Their Joy and Their Heart's Delight

Have you ever loved someone so much that you hung on every word they said? 

Have you known what it feels like to love God that way? 

I came across these verses in Jeremiah this week during my personal study time. The notation is my reminder to myself of a previous implication thoses verses had for me and a reminder to continue my commitment that I made nearly six years ago to pray these verses for my children. Each time I see it, I pray again, both for them and for myself, that God's Word will be/remain our joy and our hearts' delight.

As an American, I was blessed to be born into a country where God's Word is easily accessible. It is not only available in English, but in several different reading levels so that even young people can read and understand the Bible. Most people in my home country who want a Bible can either easily find an affordable one or a free one. As a result, I think we sometimes take that for granted and we don't truly have the perspective of the Holy Word of God being our heart's delight. I know I'm guilty. 

Not so in other parts of the world. I have a friend who serves with Wycliffe Bible Translators and he has told me that the best estimate on hand is that there are as many as 350 languages spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I asked him how many still have no Bible translation in their mother tongue and he replied "best guesses put the number at 300 yet to be translated." How can God's Word be their joy and their heart's delight if they cannot read it?

Yes, there are scriptures available in French, the official language of DRC, and in Lingala and Swahili, the two most common trade languages, as well as some of the others most commonly spoken. But just for the sake of perspective, my native language is English. I have been taught French and have a French Bible. I actually have two, and one of them is a much simpler version that is supposed to be easier to understand. I am studying Lingala and have a Lingala Bible. I can pick up my French Bible and because I have been taught French, I know how to pronounce the words and even understand most of them. But there are phrases that have nuances unique to native French speakers. There are words I don't know. I miss something in the translation and there is a gap. Even more so when I try to read my Lingala Bible. My tutor spent several minutes yesterday explaining just one verse to me, word by word and phrase by phrase. Even if a Congolese person can somehow afford a Bible, if it is in French or another language other than their mother tongue, there is a gap for them, especially if they have not had an opportunity for good French instruction in their schooling. They cannot fully experience the richness and depth of God's Word. If you had a few years of foreign language courses in school, imagine if the only Bible you could have was in that language and not in your native tongue. 

Did you know that public education in the U.S. colonies was begun in the 1640's in order to train children to be able to read the Bible? Please pray for the people of Congo to have Bibles available in their language, and to have better education opportunities so that they can better understand scripture.  Pray that God's living, life-changing Word will be their joy and their hearts' delight. 

A Day of Joy and Thanks

Saturday was a celebration day for the Mitendi Women's Center! At the end of the last two-year term, one group of girls chose to extend their training another six months because they wanted to improve their literacy skills. Their hard work and dedication paid off - they tested well above average when they finished! A graduation ceremony was held at the center for them and I was blessed to be able to attend. This was a more personal event for me than some I have attended, because I had met these students on previous occasions and it was excited to see how they have grown in skill and confidence and to celebrate with them.

God's Word was read, His name was praised, and His work was proclaimed. The CBCO ladies who oversee and volunteer at the Center, along with Jill, the school administrator, the pastor, and others who were involved in the ministry gave testimonies, recounted the history of the Center, and recounted the girls' accomplishments. There was a choir from the church in Mitendi and the Mitendi Center. After all the formalities, there were refreshments, photos, music and dancing. There was so much joy and happiness for these girls! Here are photos of some of the people who oversee and/or help with the Mitendi program:

And photos of the graduates:

The girls designed and sewed their own dresses for graduation, as well as their caps, tassels, and sashes. 

Another reason to celebrate: the wall is finally finished around the Mitendi Center! Effort to put up a wall began as a way to address multiple challenges: safety and security for the girls and young women, protecting the CBCO-owned land from outside attempts to take over portions of the land, and protecting the gardens from goats and other animals. The wall is now up. After the graduation revelries, we went out to the new gate for a photo. A few of us stayed and prayed together, thanking God for his protection and provision and for the testimony He has given the Mitendi Women's Center in the community. 

Please keep the new graduates in your prayers as they continue their journey, the current students that they will persevere and grow in their relationship with Jesus and in their skills, the land case that should have been over a long time ago yet is still ongoing, and for the ministry itself, Jill, and all the staff and volunteers.

"You Have Memories"

Ever used Facebook's "On This Day?" At the click of a "You Have Memories" button, you can see everything you ever did on Facebook on that particular day of every year since you joined the web site. It's genius on the part of Facebook. What better way to feed our tendency toward self-absorption and keep us posting and reposting so as to ensure the popularity of their site and attract sponsors and advertisers? And Facebook makes it easy by telling you that "You Have Memories" every day, so you don't forget to look at them. 

It can also be an eye opener. I have looked at mine a number of times and had varying responses ranging from face palms to groans to pleasant trips down memory lane to timely reminders of lessons learned. Sometimes I look at things I posted waaaaay back when Facebook was relatively new and I can't believe I thought anyone would EVER be interested in that. Ever. 

"writing letters today"

"doing homework"

One nice thing about On This Day is that I can delete that garbage. No one wanted to read it once, let alone a second time. I did not join facebook to punish my friends.

Other times I look at posts and see things I wish I didn't: negativity, criticism, anger. I try to evaluate whether I am still the same person who wrote that post and do I still have the same attitude. If not, I thank God. If so, I ask Him to keep working on me and change my heart. 

Sometimes I see posts from people who encouraged me just when I needed it and I am reminded how loved I am and that maybe I should take a moment to let them know I love them too. Or I see posts that remind me of something significant that happened and how God showed Himself in it. That happened today when I saw that "On This Day" four years ago, Emily used my facebook to post a prayer request. I posted our family's little adventure here: Daniel's Bottle Bucket Battle a few days later. It's a story about a night that could have been much, much worse than it was, but turned in to a testimony of God's care for a little boy and his family, and His power to orchestrate even Kinshasa traffic to His will. 

Facebook makes it easy and tempting to live in the past rather than embracing the present and anticipating the future. But it can also remind us that the God who was with us in all those past events is the same God who is with us now and will be with us as we face the future!

My 2016 Prayer For My Kids and Mitendi

Normally, if I step just outside the front of our apartment, this is my view. I can clearly see the flowers in my yard, the road that runs in front and to the side, and the building across the way. It is the nicest view we have ever had from our windows since we came here and it is a real blessing. 

Biting flies and mosquitoes that carry diseases like malaria, chikungunya, and yellow fever are abundant here and because of that, periodically steps have to be taken to reduce the risk. This week a company came in to spray for the flies and mosquitoes. 

During the spraying, we stayed indoors. This was my view out the front window (apologies for the screen).

Wherever the man in the "hazmat suit" walked with his smoker, a thick wall of fog/smoke was left in his wake. Soon we couldn't really see anything until the smoke had time to clear. The fog was a temporary obstacle, blocking our ability to see what was right in front of us. If we had tried to walk through it, we wouldn't have known which way we were supposed to go and might have even gotten hurt.

As 2016 began, God impressed on me to pray two scriptures for my kids this year, as well as for myself and my husband. 

"Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people." Isaiah 57:14b

"I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go." Isaiah 48:17

Lord, please remove any obstacles that stand between my kids and their relationships with You, and/or their relationships with others. And when they can't determine which way to go or see the reality is beyond the haze of their present circumstances, I pray You will direct them and teach them and that they will learn to trust your direction and hear your voice clearly. 

I would ask if God has directed you to this post, please pray these verses for your missionaries.

But why stop there? I am still very burdened for the Mitendi Center and the legal and spiritual battles they are fighting to keep their land and continue this vital ministry. Please pray for Mitendi Women's Center and those who are involved in the leadership, administration, and legal representation. Pray that God will direct them and that in 2016 He will remove ALL the obstacles out of the way of HIS people. 

Fever Tree

A few days ago, David brought this stick home. It had travelled to Kinshasa via MAF plane from an interior village and was accidentally left at the hangar. The passenger who misplaced it is a friend and he had called David and asked him to look for the stick. He had brought it from the village for someone else and they really wanted it.

It's really not much to look at. Why would they want that stick so badly? Why would a stick be so important (unless you are a dog)?

Cinchona pubescens
Cinchona pubescens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This isn't an ordinary stick. It was cut from a "fever tree," also called "cinchona," "quina," and "Jesuit bark." The bark of this tree contains quinine, and is chewed or steeped into a tea to treat malaria. I have sampled a tiny, tiny piece of fever tree bark. It was very bitter and the taste lingered for a long time after I spit it out, even though I didn't even chew it. It amazes me that anyone ever even discovered that something that nasty could cure malaria, since that would require tasting it more than once. Quinine is also used to treat malaria worldwide in other forms, like pills. That ugly piece of tree branch has the potential to save lives.

Malaria is a serious threat in DRC. It is one of the leading causes of death here. Over 400 children die in Congo every day, and nearly half of these deaths are caused by malaria (World Health Organization). Please pray for those who are working on better preventions like vaccines, for those who work in the health care sector, and for the people of DRC. 

A Small Reflection to Mark the Day

Arrived in Congo five years ago today. After our crazy experience in the airport, we rode in a van with Garth Pederson and Brian Writebol to our new home. It was dark and there were little fires everywhere lining both sides of the road because there was no power. The fires gave light, drove away mosquitos, and cast an eery glow on the myriad of half-finished or half-destroyed buildings, roadside kiosks, piles of garbage and people. Combined with our fatigue from 36 hours of travel it all seemed very apocalyptic and we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into and how in the world one family could make even a drop of difference in a place like this. We can't but God can, and He does. Thankful we get to be part of it!

Cool Beans - Five Years in DR Congo!

Kinshasa is a large city with some serious traffic!
In the evening on October 11, 2010, we arrived in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo to begin our assignment here. Five years ago! A lot has happened in just five years, both in Congo and in our family.

When we joined MAF, in July of 2008, our family looked like this. We spent two years raising ministry support and attending language school and other training.

We arrived in Congo looking like this.   After our Canadian winter our Florida tans were long gone. And of course the kids were bigger.

We have experienced one election season in this country and face another in the near future. We've learned to be flexible about things like electricity, water (none today), sanitation, and sleep. We have felt the joy of making new friends and the pain of saying goodbye when they left. We've seen our two oldest graduate and return to the states to further their educations, and felt the pride of their accomplishments mingled with the sorrow of not being able to be there for them to help them along. We've had the pride and happiness of seeing our son get married and getting a new daughter. We have lived the guilt and grief of loved ones dying while we were separated from them by thousands of miles, including my mom, my grandmother, my uncle, my mom's cousin, a great uncle, one of David's cousins, and a dear friend. 

We've also seen God perform miracles and met people whose lives have been transformed by Him. We've had opportunities to be involved in God's work here and meet incredible people He has placed here for such a time as this. We've prayed and worshipped with people from all over the world and been places we never imagined we would see. We've heard the gospel preached in a minimum of four languages here and observed that in each language, amen is still amen! We've worked harder and prayed more than we ever had before. We've faced health issues, including a surgery for David and one also for me. We've had our faith challenged, we've been brought low, and God has lifted us up and strengthened us. 

We are so thankful that God brought us here! We look forward to continuing to serve here as long as God in his generosity and wisdom keeps us here! God has given us a ministry team of incredible, faithful friends that makes it possible for us to be here by praying for us and financially supporting our ministry with MAF.

Now, for a little fun to mark our celebration. The Mitendi Center has been growing food for itself for some time now. They have also acquired a couple new residents:

The female arrived first. She was purchased with the idea to breed her and use the additional pigs as a source of income for feeding and upkeep as well as for food.

Breeding animals is generally much easier to accomplish when you have one of each gender, so a month or so later the male was acquired. They have a bit of growing up to do before they are ready to breed, but the girls at the Mitendi Center are learning to prepare the right kind of food for them, to care for them, and to develop a mindset of investing in their own future.

Last time I looked in on the piggies, I captured this with my phone. I thought it might be fun to ask people to come up with captions for my photo. So, please do comment below! 

Filling in and Chilling With the Girls

Photo courtesy of Mark and Kelly Hewes

Yesterday I went to the Bandal center to work with the ladies. Nothing unusual about that, except that I went without Jill. Nothing especially unusual about that either, except that instead of going to just pop in and say hello or to give out birthday treats, I was going there to get some work done. I am accustomed to having Jill around to tell me what she needs done, to help with any language barriers, and to organize our time. Jill is on a trip though, and things needed doing, so I put on my big girl britches and took myself to the center to see what I could do.

I checked on the progress of ongoing projects - whether they were completed, what problems they may have been having getting them completed, what items needed to be paid for and/or delivered, etc. They were just putting finishing touches on one project as I walked in, so after leaving the center I got to make a delivery to a happy customer.

I also enjoyed having a chance to ask how the ladies themselves were doing, to visit with them for a while, and to meet some new students from the Mitendi Center who have now joined us at Bandal. They were so much more shy and timid than the ladies I have been working with over the past year or so. They didn't even want to say their names loud enough for me to hear, so Elie had to repeat each one. It will be fun to watch them grow in their confidence and abilities, and I am praying that the more experienced ladies will take them under their wings and give them lots of help and moral support. Mama Jackie and Mama Elie will nurture them and be there to give them spiritual guidance as well as professional instruction.

photo courtesy of Mark and Kelly Hewes

Celebrating God's Greatness

I have wanted to share about this for a long time but we got so busy settling into our new  apartment and then helping Daniel transition from home school to the American School here that it is only just now happening. It seemed like whenever I had time to blog, that was also the time that Daniel needed my computer to do homework.

In August, The Women's Ministry arm of CBCO (Congolese Baptists) celebrated 50 years in ministry! I am not an official CBCO missionary or associate, but I do have the priviledge of being a volunteer, and so I was invited to attend the five day celebration. Due to transportation issues, I was only able to attend one day. That was disappointing because I had looked forward to this for a long time, but I still feel grateful that I got to be there for a small part of it and especially that the ladies even thought to invite me.

I am also especially grateful that the day I got to attend was the day of the march (parade). Getting permits to have a march is a big, expensive process in Kinshasa, so there aren't many opportunities to participate in one. This was my first. Jill and I, marching with thousands of Congolese ladies, were not. conspicuous. at. all. I had a blast!

We had a marching band, even!

The worship team. Excuse the bad photos. The lighting was terrible.

There was a special choir of women from several different churches. That's the choir in the background. This choir had many, many participants.

The congregaton. Over 5,000 women attended. Some travelled from the interior, which is no small sacrifice. 

We heard several guest speakers, including my friend Jill, but it was all in Lingala so I can't tell you much about the messages. I can tell you that there was an abundance of joy, gratitude, and enthusiasm. These women face circumstances that are unbelievably difficult on a daily basis, and they were overjoyed just to be there in God's house celebrating and worshipping together. The theme was "God has done great things for us" and the speakers recounted some of those things in their talks. 

When it came time for the offering, that too was a joyous event. There was no solemn, grave-faced passing of the plate. All 5,000 of us got up and while the worship team played music and danced, we marched and/or danced up to the front to place our offerings on the table. Most were singing. All were smiling. I realized that even for those who only had 500 francs (about 45 cents) to give, they saw it as a great privilege to show God their gratitude for his grace and work in their lives by giving to Him. It made me cry and it made me think with shame of times in my life when I have taken the privilege of meeting in God's house with other believers for granted or been ungrateful in my heart even in the very act of giving with my hands and saying thanks with my mouth.  

Parents' Day

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, instead of having a Mothers' Day and a Fathers' Day, there is one public holiday for both called Parents' Day, which is today. There are many similarities between DRC and the U.S. regarding its intent to honor parents and how it is celebrated.

During the week, David had an opportunity to talk about Parents' Day with a Congolese friend and learn more about local observances. There is a strong church presence in Kinshasa, but there is still also a stronghold of animism and belief in witchcraft/magic even among some who believe in Christ. This friend thankfully doesn't struggle with that but he told David of many in his community who do. 

There are some who, if they are unhappy or suffering and their parents are deceased, will blame the parents. They go to the cemetery and visit their parents' graves and yell at them, asking them why they let all the bad in their lives happen and accusing them of not caring or taking action. They believe the parents have the power from beyond the grave to intervene in their lives, so when that doesn't happen, they feel betrayed.

Please pray for the people of Congo, those who know Christ and those who do not, that they will be able to discern what is true, that their trust in God will be stronger than their fears and superstitions, and that they will experience true freedom in Christ. 

Cool Beans In Our Garden

We went to the Mitendi center today to deliver some fabric, sewing supplies, and paint. We also took pictures of the wall that people have been intentionally knocking down and destroying. 

Every time I return to Mitendi Center, more wall has been destroyed and it really saddens me. We used to have a nice five-foot tall wall. Now it is mostly in pieces on the ground, and there is no protection from squatters, thieves or garden-raiding wild animals.

It also saddens and angers me that people have come and built homes on land that is not theirs.

There are important dates coming up in the land case, so please continue praying for the judges to make a just decision soon.

Even though the long-going land case can at times be discouraging, some really coolbeans stuff is happening at the Mitendi Center and the Bandal Center so there are also lots of reasons to rejoice and be thankful.

The girls at Mitendi are learning to grow a garden. This helps offset the food costs and gives them knowledge that will serve them well when they graduate and go out on their own. Working hard, waiting for results, and reaping the reward also gives them a feeling of accomplishment and something to be proud of.

One of the foods they have been growing is Mbwengi, similar to black-eyed peas and very easy to prepare.

 The ladies in our internship program at Bandal have been learning to make cushions and covers for furniture and throw pillows. 

This is harder than you might think because most of the time when you purchase a couch or a set of furniture here, none of the cushions are the same size or even symmetrical so each piece has to be custom-fitted, whereas in the U.S. they would all be identical and one pattern would work for everything. It is a good skill to have because there is always a demand for new upholstery and pillow covers. 

Beautiful Feet

On this day, twenty-two years ago, we welcomed our firstborn into the world. On this day, seven years ago, we officially became missionaries with MAF. Both have been amazing rides so far, a blessing and a priviledge, with lots of ups and downs, lots of laughs and lessons.

I am amazed when I see God's handiwork in the lives of ALL of my kids. I am humbled when God provides for them and cares for them and I realize how much time I waste being anxious for them instead of trusting Him.

I am also amazed and humbled by the believers in Congo who love God and have a passion for reaching their lost countrymen. I count it a privilege to be in a time and place where I get to meet and work with nationals whom God is using to make disciples. 

People like the women who keep the Mitendi Women's Center going, the teachers and staff who volunteer at the Mitendi Primary School, and pastors like the two in the photo above. In this photo they are preparing for a baptism service. The pastor on the left also spends time regularly teaching Bible discipleship at the Mitendi Center - and is likely the best or only father figure many of the girls have ever had.

National pastors face many unique challenges here in Congo. Please pray for them.

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Rom 10:15

Change of Plans

This year we've had more than the usual amount of stress and struggles, so we took a few days away to celebrate our 25th anniversary and decompress a little. The plan was to come back refreshed and ready to tackle moving to the new apartment. We had a generous window of time before the old house had to be vacated so we were going to pace ourselves and not make it into something that was harder than it needed to be, even for Congo. 

Sometimes, plans change.

We arrived home at about 1:30 in the morning and before we even entered the house we could smell that something had burnt. Our guard said the electric cable had burned. No surprise. We generally pay for burned cable to be replaced about once a week. So we went on inside and were greeted first by stronger, migraine-inducing smell and our normally white floor was black with soot.

We walked a bit further and found the cause. When the electric cable burned, it caused a big spike in the voltage. One of our voltage regulators couldn't handle it and caught fire, burning completely up. The fire traveled up the wall and into the breaker box, doing quite a bit of damage there.

The walls are concrete, but if the fire had gone just a few inches higher, our wood ceiling would have caught fire and it would have spread throughout the house. If we had been home and it had been worse, Daniel could have been trapped in his room because in Congo, all the windows and doors have bars on them. 
So. Change of plan. With no power, and no relief from the smell or the heat, we decided to begin moving immediately. Right now we are borrowing the home of some friends who are away and moving as much as we can each day by making multiple trips in our car. We also have to clean the soot off every single item in the house, books, photos, furniture, you-name-it, before we can pack it. And David has work at the hangar - so it is slow going. 
This is very inconvenient. But we are thankful that we get to describe our experience with that adjective instead of words like devastating or tragic. God protected our family and our property, and we are humbled and grateful.

New Believers

On Saturday, I got to attend a baptism service with Jill. It was held on Saturday because several area churches that do not have their own baptistry or water supply were all combining their baptism candidates and using another local church's building.

It was pretty exciting for me. LOOK AT ALL THESE NEW BELIEVERS! I stopped counting at 40.

All of these candidates are lined up to be baptized in this church's beautiful new baptistry. 

Another reason I was thrilled to get to be there is that SEVEN of the students from the Mitendi Women's Center were baptised! It is so exciting to see God transform a life! 

Pray for these young girls and women, that they will grow strong in their faith and their love for God. And pray for the volunteers who teach and disciple them.


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