide, delighted in recounting the story of how a few months earlier, a tourist had been pulled through the open window of her car by a lioness. “Of course, she was half eaten by the time the wardens arrived.”, she added with relish. The moral of the story?… When the signs say to leave your windows rolled up… leave the windows rolled up!
This giraffe ignored her handler and decided to check out the menu at the park’s food court. She pretty much had the run of the place! He was trying to bribe her out of there with some bread slices, but she wasn’t falling for it.
Cute, right? She all but smiled for the camera!
Our first flat tire! Trusty Godefroid had the wheel when it blew and we were all fine.
Can you believe it?! That was a brand new Bridgestone tire with only 80 km on it! Luckily, we had a brand new spare to replace it. Wait a minute!…
Our Mwene Ditu missionaries awaiting the Zone dinner. As you can tell, the sisters like dressing as twins.
Our last Christmas in the Congo! A fun and delicious dinner with the best people in the world!
No, the missionary on the right is not heading off to the Yaught club. He’s heading home in a few weeks and wanted to strut his stuff at Zone Conference. This is just a sampling of what you can go home with. I’ll just leave it at that.
And… We’re back on our way to Kasai. As usual, Brent is asleep before we leave the runway. It’s not that we mind Kasai really, though Brent does come home sick more than not. But more than anything, it’s the whole airport rigamarole and not knowing if and when we can actually get back home to Lubumbashi!
The Inn at the Dwiulu. This is where travelers can get a little rest and catch a bite to eat before moving on with their load. I’ve written before about the bridge at the Dwiulu River, aka Crocodile River, and how we hold our breath and cross our fingers every time we cross. Well, I guess it finally disintegrated to the point that it could only be used by pedestrians and motorcycles. I’m just glad we were safely back home before it happened!
This road crew was hard at work patching holes caused by the hard rains and traffic. This is the only road crew we’ve ever actually seen, and one can’t help but wonder how they can make a dent in countless miles of those wild roads. I’m sure that within a week or so after moving on and the subsequent rains that follow, the road will look pretty much as it did when they began. Oh well! At least someone is trying.
Back in Mbuji Mayi for the big event! Elder and Sister Anderson’s visit! The sisters had dresses made in matching fabric, along with ties for the elders. They even had a tie for Brent and a jacket made for me. I was impressed. The jacket fit me like a glove,… a tight glove,… just the way they like them. I asked how they knew my size and they said they just showed the seamstress a picture of me. It’s a good thing she didn’t have me pegged for a couple pounds lighter or I wouldn’t have been able to get it on. They were so excited!
Brent did the translating for Elder Cook. We love that man! Elder Anderson of course, didn’t need a translator. His French was very good, with just a sprinkling of Portuguese. After all, when you speak several languages, there’s bound to be a few words that jump in there from some where else. He was as warm and kind as one would expect.
Here we are back at The Flats, our home away from home in Mbuji Mayi. They have done some significant upgrades since our last visit and replaced the sofa and chair. They had even installed a toilet seat! Now, if we could just get some running water.
Well… HAVE I done any good in the world today? I hope so, but it sure isn’t easy to see OR feel, for that matter. Recently, I found myself yearning for “simpler” days, when all six of our children were still at home. I knew my purpose then! I was needed! But as Mom would say, “There is a time and a season.” That season has long since passed and a new one has begun. What I do know, is that whether we’re in the Sahara or the Antarctic, I’m good, as long as I’m with him.