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The Guy on the Hill

April 20, 2017

Monday, a big truck was parked in the street across from our house and men were working on it all day.  The guy in the house across the street owns these trucks, used to transport goods around town and, perhaps, into the interior.  Either way, the very loud THWUMPs, BUMPs, and BANGs kept jolting me, both physically (vibrating the windows) and emotionally.  I couldn’t really place where the extra stress was coming from…I felt fragile and slightly out of sorts.  Was it because Matthew is in the US for management conference?  Was it because I was stressed about a series of airport pickups and drop-offs that I was responsible for coordinating (and it wasn’t going well)?  Surely it wasn’t some random noise across the street bothering me so much.

Then, the kids and I sat down to dinner and the THRUMPs started again, very methodically, but every once in a while, a beat would be missed.  And one of the kids named the source of my stress:

“Mom, it sounds like that one time, when the guy on the hill was angry.”

Ah, The Guy on the Hill.  I have gone back and forth about mentioning The Guy on the Hill.  I share so many positives about life here, so many things I’m learning, and even when it is hard emotionally and spiritually.  But I don’t share about any danger…because we aren’t in any.  Not any more than anyone else, anyway.  And our neighborhood is the most peaceful of all.  Even if the city erupts into all kinds of protests, we know our neighborhood has such a low likelihood of being involved, we don’t even worry about it.

But, then there was The Guy on the Hill.  When the current president didn’t step down on time after elections failed to be organized, the opposition party and the Catholic church stepped in to discuss the best course of action.  Then, when the opposition party leader died in early February, a few other fringe guys, wanting to lead actions against the president, made a little fuss.  But this guy, who has a religious and political cult, decided he wanted to make strong statements and posted them on YouTube.  Bad idea, dude.

The military and police decided that he was a national threat and one evening, the day before Valentine’s Day, they wanted to go to his house and have a little chat, probably resulting in taking him into custody.  Except it didn’t go as planned.  This guy wouldn’t come out of his house.  The authorities demanded he come out.  I really don’t know how things escalated, but suddenly there were cars on fire and munitions being spent.

We were sitting at our house, hosting two other individuals in our home, and chatting about the day (the kids were asleep already) when the gunshots were heard.  At first, we thought they were leftover fireworks from New Year’s, but we quickly realized things were not okay, somewhere nearby.

A few quick calls and Matthew knew from our neighbors much closer to the action that something was happening on the hill (immediately behind the house where we lived our first year, and across the street from where we lived before moving into our current house, which is just around the corner).  Matthew called around, and it seemed isolated to only this spot.  Watching Twitter and African news websites and a story emerged about two hours later, mostly getting the facts right.

So, we holed up in our room, not sure how far out things would spread or for how long.  We took a quick inventory of edible food, moved our water filter into the hallway (away from windows and easy access) and filled a few buckets of extra water just in case.  We were on lockdown.

By midnight, the gunfire had ceased.  The report from our missionary neighbors who could see up the hill said it seemed calmer.  We went to bed.

At 5am, things began again – we were awakened by gunfire.  It only lasted a couple of hours and then ceased.

For three weeks.  Three weeks, the police and military guarded the road up on the hill and the compound, where this leader stayed his ground.  Rumors spread about the leader’s whereabouts – that he’d disappeared, that he was going to stay in there forever, etc.

But, one Saturday three weeks later, as we sat down for lunch around 11:30am, with chicken pot pie fresh from the oven, some shots rang out.

This time, the fighting wouldn’t stop until the leader had been captured and stability restored.  Our neighbors closer to the action, after three weeks, had befriended some of the military guards on the road, so they were given about a ten minute warning that they were going in to finalize the problem.

Seven hours we holed up in the house.  The kids watched THREE movies, they’ll tell you, while we listened to boom after boom after boom.  We weren’t in any targeted danger, but it was close enough that stray bullets or fleeing individuals could pose a problem.  And the noise and the unknown of how long it would last was stressful.

But, by the evening, he had been captured, a few photos popped up on Twitter of his arrest, and the police and military men went cheering through the streets of the neighborhood.

Our kids asked a lot of questions about The Guy on the Hill.  I showed them a picture of him getting arrested, so they would know it was over.  But every time we hear a car backfire, or some sort of explosion (happens often, for some reason), or we have a PPUD (potential political unrest day), the kids wonder if they’ll have to stay in the corner of the boys’ room, watching movies, while Daddy spends his time pacing the hallway on the phone, and Mommy frets.

Thanks for praying for us and our safety.  Thanks for praying for our kids.  They do get to experience a lot, not all of it is positive, but all of it shapes who they will be.  We pray that they will have compassion for those who live under these stressors every day and for those guys on hills who aren’t making wise decisions.

Most of all, pray that Congo can move forward peacefully.

Five Years Ago Today…

April 3, 2017

Today is kind of a goofy anniversary.  Five years ago to day we landed in Kinshasa for our first, short-term, assignment.

I say it’s goofy because it is fairly meaningless.  I mean, we were initially assigned to live in Kinshasa on January 12, 2011.  So, in a way, here has been our “home” since that date.

But, initially, this was a short-term thing.  We were here one year and left again, at that point seeking long-term missionary status with MAF.  Once arriving back at HQ in Idaho, we were accepted as staff but didn’t have an official assignment.

Then we were assigned as management to eastern Congo during our time of support-raising, but being made aware that a more pressing need was assisting current management here in Kinshasa, our plans were rerouted toward Kinshasa once again in March of 2014.  And once again, Kinshasa was our mental and emotional home.  We landed a second time on July 14, 2015 and, minus our trip to the US last fall, we have been here ever since!

So, today marks five years of….something.  Technically, because short-term staff with MAF-US aren’t on the payroll until they get on the airplane for the field, it is also our anniversary with MAF.  But we celebrate it on the day we were accepted as short term staff over a year prior.

A lot has happened in five years.  We’ve learned and experienced a lot.  It’s hard to say what has changed us.  Mostly, I hope it is the Holy Spirit working on our hearts to draw us closer to God.  But I also think I’m more used to cockroaches.  All in five years’ time.

Let’s see what the next five years will be!

Piper Turns One: A Reflection

March 29, 2017

Today is Piper’s first birthday. I suppose it is normal to become reminiscent about how a year has already come along and how we can’t imagine life before she was part of our family. Those things are true, and I mean them, but her birth is not something I’ll soon forget. So, for me, as much as it is also Piper’s birthday, it is the anniversary of her birth, or That One Time I Had Unplanned Major Surgery in the African Jungle.

I’ve written the story here, so you may reminisce if you desire (or read it for the first time if you must). I think of it in random highlights:

Like, how did I give birth in a place with no toilets? Or without running water? Who does that? How did I get through the heat? I am writing this today while sweating, because it is the hottest time of year, and the power is out. But in the village where Piper was born, the only power is the power you supply yourself. We had a few fans, but no air conditioning…and the humidity is enough to stop you from doing anything.

I remember my dear dear friend, Shannon, also my epic OBGYN, joking with us and being excited as we started the induction, but then as things turned increasingly serious, I remember her yelling (in French!) because the hospital personnel were not moving fast enough. And Matthew was yelling along side of her. I was happily headed into shock, so the yelling was neither here nor there, but just as much noise as the goats outside the [open] hospital windows.

I remember being wheeled to the neighboring building for the c-section in a plastic chairs with after-market casters. And feeling the first cut of the scalpel. I hold to the fact that this was a very cool experience, to feel it, because I don’t remember it hurting as much as everything else was.

It is still a bit of a mystery as to why the Pitocin didn’t advance labor, why Piper didn’t drop properly, or why there were such bizarre, intense pains between the contractions that made my labor pains feels easy breezy. Everything checked out once she born. But, whatever the cause, we are all incredibly grateful for the best outcome one could have imagined.

I remember, because my husband brings it up about once a week, coming out of the drug haze. It was not a shining moment, but those who were present definitely found it funny.

I remember Piper fussing about being hot that first night. There was a fan on one side, and she was happy, but when I moved her to nurse on the other side, she complained until she was back in front of the fan. To this day, she hates being hot. She gets this from her mother.

I remember not being able to move in the little hospital room, chosen for me because it was the only private place AND it had an electric outlet (and we brought the fan from the house).

I remember swearing as they took out my catheter without any sort of gentleness. African women must be super tough, because they acted surprised to hear that it hurt.

I remember getting into a tall vehicle the next day and being driven quite skillfully by Ryan, Shannon’s husband, despite the roads being more akin to dumpy sand pits. He did a great job.

I remember Piper getting a fever that first night, the German monk pediatrician coming over. While he and Shannon were inspecting Piper in the living room, I couldn’t move from the bed in the bedroom. That was scary.

The pediatric nurse slept on the couch, Piper got IV antibiotics on her first night (my first kiddo EVER to receive antibiotics), and the fever left and never came back. I also had a matching IV port for my own antibiotics. I got painkillers for the first two nights and then switched to Ibuprofen for the rest of my recovery. I swear it really wasn’t that bad if I rested well. However, I am not a strong person.

I remember that Piper was our first and only child to do well at breastfeeding. This was a saving grace that we needed desperately. The three previous had been such struggles with varying results.

I remember getting on a small airplane on Day 4 (yay MAF). I remember that the immigration officials still wanted to bother us both in the village and in the city. They charged Piper for immigrating, despite a significant lack of paperwork. This is how Congo works.

I remember getting a fairly nasty infection in the incision site because heat and humidity just can’t be avoided in this climate. It took two different antibiotics, and twice-daily packing for two weeks before it healed. It’s fine now.

But, through it all, I’d do it again for our sweet little princess. I mean, only if I had to. Because it was kind of a nightmare. I’m not sure I’m any tougher for it, but it’s a good story to tell.

But, seriously, when the next one comes along, I’m going to deliver in a place with toilets.

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Piper Pretty in Pink

Challenging Myself and My Hospitality

March 7, 2017

I write a lot about how hospitality is my thing.  I’ve only recently come to realize that it is truly my ministry here.  We host visitors, house MAF staff, host team events, parties, meetings, have dinner with a LOT of people…the list goes on.  We open our home often and, in that effort, try to give a relaxing, enjoyable time to whoever needs it.  And if you lived in Kinshasa, trust me, you would need it.

A friend recently asked on Facebook if, in showing hospitality, that included Congolese nationals as well.  I really had to think about it.  We rarely host Congolese in our home.  That is a fact, even if it is a sad one, but I realized I couldn’t answer that question when it was asked of me.  (This friend didn’t ask “why,” she merely asked “if,” but I wanted a “why,” if only for myself.)

So, why is it so rare?  The answer that would be satisfactory to everyone who reads this blog would be very very long, because living cross culturally is complicated and if you haven’t experienced a cross-cultural life, it is difficult to explain.  That is my challenge, though.  I like challenges.

In case you’re wondering the obvious, we like Congolese people.  I am constantly in awe of them as an ethnic group (made up of at least a bazillion tribal groups) – what this country has had to endure and still to have joy…it amazes me.  We know many Congolese people, we work with them daily.  I literally speak two languages daily, and hear three.  I could not still be here without my Kinois friends (Kinois is one from Kinshasa – pronounced KEEN-wah).  Matthew manages mostly national staff in his job, as we have twice as many Congolese employees at both the office and the hangar than missionaries.  In other words, interaction is frequent, all day, starting at 6:30am until long after dark.  It is mostly pleasant, minus a few bad apples that exist in every walk of life on every continent.  So, we aren’t deliberately avoiding anyone in our share of hospitality.

But, yes the inevitable But, living in a place not your home culture is wearing.  It pulls at your proverbial clothes, it drips on your metaphorical head, it strains and it is hard.  Anyone saying it isn’t is probably lying or new.  Ha!  So, for us, our particular strain of hospitality is on a bit of escape from the strains of living cross-culturally.  A good example of that is our recent murder mystery party.  It included people of several nationalities, here in country for many different reasons, all serving cross-culturally.  And it was an enjoyable night where we all felt like we could forget the difficulties of life here.

When we offer to have village missionaries stay with us, they always compliment our awesome shower, the fact that we keep our house “like an icebox” (our friends usually bring sweatshirts when they come over), and we aren’t apologizing for it.  It’s a WELCOME sense of “ahhhhhh, a bit of an escape.”  This is what we enjoy bringing to others.  We are affirmed in its value.

What I’m NOT saying, and please reassure yourself, is that we are trying to get away from our Congolese friends.  Right now, our particular focus is on offering a comfortable place to stay/eat/sing/fellowship and get a tiny break from a stressful week/month/year.  It is this positive thing, it is not avoiding or negative.

I have aspirations of having more margin in my life to have Congolese friends and coworkers over.  This NEEDS to be a priority for us.  But we aren’t there yet.  It is all a work in progress.  Less than a year ago, we had a newborn, a new house, and I had had major surgery.  By the time we were settled and I was recovered, we took a break out of the country.  I’m not trying to make excuses, but the reality is that having people over who are from a different cultural background, who speak a language different from your heart language, is hard.  It’s work.  It isn’t a carefree, easy affair, but it’s worth it.

So, pray for us in this.  Pray that we will work towards expanding our types of hospitality.  Pray that we will have the personal, emotional margin to do this more often.  Pray that we don’t make too many faux pas in the process.  Pray that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around us, from Congo or not.

Economiser the Economy

March 1, 2017

The verb economiser (euh-cah-no-mee-zay), in French, essentially means “to save.”  In the context of saving money, anyway.  It is obviously somehow related to our English word “economy.”  But I’m not a linguist, so that’s kind of where I have to leave that.  It’s confusing, though, to make the switch in my head.

All that to say, besides being interesting, perhaps, I’m beginning to feel the pinch of the economy here…and how hard it is to economiser l’argent (to save money).  Inflation has been real, and it is really becoming a problem.  Essentially, the prices of everything have risen almost 50% since last summer.  Think about that for a second.  If, in six months, everything around you suddenly cost 50% more than it does right now, but nothing else changed?

So, while I can use US dollars for larger purchases and feel less of a press, I do need to use Congolese Francs for many smaller purchases and local vendors and I’m feeling the weight of the bricks of cash that I need to carry around when I do.

But that’s me, and I can afford it (mostly).  The people around me….most of the other 12 or 15 million people in this city?  They can’t.  And people who are scared react differently than people who aren’t.  People who live in fear of their economy may not have the confidence to react well when their government is also making strange maneuvers.

Please remember this country in your prayers as inflation mounts.  Each month it goes up significantly.  Inflation can only go so high before something bursts.  Let’s be praying for God’s will in this situation, and for all those involved.

Random Thoughts on My Junk

February 22, 2017

I did it today.  I dumped my stuff on Africa.  Of course, that is hyperbole, as my nerdy 7-year-old would say.

I gave away almost four bins of stuff to my worker and told him I didn’t want it anymore and please make it go away.  Seems simple, right?

I didn’t need the clutter; I refuse to let my giant house fill just because I could; I don’t want to save things “just in case” even though I live in a place where that is actually logical; most of it is stained clothing, worn out clothing, books we don’t need, shoes the kids have never worn (and were hand-me-downs to us), and baby items that were no longer worth passing on (even though, yes, our team has a new baby arriving in a few weeks, yay).

All that to say, I couldn’t hold on to it, and no one else in my circle of friends wanted it, so I got rid of it.  Except that is the trouble with living in a place like this.  There are no thrift stores.  There is no Free Page on Craigslist.  There is a Facebook group for selling items (craigslist style), but it wasn’t that sort of stuff.  And offering things for free….trust me, you wouldn’t do that if you’ve lived here long enough to get to know the culture.

When you, who live in North America (I’m not really sure about Europe…someone enlighten me), don’t want something anymore you A) throw it away, or B) try to let it be redeemed by giving to a thrift store/donation center.  If I “throw it away” it will definitely be redeemed.  My trash gets “sorted” through each hand it passes.  But admittedly, most of the stuff I don’t want anymore still has SOME life left in it.  So if I throw it away, I FEEL like I’m telling the people who work in and around my house that it wasn’t even worth letting you decide if you’d like it…but you can dig it out of my trash.  Doesn’t that sound insulting?  Perhaps it is an error of my own perspective.  But that’s my reaction.  Because it’s happened before…ugh.

There aren’t places for me to drop it off.  So I asked around and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to does the same thing: they leave it somewhere around their property where their workers have knowledge that this is where stuff goes that is unwanted…and it disappears. One missionary even told me that she hands an unwanted thing to her worker and just shrugs and walks away.  It’s like, we (those of us who live here) all feel the same way…we know we are spoiled and we know we still don’t need that item, but we also know we want it gone and giving it away is our only chance to facilitate that.

But now I feel guilty for this crime against a continent that is flooding with the world’s crap.  The rich half (half is not the right word, I realize) of the world dumps its unwanted life onto Africa and economies are broken by this process.  Why make shoes when they are being shipped in?  Why make clothes when Goodwill shipping containers (or sea cans, for my Canadian friends) arrive daily?  Why bother with traditional basket-making when China sends over enough plastic bins to fill the entire continent?  (Though there are local plastic factories providing jobs and plastic bins are wonderful for sanitation and food preservation, so I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater.)  But, the crisis of junk flooding this continent is peaking.  And I feel like I have contributed in a small way.  I thought I was supposed to be here to help.

My worker was grateful.  He looked forward to looking through the books and building his English.  He was excited for my old clothes, maybe his wife could use them?  I pointed out the bags of baby items and, since he is also a pastor, suggested perhaps there are babies in his church.  He told me “God bless you.”  I don’t feel all that benevolent.

I go into our bedroom now, where I have been storing these bins since we unpacked from our mini furlough in December and I’m grateful for the return of the open space and the lack of cluttered bins in my face.  I’m glad that on the one hand, our unwanted items might make someone’s day.  They might help a bit.  They might be sold to provide a meal for someone.  Might.  But on the other hand…they might just make a problem worse.

So perhaps I’ve overthought my contribution to the crisis.  Or perhaps I’m just being thoughtful: being mindful of my place here in a foreign country.  We, missionaries and technical “experts,” bring talents and knowledge to the table of work here in Kinshasa, but we are no better than those we are here to serve.  We only add to the work to, hopefully, make it more productive.  Please pray that we are always mindful of what we bring, and the positive and negative consequences that result from us being here.

I know God’s plan is bigger than me and my junk.  I only hope that none of it gets in His way.

Not So Powerful

January 31, 2017

Living in a large city, we get a lot of perks.  One of them is electricity.  I talk to my missionary friends across Africa who are essentially responsible for their own power systems, whether it’s solar, generator, or a semi-powered 12v system, and I realize that electricity is definitely a privilege.

But we have talked in the past about frequent outages.  This is still true.  We do have regular outages, sometimes lasting up to 12 hours.  But, at our present house, we are completely spoiled by fairly consistent power, two different lines to choose from (often one is on when the other is off), and a landlord with friends in high places enough to get quick repairs done at reasonable prices.

Last week, though, our inverter suddenly called it quits.  Matthew, with all of his expertise, cannot figure out what happened, nothing burned or seems broken.  It just stopped.  Our inverter is responsible for operating our lights, wireless router, fridge and freezer, gas oven (the thermostat is electric) and the coffee maker (!!!) when the power is out.  Basically, the only things that aren’t on it are the air conditioners and the washing machine.  It’s a perfect set up, really.  The inverter is still under warranty, not that we’re exactly near to any warranty repair centers.  They have been quick to respond to emails and the back-and-forth diagnostics continue.

So, of course, the inverter died and suddenly our power decided to get finicky.  The main line that we use suddenly dropped to coming in at about 100v.  Normally, it should be between 210v and 240v.  100v and the lights were dim, the compressors on our freezer and fridge were struggling and given the right circumstances, things could have started to die.

We called our landlord’s engineer who is responsible for our house maintenance and he called his friends at the power company.  Not only were they all here the very next morning (after two days at low voltage), but they asked only for a very reasonable amount of money and within a few hours BOTH lines were fixed (the other, lesser-used line had had low voltage issues for months, even before we left on our trip).  The lines now had  larger capacity and have been operating normally ever since.

We still power share occasionally or the line breaks before our house/cabine (like a transformer station) and we wait in the heat, but mostly, we are very grateful for good, steady power and the peace of mind that comes with it.  We remember living here in previous houses where the power was unreliable and life rotated around activities for when the power was on and activities when the power was off.

So while we are grateful for good power, we still are a bit incapacitated without our inverter.  The parts and repairs are probably not going to come from within Congo’s borders.  Matthew will be back in Idaho for a bit of training in the spring, but it might mean more reliance on our generator, which is fine, just expensive and inefficient.  Please pray for a good resolution to the inverter issue and, in the meantime, that we will continue to be blessed with reliable power.

These things are, really, just perks and not always required, but internet, a functional fridge and freezer, and lights in the darkness (6pm-6am, year round) make for a life with more margin, more freedom to tackle other tasks and needs.