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The City in Which We Live

March 14, 2016

We live in a city.  For some reason that I cannot explain, this has really been emphasized in my heart lately.  We are not the African missionaries who visit around their village or are well-known.  We don’t even stand out all that much, because there are a lot of white people here.  So, if you picture us living in a fairly rural or isolated environment, I hope I’m about to change that view to something a little more accurate.

Then again, maybe you’re thinking, no, of course, Kinshasa is a big, capital city, so you have everything a city would have: infrastructure, organized layout, systems running smoothly, and the little things, like a movie theater or fast food.  We have none of that.  We have almost daily power outages because the electrical grid is toast.  The power surge the other night so far has cost us over $400 in repairs and replacements.  We have water that only comes in at night…and many parts of the city are lacking water at all.  Our sewer system is a septic one, because there really isn’t a city-wide one, minus downtown.  And everything else is hit or miss, like public transportation.  It exists, sometimes, but it’s complicated.

So, what do I want to talk about this for?  Because it means that what our life and ministry looks like here is wide-ranging and often difficult to define.  We recently heard that in Kinshasa alone, there are several unreached people groups – people who do not have access to the Gospel, or anyone ministering to them.  But guess what, in most cases these people groups are not Congolese.  They are other ex-pats, who live here, especially in the city, in such large numbers, that they show up on the radar of groups who analyze unreached people groups (think Wycliff, for example).  Here in town, we have large populations of Chinese and Lebanese, who are performing critical business.  The Chinese build roads and high-rises downtown.  The Lebanese own many stores and shops – including most of where I shop for groceries and where Matthew shops for hardware and supplies.

Essentially, ministry in this city can be however you feel God leading you.  For us, Matthew has a full time job at MAF, so obviously that is where he spends much of his time, but he has befriended several hardware shop owners and business men in the process.  I am at home with the kids and keeping house, but my monthly grocery trip, for example, leads me to the same store owners who know me, at least a little…and they know that I’m far too pregnant to be waddling around their store any longer (I was offered a lot of help during my last shopping run).  Don’t worry, storekeepers, next time I’ll have a baby in tow.

But there are other things about living in such a large city, like the fact that ex-pats who are here because they have government or other organizational jobs that place them here, have a whole community unto themselves.  Matthew and I recently joined the British Embassy’s Oasis Club.  For a yearly fee, we are able to go to events and hang out at their lovely, quite literal Oasis.  We have spent a few date nights there, able to watch movies in a large format (even an American one: The Martian).  We have been able to spend other date nights trying some of the cool restaurants in town.  Kinshasa has great food if you know where to find it.  For our final date night last week before baby arrives, we went to Sir Harry’s, which specializes in Chinese, Indian, and Thai food.  You sit on an open terrace on the sixth floor and get to gaze out at the city and even across the river to Brazzaville, the capital of the other Congo.  It was a lovely escape and a good time to be together.  We feel fortunate to have these opportunities, knowing our fellow African missionaries, who live out in villages, can’t do the same things.

Kinshasa is actually a really cool city if you dig deep, but on its surface it struggles.  And the media generally reports only what sells: the shock and the negative.  Recently, this article gives an excellent look into the dichotomy of Kinshasa and how wide the gap between the wealthy and the poor truly is here.  I would love if you took the time to read through it, to better understand our city.

But if you’re more for facts and figures, Kinshasa is in the top 20 of the largest cities in the world, by population.  Try as I might, I could not find a definite number, because of the various ways of measuring and because the specific population of Kinshasa is not known (it was last counted in the 1980’s and was not necessarily accurate even then).  The article cited above says that roughly 390,000 people come into Kinshasa every year from around Congo.  “It is as if, each year, the capital swallowed an entire mid-sized city.”  But we do not have the infrastructure here to support any of the growth, or even the current population.  Yet, we are the third largest city in Africa.

It is also a very expensive city in which to live.  Mercer calculates the cost of living as being the 13th highest in the world.  While we do our best to live reasonably and frugally, it is still sometimes a challenge to figure out where and how to find the balance.

And that pretty much sums up the struggle with living here: balance.  How do we balance being so rich when surrounded by poverty?  We cannot stoop to join it, nor is our wealth wrong.  How can we balance living out the ministry that God has called us to, but also power through difficult situations with finding the balance of keeping our sanity: things like date nights and family trips for ice cream, and vacations, so we can stay the course and be healthy?  How do we report to all of you, who are praying for us, interested in our life here, and even supporting us financially to be here, with an accurate picture of life here?  We want to give you as much information as possible so you feel involved in our ministry and life, and do so in a way that makes sense.  But it’s very hard to explain why life here is different and hard if you haven’t been or experienced it.  But it’s also difficult to explain why we like it here or feel at home here, if you only see how life is difficult.

So, essentially, we love our city, and we struggle to make life make sense here, because often nothing makes sense.  And that is the exciting life in Kinshasa, Congo.

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