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.

Rebooting the Blog

Where have I been you ask? Actually, no one asked, but just in case someone wondered, I'm still here. Several months ago I took a little break from blogging and fully intended it to be just a little break. We were tired and stressed and felt a need to simplify and reduce demands on our time in order to "huddle in" as a family. Then my mom died and for some time after that the blog was the furthest thing from my mind. Losing mom turned my world upside down and it will probably always remain at least slightly off-kilter. It is just a fact that life without her will never be the same.

Through the last several months and all the different stress factors we were experiencing, I progressed from feeling like God was silent and distant, to confusion and devastation, to comfort and hope. God showed in both big, obvious ways and small, quiet ways that His love for me is immense and unwavering, even when my faith is wobbly and frail. 

For as long as I have been a Christian, I have understood God in the context of the relationship between a father and child. That isn't incorrect, but it isn't the whole picture either. God also nurtures and cares for his children in the same way a mother does. I don't know why that would surprise me, since God created mothers and the role of motherhood. But it did change my thinking. In my day to day life here I encounter many who are orphaned or abandoned. It brings to mind, and to my prayers, that God is a father to the fatherless. There are certain things though that fathers seem to do better and certain things that mothers seem to do better. God can do them all. He IS a father to the fatherless, but he also meets the needs that only a mother can fulfill. 

For this is what the Lord says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
    and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
When you see this, your heart will rejoice
    and you will flourish like grass;
the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants,
    but his fury will be shown to his foes.
Isaiah 66:12-14

I am still active in the Mitendi ministry. In some ways, sharing my grief with the women here, even though it was awkward for me, has deepened my relationships with them. They have all experienced loss. They can't relate to my culture or my background but they can relate to my loss. 

We are in the middle of packing and preparing to move, so maybe this isn't the best time to recommence with blogging, but this is when I finally felt prompted to begin again, so bear with me. We'll only be moving a few kilometers, but we will be in a much less stressful situation, which will give us a little breathing room and more energy for focusing on ministry, so we are excited about this.

What's Going on in Kinshasa?

Most common view on computers and phones in Kin this week

Explaining fully all that has been going in here in Kinshasa over the last week, while people in the U.S. were focused on the State of the Union address and the alleged NFL cheaters, would require more time and history than one blog allows, but here is the "short" story. President Kabila is serving his second term as president of DRC. The next election is scheduled for 2016 and the constitution specifies that a president is limited to two terms. There have been speculation and accusations for some time that supporters of President Kabila would attempt to change the constitution in order to allow him to continue on as president. 

A week ago, the National Assembly (comparable to our House of Representatives) passed a bill requiring a census to be completed, and the wording of the bill tied the completion of the census to the presidential election. DRC is huge, mostly rural, and lacking infrastructure. A census could take up to three years to complete and would thus delay the elections. News of this became a catalyst in an already tense environment. With the Senate still facing a vote on the bill, Monday began with news of demonstrations, looting, and unfortunately, injuries and deaths.

Depending on the source, the number of people hurt or killed varies a great deal but there is no dispute that people have died. The government blocked text messaging and internet. A week later, we still cannot send text messages and while internet has been restored to businesses and banks, no one who uses a sim card for their internet data has access yet. MAF has satellite internet, and an unexpected ministry opportunity came up in the way of helping other missionaries get internet communication so they could continue to function and communicate with their staff during the communications blackout.

The Senate vote was delayed more than once but finally on Friday they passed the bill, AFTER modifying it so it now stipulates that the census needs to be taken but is separate from, and cannot interfere with, the election schedule. Since the Senate made changes to the version that was passed by the National Assembly, a commission has to reconcile the two versions and Parliament will have to vote again, presumably by Monday because Monday is the close of the current Parliamentary session. Even so, the changes that the Senate made to the bill have appeased the opposition and things have calmed down for now.

For those who know us and are concerned, let me try to reassure you that we are safe. The protests have largely been concentrated in just a couple of locations, neither of which are near our home or the hangar where David works. Our planes are still flying. Our neighborhood has been calm. After staying home all week just as a precaution, we finally ventured out on Friday to see friends and get groceries. Well, we tried to get groceries. Seems everyone had the same idea to take advantage of the lull and stock up. We expats love things that remind us of home, so while there were plenty of cans of weird veggies, this photo shows what the potato chip aisle looked like. The bread aisle and meat section looked the same.

For most people living here, this week has been much more than a disconcerting moment, an hour of indecision, or a few days of inconvenience. Many did not venture out for fear of being shot or arrested and these folks do not have refrigerators full of food and barrels of water. Hunkering down for a few days is a costly decision. They earn their wages and buy their food literally day to day. Many could not go to work because taxis did not run. Many this week are mourning and planning funerals. Many, including a friend of ours, have witnessed shocking brutality and violence and felt powerless to help.

Please pray for the people of Congo and for the upcoming Parliament vote. Pray that we and other missionaries here can be a light in this dark and hurting place and point the way to the Prince of Peace. 

More information:

Deadly Crackdown on Protests
Congo Senate Bows to Protests
DRC Halts Internet Access and Phone Services

Separation and Reunion

Yesterday, we held our annual Christmas outreach at the airport where MAF's hangar is. In addition to MAF and other aviation groups, a large portion of the airport is for military use. Each year we host a service with music, a gospel presentation, and refreshments. We also distribute gospel tracts and Scriptures.

We had a large crowd this year and several decisions were made for Christ. 

Maurice, one of our long time national staff, was the "emcee."

The choir from the International Protestant Church of Kinshasa (IPCK),
led by my friend Sandy, a fellow MAF wife. They were fabulous and sang in Lingala, Swahili, French and English!

Passing out Scripture literature and refreshments.

Have you ever experienced the anticipation of seeing a loved one you've been separated from? Maybe planned a trip to see them and gone through the process of packing, buying gifts, etc? Or perhaps you invited them to come see you. You rearranged furniture and cleaned house, bought gifts and their favorite foods, planned things to do together, did your best to make an environment for them that said "you are loved and cherished." It didn't even seem like work and you didn't worry about the cost, because you were doing it for someone you loved. Maybe even as you did so you were reminded that Jesus is preparing a place for you to one day come home to.

Being away from those we love is painful, painful, painful. Even just the anticipation of a reunion is cause for joy. Last Sunday our pastor shared a thought from Max Lucado that Jesus would rather die for us than live without us. He loves us that much. And that is why He chose to come here. The little card in the photo above says it all: Jesus is the real reason for Christmas. 

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. - 1 John 4:10

Have a joyous Christmas!

Photo fun - Multifun Calamity Attack

Today a group of us got together to do a Congo version of an "ugly Christmas sweater" party. We decorated tank tops and t-shirts, ate Christmas cookies, played Christmas music and just had a good time visiting with each other. I'm in the back row, far right. It was a fun time and I am glad someone managed to get a photo of us.

Here are some photos I managed to get over the last few weeks of things I found funny, odd, or interesting.

I went to a local bakery for lunch with a friend and picked up a copy of their carry-out menu. I got a chuckle out of it later when I read it. I honestly don't know how they expect to sell a plate full of "Calamity" to anyone.

I still can't find black olives or pickle relish anywhere, but this was an unusual and interesting option at our local supermarket. I have actually seen what it does and it really is a smart shoe cover machine. It puts a cellophane cover over just the bottom half inch and sole of your shoe. This is way high on the "husbands do not buy this for your wives for Christmas" list.

I really like all the variety and fun in the fabrics that are available here, but you have to be a brave seamstress to be willing to try cutting into this brand of fabric.
Not sure what "CTION RACKS" are, but they are MULTIFUN. 

These are actually quite popular here. They are collapsible racks for drying clothing. Something weird happened in the translation from Chinese to English.

Two games I won't be buying here. In Kinshasa a Twister game is $65.00 and Battleship costs $102.00. 

I saved my favorite for last. When you work in a place that has no indoor plumbing or electricity, you have to be resourceful. This entrepreneur hair salon has placed their chair with its back to the outdoors so that they can have the sunlight to see what they are doing. They pour buckets of water to wash hair and they have rigged a hose to the portable sink so that it drains into the culvert. Clever!

Thanks for Nothing!

We all have heard the expression “Thanks for nothing!” It isn’t really an offer of thanks at all. It is an angry declaration that the person speaking feels they have been treated wrongly, cheated, held out on.  This week the utility company came to my home and accused me of owing hundreds of dollars in unpaid bills dating back to four years before I moved into this house. It did not matter that I produced all the paperwork showing my innocence. They demanded money and I would not give it, so they cut my power line in two. I didn’t say anything to them, but for a while I sure wanted to say something like “Thanks for nothing. Have a nice day.” In my drippiest sarcastic tone. 

Sometimes, we look at our lives and there is so much stuff to deal with, so many problems we can’t solve. We feel like the squirrel in the movie “Over the Hedge” who runs to one end of the hedge and back and declares “It never ends!” Then he runs to the other end of the hedge and back and says, “It never ends that way too!” We feel helpless. Helplessness is not a feeling we like to experience, so then we become angry. 

We want God to fix it. Make it better. We are his children and when He doesn’t meet our expectations of what a Father should do, we act like, well, children. Children who are angry and ungrateful and say “thanks for nothing.” 

What if “nothing” IS a gift? What if we had to trust Him for everything? What if instead of taking our problems away He walked with us through them? What would we learn from that? How would it transform us? 

If He gives me “nothing,” can I in sincerity say “Thank you, Father, for nothing?” trusting that in His love and wisdom He has given me something worth more than it appears to be?

In church yesterday we sang a Keith Green song, “There is a Redeemer.” The first part goes like this:

There is a redeemer, 
Jesus, God's own Son,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah, 
Holy One,
Jesus my redeemer, 
Name above all names,
Precious Lamb of God, Messiah,
Oh, for sinners slain.
Thank you oh my Father, 
For giving us Your Son,
And leaving Your Spirit, 
'Til the work on Earth is done.

"In everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We can give thanks to Him IN everything, because He has given us his Son, and that IS EVERYTHING. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

A New Project

photo by Jill Lowery

For those who've been praying for the Mitendi Center and the court case, here is an update. In last week's post, I mentioned a need for prayer for Thursday's court date. The opposition requested, and was granted, a continuance, so everything has been pushed to next Thursday - Thanksgiving Day. That is not a Congolese holiday so that date was not significant to them, but my American friend who directs this ministry now has to spend her holiday sitting in a courtroom. Please continue praying for the center and for a right and just decision by the courts. And also pray for Jill, that in all this God will strengthen her, give her wisdom, and grant her a thankful heart, encouragement, and contentment in all situations.

We have been working on a new project with the girls at Bandal. These girls are graduates of the Mitendi Center and are in sort of an internship or apprenticeship phase, continuing to build their repertoire of sewing skills and improve them while earning money to support themselves. The new project is a request for several small, lined, zippered bags.

Many of them already have experience making zippered bags but we wanted everyone to use the same technique, follow the same pattern and sequence of steps, and practice precision. So we held a couple of workshops this week and last week, showing them how to do everything from tracing the pattern and cutting to doing the zippers and corners. They did the work, we just walked them through it. Then we supervised while they made more to be sure they "got it" and to help with any problems. 

In the states, our culture equates professionalism with quality workmanship and a high work ethic. It is not quite the same here. In addition to honing their skills, the interns are also being taught the value of correcting their mistakes, that customers will pay more for quality products and take their business elsewhere if workmanship is poor, and that ultimately their success is up to them. It is sometimes a not-so-fun part of their training, but it is for their own good.

Daniel usually does school work when I am at the Center, but he tagged along this week so we put him to work, which the girls found amusing.

I have spent enough time with these young women now that they feel comfortable making jokes and sharing laughs with me. Jill and I had spent a day going through all the steps and figuring out the best way to teach them to make these bags. We even made tiny prototypes so that we could show them how the zipper and corners ought to be done and how it should look. They thought our little bags were funny and jokingly told us we earned a "zero" grade on our work, but in the end it really helped them to have a visual example to study.


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