Around Kinshasa

Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
Trip End May 07, 2014

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Flag of Congo - The Dem. Repub.  , Kinshasa,
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Today was a longer day than I imagined it would be. Since our visits here are few and far between, I want to use my time to fullest, and the members here sometimes want to use it even more fully. So each time we had finished what we planned, there was always time for one more visit. I called first thing the number the Kenya Airways agent had given me: the phone is still turned off.

Justin arrived about 9:30 so we could begin the day's activities which were to include visits to church locations and members’ homes. The vehicle for the day was the same wheezing Opel 4WD that had picked us up at the airport. At low speeds it rattles and shakes rather alarmingly, and the clutch screams each time it is engaged, which of course is often. But it is less expensive than a vehicle that doesn’t rattle and shake alarmingly or scream when the clutch is engaged. Thus, the selection.

We drove first down to the Congo River to have a look. It is wide, fairly shallow, and fast running at Kinshasa. We stopped at a restaurant-resort type of place on the banks, where we could have a look. Along the banks workers were breaking rocks using only hand tools to make building stone and gravel for construction. It is very hard work.

We drove further along the bank and picked up a man attending services, named Simon. He guided us to a sort of private nature reserve in the locality of Mbudi. We had to pay a dollar each to enter (or rather I paid), we walked up to some heights where we had a good view of the river and the opposite bank which is in the Republic of the Congo, not the same nation as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first is a former French colony, the latter a former Belgian colony. Both speak French as a second language and have quite similar backgrounds, but the authorities of each don’t always get along well and occasionally soldiers shoot at each other across the river. Today all was peaceful.

After taking in the view, we walked down to the water, so Daniel could dip his feet in the river bearing one of the world’s mysterious, ominous, sublime names: the Congo. It ranks with the Nile, the Amazon; the Zambezi. There are names that make one dream of adventurous, remote, slightly mystical places: Zanzibar, Timbuctoo, Mandalay; Kathmandu. To me the Congo is one of those places. It resonates with the Heart of Darkness and the African Queen, with a measure of King Kong thrown in. Humphrey Bogart should step from the reeds here, with Colonel Kurtz behind. The view of this rushing, muddy river seems somehow something more than it is.

We walked along the shore and talked of the seasons of the river. At times it is so high that the bank where we walk is under 30 feet of water. In the dry season, we could walk much farther out that we can today.

We talked with  rock-breakers at work on a huge stone with diamond tipped chisels. They are pounding holes in the rock to break off large sections which will then be further broken with a sledgehammer to make foundation rock for homes. They tell us they will be paid 150 dollars for 20 tons of rock, about one truck load. It can take five days for the two of them to break that much stone, then they must wait for a buyer to come with a truck. In the distance we can see larger scale rock breaking, and heavy trucks coming and going.

We are told that just over there, "traders" (commerçants) cross the river at night, bringing in merchandise such as ammunition; things that can be legally purchased in one Congo but not the other.

It was now very warm. I had sweated through my shirt, which I just washed out last night. The tropical humidity makes everything wet and heavy. We walk back to the vehicle, vaguely wishing it were air conditioned. We drive on. I watch the driver to see at what level he sets his window. The farther down it is the more air movement can lessen the heat, but the easier access would be for a snatch-and-grab aimed at our cameras or shoulder bags. The higher the window, the safer one is from attempts at theft, but the more one sweats. As we drive from place to place, he raises and lowers his window and I follow.

We arrive at Simon’s house. He has five daughters and one son. The daughters are home. He shows us his living room. It is full of used TV sets. He explains that he repairs these sets and sells them. He used to have a shop on the street, but the day before Christmas, thieves broke in and stole his entire inventory. He had to let his lease go and now works from this house. He tells me that electricity is his real problem. If he only had a generator, he explains, he would be able to work much better…. I cannot buy him a generator. School fees for his daughters are also very high…. I cannot yet give scholarship money; they have only recently begun attending our services, and we must see how serious their participation is, and that they come for God not for mammon. I wish we could scholarship the whole country, but we cannot. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you…” (Acts 3:6).

We say goodbye and take a family photo. Then we drive to the center of town, near the Memling Hotel, where Kenya Airways has an office. It is 1:00 rush hour in Kinshasa, when the shift happens between school children who attend in the morning and those who attend in the afternoon. We finally arrive at the office. I show my form to the agents who calls the airport. My suitcase is there! I ask when it will be delivered to the hotel. Oh, we would have to pay for that, a “tip” for extraordinary services rendered. I explain, what the baggage agent already knows, that it is normal procedure to deliver the suitcase to my hotel. He will see what he can do, goodbye. We write down his working phone number. This is hopeful, though it sounds as if we’re not out of the jungle yet.

We drove on to make more visits. We visited José in his home near the airport. Interested people meet here on Tuesday and Thursday for Bible Studies. Interest is high in religion and people want to have more frequent church activity than just on the Sabbath. As many as 50 people including children come twice during the week. They are asking that we devote money to building a roof over part of their plot, to allow people to come even when it is raining, or when there is the threat of rain. I will think it over, but I think it is too early to put money into this kind of project. We need to wait and see how things develop. The man and his wife are artists; among other things they weave decorative mats out of sisal. They had woven one with the name of our Church association on it in French, and offer that to me as a gift. They asked if I would be able to help them find buyers among church members in the US who could place orders and have the art shipped to them. I asked if they knew how complicated and expensive it would be to ship plant fiber to the US. They had obviously never tried it. Rather than just say no, I told them we would run a trial. I will buy one from them and they will learn what it would take to ship such things to the west. I believe they’ll learn right away this is not feasible. But we’ll give them a chance.

At this point we were getting pretty tired from the heat and the jostling around of the hard suspension. I thought we were going to head back to the hotel, but there is another member family “on the way.” So we stopped in briefly to visit Jean and his family. They offered us a cold Fanta which we accepted with thanks. This man sells “antique” art, carving and masks from remote villages, which he said he would sell to tourists for several hundred dollars. There used to be some tourism to the Congo, but after 911, it stopped. Now there are no tourists he told me. They gave Daniel a mask as a gift.

We drove on and stopped at Justin’s house, where his wife received us warmly. She brought in several neighbors and her sister to meet us. It’s a big event to have a pastor come to visit, especially a foreign pastor. Everyone is excited to meet us. She asked a Bible question. I had explained on the last holy day that offerings are collected by the church only on the 7 annual holy days. But in Mark 12:41-42 Jesus saw a widow making an offering by the temple. How to understand? I explained that we are certainly free to make an offering to God any time we choose, but the church only formally collects an offering in an organized way on the holy days.  Before we left, she asked us to pray for all the children in the house that they would do well in school. We bowed our heads and I asked God’s blessing, guidance, and protection on the household, and success in their various endeavors.

We drove on, moving closer to the hotel but there were additional stops to make. We stopped near the church hall where we meet for services, at a small room rented for $70 a month where local members meet for Bible Studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is typical of rental properties: not very clean, quite open to the elements even when windows and doors are closed, and so on. But it serves its purpose, and better would be hard to find in any event.

Justin asked if we could make more stops or if we were tired. We were both tired by this time and I said, I thought it was time to head back to the hotel. Justin kept answering and talking on his phone as we went. Then as we drove, “by chance” we saw the member, Samuel, who had been hoping for a visit, by the side of the street. His house was very nearby, so we stopped and went in. His 2 year-old son had been having seizures, and he’d been diagnosed with epilepsy, though another expert said he didn’t think the symptoms matched epilepsy since the seizures always happened at night while the child was sleeping, never during the day.

I anointed the boy, and asked God to heal him completely according to His will and our faith, and asked God to show the parents if there was anything they should be doing to help. They were very thankful for the visit, and I felt a little guilty about having wanted to skip this one, though had I known of the need we would have gladly come right away.

We said goodbye and drove back to the hotel where we arrived about 4:30 pm, grimy, sweaty and tired. I paid the driver the rest of the $70 we owed for the day (we put $20 worth of diesel in up front). I asked at the desk if my suitcase had been delivered. It had not, even though Roger, the agent had come by. He didn’t want to leave it without picking up the baggage claim ticket. We called the number and said he could deliver it now. That wasn’t possible, he said, although perhaps if there were a tip, something might be worked out. As tired as I was, I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of gaining something by corruption. So Justin and I walked out a quarter of a mile to look for another taxi. The first one who stopped saw my pale face and asked an outrageous sum. Justin rattled off some colorful sounding Lingala, which I understood to mean: get lost. The driver tried to backtrack, but we didn’t accept. He could think that over for next time. Another driver stopped and we drove into town to find my suitcase. It was there at the South African Airways office (I suppose the imperious Roger must work for several companies). My suitcase was sitting on the sidewalk guarded by a couple of fellows. I walked up and Roger asked if that was my suitcase. When I said yes, he lit into Justin for being rude to him on the phone, Justin who was arguing that I should have to pay a bribe to have my bag delivered!

I cut short the tirade by walking off with my suitcase. Roger stopped complaining and ran after me to get the baggage tag. I will be taking this whole issue up with Kenya Airways. As we got back into the taxi the driver made a play for more money that was originally agreed upon. A very loud dispute then occurred with Justin and the driver shouting at each other non-stop, at the same time. It was not a conversation; it was two monologues running over each other. Many disagreements appear to be settled by this method. There is a very great deal of shouting at each other that occurs in the Congo, probably due to the heat, the stressful nature of living here, and a cultural predilection. I tried to change the subject and things calmed down a little. Back at the hotel Justin said “5000.” He had won the dispute, but I quietly gave the driver a little more anyway. It was a joy to have my suitcase. Finally, I could wear some different clothes!

Daniel and I had a well-deserved cold beer with dinner and if he’s as tired as I am, we’ll both be crashing (the term is not too strong) early.
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Sara Hawk on

Oh, dear!!!! What an ordeal, just to get back what belongs to you! So glad that your suitcase finally arrived!
It must be very difficult, sometimes, to discern peoples' motives for coming to church in a country such as the Congo. As you said, you have to wait and see if they are attending for God's truth or for financial aid...
May the rest of your journey be much less stressful than this day was!!

Janel Johnson on

Continuing to keep you in our prayers -- not only for your safety and productivity as you meet with many brethren, but also for the physical energy you need in spite of the oppressive heat and equally enervating human conditions.

mary on

So many people in need and wanting a way out. The shouting method of conflct resolution seems to work, but how tiring it must be. Glad you have your suuitcase again. We pray you and Daniel have the additional strength and energy to accomplish all the visits.

Tess Washington on

Wow, what a day! People, places and events...I'm glad that it ended with you and Mr. Harper still in one piece instead of pieces! Thank you for writing this blog! We'll remember Samuel's son and everyone else that's needing help! We have a Father who cares for us!

Bernard on

Quelle aventure !

Bon courage à tous les deux !

Linda Morgan on

Joel, do hope you will be able to tell us how the little boy is doing later on. Such a day you and Daniel had. One hardly realizes how blessed we are just to have our clothes handy each morning. Perhaps a small backpack on each flight with a change of clothes just in case?? Take care,

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