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.

Goin to the Chapel - Cool Beans!

A week ago, Jill and I had the privilege of joining our friend Mama Jackie in attending her daughter's wedding. I felt honored to be invited, and doubly honored that of all the fabric she could have used to make her outfit for the wedding, Mama Jackie chose the fabric that I had brought to her from the states as a gift from a dear friend (A Gift for Mama Jackie). 

I was triply (is that a word?) honored because the outfit I wore was sewn not by me, but by Mama Jackie. When I tried it on at the fitting, she told me she wanted me to wear it to the wedding, which I was happy to do.

I did my best to get some photos, but between the fluorescent lighting and my obvious lack of skill and training, I deleted far more photos than I kept. My basic plan of attack when I am taking pictures is to take a bazillion and that way I almost always get at least a few good ones. The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, and the ceremony was beautiful. I loved seeing the differences and similarities between a wedding in Kinshasa and a wedding in the U.S. 

One of my favorite things about Congolese weddings and churches is their choirs. They have little or no accompaniment, sing from memory, and sound lovely. 

A girl who was in the procession.

Some photos of the bride and groom

Save the Date!

I have a lot of things I want to "write down" and share from the last week or so, but today I really want to focus on the Mitendi Center and it's needs because tomorrow (Thursday) is our court date and I want to urge everyone who reads this to set aside time today and tomorrow to pray. On paper this court date is about property and land, but in reality it is about lives, and its outcome will affect many.

If you don't know about Mitendi Center, I first started blogging about it in my post, Finding Hope in Mitendi. The land that the center is on is owned by the Congolese Baptist Community but for several years now others have been squatting on the land, even building on it, in attempts to steal it out from under the ministry. Funds have been raised to build a protective wall around the property and it is mostly completed. Portions of it have been knocked down and other issues have prevented its completion. 

The Mitendi ministry reaches out to marginalized and at-risk girls with the gospel and practical help to enable them to live a better life, free of bondage. It also has a school that makes it possible for some of the poorest of the poor to get a basic education and to come to know Christ. The Mitendi Center is making a difference in Congo, one girl, one student, and one generation at a time. 
Please take time today, even if you read this after the court date has come and gone, to pray for this ministry and for those who serve here. The last court date was postponed, and that could always happen again, but even if it doesn't, the battle is really a spiritual one, not physical, and the enemy will continue in some fashion to try to thwart the work God is doing here. 

The Blue in My Brown

I walked out into our yard yesterday morning and found this beautiful blue hydrangea flower. My hydrangea bush has been sickly, as you can see by the surrounding foliage. I thought it might not survive. It was almost all brown and most of the leaves had fallen off. Finding this flower was a bright spot in my morning and just a really nice surprise. The sort of thing that makes me feel like God put it there just to make me smile. I have a friend who once said these little surprise blessings were like God was winking at her - a special moment between them and a reminder that He not only loved her, but also took pleasure in blessing her.

It reminded me of something I had read earlier in the week. A fellow MAF'er had shared this article by Jason Carter. He suggests several ways to refresh and encourage missionaries. Even if that subject doesn't interest you, I encourage you to read the post because it really applies to the entire church body. His article is specifically about things people can do while a family is on their furlough, and having recently returned from our first furlough, he is pretty much spot-on. However, there are lots of ways people can bless their missionaries without waiting months or years until furloughs come around. The very first item on the list mentions letters and cards for birthdays and holidays. That is HUGE, especially in this age of emails, and social media. Real letters and cards are so much more personal.

I was reading through all the suggestions and thinking about myself and my family, mentally saying "ooh, that one!" and "oh, yes! That would be so awesome!"  about various items, when my thoughts of myself were (thankfully) interrupted. I need that sometimes.

The article states that one of the least helpful things you can do is ask a missionary to let you know if they need anything, because they won't/can't. But that isn't true only for missionaries. We all throw that statement out to people we care about and often we really mean it, really want to help, and really want to know the best way to do that. But we all also know from being on the flip side that none of us are going to go to someone and say, "Remember when you said to let you know what you can do to help? Well...." 

If the Holy Spirit can spur our hearts to want to bless and help someone, surely He is also willing to guide us in how we can use our skills, our vocation, and our resources to do it without us putting that burden on the other person.

The author also exhorts us to be like Philemon, who refreshed the hearts of others. It must be an important function, and Philemon must have been really good at it, because Paul made a point of telling Philemon how much joy and encouragement Philemon's love for others brought to him. 

When someone does something to bring refreshment to my heart or even the heart of someone I love, that is an amazing thing to experience. It never gets old. Reading this article and talking to God about it made me stop and ask some hard questions.

"Am I being like Philemon? Am I refreshing the hearts of my missionaries? my co-laborers here in Congo? my friends and family?"

"Do I let God inspire me and use me to bring a "wink," a bright spot to someone else's day, like that bright blue flower on my sickly hydrangea? because I would love to be like that."

"Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints." Philemon 7

King Henry's Horse is an Olive

Missionaries know going in that depending on where they are serving, certain conveniences and items they are accustomed to having easy and affordable access to in the United States will perhaps not be so available or affordable in their host country. Congo is no different, but knowing and experiencing are two different things. Experiencing it long term is something else altogether and can magnify homesickness if we allow it to.

For example, we seldom see pancake syrup in the stores. This is the last batch of syrup I found here. That sticker on the shelf that say "B208" is the price, 27,405 francs, roughly $30.00 for one bottle. Not in our range.

There is a lot of diversity in the DRC and products are shipped in to the stores from many different places. It is sometimes very interesting to see what non-Americans think are hot market items.

It is increasingly apparent to our family that what we believe are basic staples are not so basic, nor important to the merchants of Kinshasa. After we went a few months without finding black olives (except one brand that is especially yucky) or dill pickles, we were having some serious withdrawal. What is a sandwich without a pickle? And what is any "Mexican" meal or pizza without olives? I began to feel like King Richard when he said "my kingdom for a horse!" except that I had no kingdom to trade for olives and pickles. Probably a good thing. 

So, you can't always find olives, pickles, or even tomato sauce. There are lots of other things you CAN find that keep life here interesting even if you can't put them on your pizza or eat them for lunch.

You can buy sugar peas. Not the sugar peas I grew up with, but still important if you want to bake something or sweeten your tea.

You can buy cookies that make you want to eat some more. Not really but it's a fun name.

You can buy a toilet for your hamster, and even get refills for it. For a modest price of about $15 your hamster can go potty in luxury and privacy.

You can even buy Goose Bumps!

I can't make a meal out of Goose Bumps and sugar peas, so I do what most of my missionary friends here do: get creative or make my own version. Here are some things I have made just in the last several weeks.

Pickles like Claussen's, in recycled mayonnaise and pickle jars. Real canning jars are not easily found.

"Wheat Thins"

Pancake mix, pancake syrup, "bisquick", granola, salsa (not pictured), fabric softener, and bath fizzies (because after all that work my feet are tired!).

Yes, we sometimes are willing to pay more here than we ever would for the same item in the states because when you can't get it, it becomes more valuable to you. Shakespeare's King Henry was willing to trade his kingdom for a horse. We traded a lot of conveniences and the proximity of our families and friends to come to Congo, but Jesus traded his life for mine and for the lives of the Congolese people. 

A Gift For Mama Jackie

When we look above the concrete walls that surround our home, we can often enjoy beautiful sunrises like the one above. 

One of the most beautiful people I know is Mama Jackie, whom I met through her work with the Mitendi Center. When we came back to Congo in June, it was some time before I got to reconnect with Mama Jackie because she had been ill. When I finally got to see her a couple weeks ago, I enjoyed being able to present her with a gift from a friend in the states who follows my blog and wanted to bless Mama Jackie. I am not sure if you can see it, but the designs on the fabric are hand-cranked sewing machines very similar to the ones the girls learn on at the Mitendi Center. 

One of the things I like about Mama Jackie is that she sees beauty and potential in each girl in the Mitendi Center and truly loves them. She invests herself in them. I am really grateful to know her and to get to be a tiny part of the ministry.

It's easy to only look at the walls, instead of the flowers within or the sunrises without. It's easy to only look at the messes we get ourselves in instead of the beauty and potential we each have as a creation of God. My new post on the MAF Blog, Beautiful Potential, talks about how none of us is finished yet. What we see now in a person is not the end result but a snapshot of one phase in their journey.

Slug Devotion

Look at what I almost stepped on today when I opened my front door. Ew. A little while later, he crawled through the crack under my door and came into the living room for a look-see.

Daniel thought it was cool. When you have a boy, you get to learn things you might not have ever thought you needed to know. Or wanted to. This, for example, is what happens when you touch one of these creatures. When they react this way, they form a suction with the floor, so trying to get one out of the house is like trying to scrape tar off your shoe with a cotton ball.

It gave us an interesting disruption to our day and made me think again about how big that crack under the door is. Whether we have holes in the screens or cracks in the doors, they are openings that allow unwelcome guests into our home. When we have holes in our spiritual armor, they allow entry for unwelcome guests of another sort. Things like anger, fear, envy, etc. We have to spend time with God, study his Word, and exercise our faith to keep our armor in good condition.

Otherwise, we might find ourselves facing something ugly in our life that is difficult to get rid of.
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one, and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," Eph 6:13-17


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