This is how the Congolese say hello. The Congolese speak mostly French and Lingali. This has been a very cool week getting to know the Congolese people. As we left Yei on Tuesday morning in UN vehicles and headed down the Congo Road, our destination was a place called Lasu, actually the Lasu Refugee Camp, which is only six miles from the Congo borderlands. The road was a beautifully rich red clay, wet from many rains, against a backdrop of rich greens and browns, and framed by a virtual jungle. In most places, the road was only wide enough for our vehicles. There were deep ruts filled with wheel deep waters from constant fresh rain. We bumped and slid and struggled for an hour and a half just to go twenty two miles.
I was just in awe of the landscape the entire way. The closer we got to Congo, the thicker the vegetation. There were literally hundreds of teak trees all along the way, the leaves big enough to use as umbrellas, seriously. Tall elephant grass and climbing vines engulfed the thick mango trees, banana trees, papaya trees, bamboo and many other beautiful trees and all varieties of vegetation. Every so often there would be a small trail shooting off from the road and disappearing into this thick jungle, causing me to wonder who lived back there. I saw mushrooms bigger than dinner plates, no exaggeration here! I have pictures of this. I couldn’t drink in enough of this lush country for the three days we traversed this road.
The purpose of our visit this week at the refugee camp was to help the, UN Refugee Council (UNHCR), conduct an assessment of existing conditions at the camp. The camp was started in February of 2009 when the first refugees fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the LRA attacked their villages and killed their husbands and families. Many fled here in terror and grief with just the clothes on their backs, running through the night through thick jungle to escape. As I talked with and met the women and young girls, I could see such sadness and pain in their eyes and faces and I had such compassion for their plight. The LRA is still very active in the DRC even now. There is so much in the demonic realm that Joseph Koney, the leader, has been impossible to capture. He practices all sorts of black magic and witchcraft.
I know that some who receive my updates are unfamiliar with the realm of spirits and witchcraft and demons, and some even unbelieving. I want to tell you that it is a very real threat here in Africa. Even the very young children here fear this realm because they have seen the spirits and the apparitions and physical manifestations of demons because of the prevalence of witchcraft. The Bible says that Satan is the ruler of this realm and so he uses demons to carry out his dirty work. It is very real.
There are approximately 7,000 refugees there. The people have a fierce and tough look about them, as if they have suffered much hardship. They are a hearty and healthy looking people, very dark skinned and big boned. Unlike other African country’s peoples, there are different looks to the Congolese. Some are light skinned with small frames and lighter hair color, while others are dark and fierce looking. My experience with the Sudanese, Kenyan, Ugandan and Mozambican cultures are that each group has a definite look, such as bone structure, coloring, facial features and such. There is some variation with the Congolese and so it is interesting to see this beautiful mix of people in one culture.
I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the settlement is. I have read many books about refugee camps and all have been tarp and tin building camps where there is poor sanitation and malnutrition and disease. This camp, the Lasu Refugee Camp, is beautiful. The people have nice permanent brick and clay huts. They have two large schools, two medical clinics, sixteen bore holes, over fifty latrines, all of these being permanent structures. There is also much land that the government has given the people to use for agriculture and firewood collection. I was very impressed with the cleanliness and order of the camp. There were no visibly sick children or malnourished people. Most children were chubby and healthy and all wore clothes, non going without pants, as is the Sudanese culture for toddlers.
This week I talked with a group of about fifty women, a group of over 100 young girls and a small group of teenaged girls, through an interpreter of course. There are so many who have been separated from their extended families, some even from their husbands and mothers and fathers. In this culture, the men get all jobs unless a woman was allowed to go to college for nursing or some higher education or gets permission from her husband to work, if a job even comes available. It is a very male dominant society, as is all of Africa that I have encountered thus far. So, here in the camp, the people are given a food ration and a couple of pots, a bucket, a couple of mats for the floor to sleep on, and just some basic things. Anything after this, the people need to earn money to buy. So, these women struggle to find ways to replace rags they are wearing or put shoes on their feet or buy soap for bathing and laundry.
Every family has its own problems and so without an extended family, these people are on their own when faced with problems. This is a culture where families only thrive when all live in community either on the same compound or at least close by. So, it is very sad for these displaced refugees to not have this support for each other. Family violence is always present as it is a norm in this society for men to beat their wives regularly. They are taught this as small boys. It is very sad to know that this is a constant variable here among all other problems they have to face. You would think that the suicide rate and depression would be extremely high, yet, it is almost non-existent. These women are tough and they learn how to overcome all odds and they maintain their joy. Boy could we learn a lot from them. Today, the teenage girls were telling me that sexual abuse is rampant, along with prostitution. They are saddened because in Congo this is not a part of their culture. So, we are hoping that because of our assessment, this will be investigated and a change will come.
This morning, I am sit here on the floor of my tent, in a dress, trying to get ready for the day, I want to tell you about doubt. I am almost ashamed but I have to be real about the things we face in this third world mission field. We as Christians are supposed to have this incredible faith right? Especially those of us on the third world mission field. Well, every once in awhile the devil sprinkles doubt on our dreams in the dark of night and we find ourselves wondering what we are doing here. I have talked with even the most seasoned of mission veterans and we all go through it, even periodically, almost like a steady jab from the enemy, even when we seem to be in a glorious place doing glorious things, doing what we know the Lord has called us to do. Even Elijah experienced this. He just destroyed 300 Baal prophets and saw God’s fire come down and consume a water soaked bonfire pit! Yet he ran to the mountain, asking God to let him die.
Last night I awoke at 1:00 a.m. and had to leave my tent and walk across the compound, trying to beat the coming rain, and use the latrine. While staring at a large spider on the wall at eye level and trying to hurry my business along before all these large roaches clamored back up the latrine hole I pondered my life. I had just dreamt of home and being with all my friends. I came back to my tent and lay down to wonder, “What am I really doing here? Is this worth it? I could be doing my old job which I loved, still ministering to kids and making really good money, sleeping in a comfortable bed and feel the carpet under my feet as I walk three steps to the bathroom where I can sit without fear of all variations of critters attacking me. I could be in the USA talking to my friends and doing things with them.”
I have dreams at night where I am in that place, doing my old job, being with friends, and sometimes I awake to question my calling. I only make it to the internet place about once a week and I only have a short time to do what I need to get done because it usually rains and I am on a motorcycle with my computer and can’t get it wet, or I have a ministry appointment to keep. I rarely hear from home anymore and I feel as if that life is passing on and I won’t know people anymore, like they are growing up and moving on without me. And so all of this combined can make one listen to the devil’s sprinkling of doubt.
I can’t even see two months down the road about what God wants me to do next and here I sit in a tent in a third world country. I have ideas but no form yet. I have dreams but no substance yet. And I start to doubt whether God wants to use me here. I know where my heart wants to go but I don’t want to go alone and so I begin to wonder if I am really hearing God for my next assignment. Sounds crazy but it is true. We all go through it. It is a common occurrence on the mission field, no matter where you are.
And so I did what I always do when I face doubt, I worshipped. “And I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned, in awe of the One who gave it all. And I’ll stand, my soul Lord to You surrendered. All I am is Yours. I offer this heart O God completely to You.”
There are many times where we cannot see the road ahead of us and that is where God wants our complete trust in His ability, His vision, His plan, His provision, and especially His timing. Elijah didn’t have all his friends with him and he had to wait until God told him to go. He must have looked back to his plowing days and yearned for them, for his nice little house. I am reminded of the scripture, “And Jesus said, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” To stay “fit”, in shape, we have to stay in the game, stay focused, keep our hands on the plow and our focus on the furrows we are aiming for. Elijah didn’t have this huge ministry where he was planted in one place preaching and teaching and living on a secure compound. He lived by a creek. He lived in a cave. He did whatever God called him to do in any specific place at any given time. He had no user’s manual. He only had God.
It is crucial to keep our faith in the present, walking day by day, step by step. If we keep looking back, our fields will have crooked furrows and turn out to be unfinished or out of balance. And so I never let my mind dwell anywhere except where God is taking me. I dwell where He is, where He lives. I might “glance” back but I won’t dwell there.
I am content with the little that I have and I have peace here in my little tent once again. Worship brings me home to the heart of God. I love seeing my laundry hanging on the line in the afternoon sun. I love walking to the kitchen every morning for hot water to make coffee and kissing 20 toddlers on the way and tickling just as many young children as I go along. I love pumping water at the borehole and a two year old comes and wants to help. I let them, even though it will take five times as long to get my water. I love going for walks in the community with twenty children in tow, three on each hand at times. I love watching the older children and how they treat others, so respectful and loving. I love walking down a path in a village and at every house, little toddlers come running out to shake my hand and say, “How are you?” in their sweet high voices. I love that the people of Sudan are so happy, all the time, they are so happy. They laugh and smile and greet and never tire of the relationship lifestyle. They simply love people and love being around us.
And so I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, all the while fixing my gaze on God and trusting His direction for my feet. I hope this encourages many, in that, even in a seemingly perfect and blessed ministry, the enemy will still mess with your mind and try to get you to change it, and you are not alone. Go back to the cross, go back to the cross, and there is where you will find your Peace, where you will always find Jesus, our Prince of Peace. And go find a small child to love. Let the smile of a child melt your heart and chase away all your cares. There is one baby, Patience, who knows my voice now and gets so excited when I come. She smiles real big and reaches her hands and coos and even cries when I hand her back to mama. She is my first stop in the morning.
Yesterday, as I walked home from the UN compound, I stopped and bought three huge sugar cane stalks. They were about eight feet tall. I carried them the mile up the hill, and they were heavy, anticipating the excited faces of the children as I appeared over the horizon, framed by the late afternoon sun. They ran to me and jumped and giggled and we cut the cane and I sat in the dirt with them as we chewed the sweet juice of the sugar and we were so content just being with each other. Then I joined them in a game of Africa’s version of street hockey, They take an old flip flop and cut out a circle and that is the puck. They use sticks for hitting it and off we go. It’s really fun. Today I am picking up a very large order of Chipate, which is like a very thick plate sized flour tortilla that tastes like a pancake, sort of. The children rarely get these and they are a treat. And so we will have them with our dinner.
Last night, I was stung by a black hornet that somehow managed to get in my tent. I was putting things away and reached for a small makeup bag and felt this searing pain and thought I had been stung by a scorpion. So I am on my bed with my flashlight looking all over the floor for whatever stung me. I can’t find it and am praying to God for help when I look at my tent screen and there it sits. I was able to kill it and now my hand is swollen and I have no knuckles and it itches tremendously. I didn’t even get upset or cry. I thanked God for helping me to find the thing and kill it!
And this morning I climbed out of my tent and with awestruck as I looked at the sky! From one end of the Iris compound to the other, was surely the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. It was so huge, two of them, that I could not fit it into my picture frame while taking a picture. I had to take it in three sections, it was that close. Even the children came outside and just stood there gazing at it for at least 15 minutes, just as awestruck as myself. See my Facebook for pics. What an amazing God Who has created us and all the good that is in this world. God surely does love His creation and He reminds us all the time. We just have to stop to take notice.
I’ve been working with the kids on doing dramas for scripture and yesterday’s sermon was on the parable of the ten virgins. I picked 5 boys to be part of the ten. It was hard to explain but they seemed able to get it and they did very well on their skit and the other kids loved it. The children here love skits and it makes things easier to understand when they can get a visual. So, our drama troupe will continue to grow I think.
So this next week I will be working on the goat stocking at Iris. I need to get a small shelter built first so am praying for all that to happen this week and have some goats by the weekend!