The week from… the Congo

Incredibly tough week this week for both Terri and I. There were lots of meetings, dinners, missionaries being transferred, new missionaries arriving, missionaries ending their missions and leaving, IT guys came to install new computers—leaving the entire office up in the air, the area mental health advisor and his wife who came to train Terri and the McMullins, sick missionaries, hospital visits, midnight runs…and amid all the other ado, the police upper their numbers around the city and began stopping everyone in an attempt to intimidate and extort money from people.

On Monday the IT people arrived and began disrupting the office by kicking people out of their offices and replacing their computers—a necessary arrangement, but difficult in a working office, especially during transfer week! The two men from South Africa came and the very next day one of them got very ill with flu like systems. Terri was able to help him so that he could continue his work, but he stayed ill the whole time he was here.

That morning I traveled with Elder Eastman and Emanuel with three trucks to move Elders from one apartment to a new one we opened up in Mwembila, just down the street from the new ward building that is under construction (and WAY behind schedule!). During the two runs back and forth we were stopped a total of 3 times by police or army personnel, attempting to find some reason to fine us or extract money from us, but we eventually were permitted to go through and got the job done.

That afternoon I went to the airport to pick up an Elder who was coming to Lubumbashi for final interview and going home ceremony. As usual, the only way into the airport terminal was to pay a bribe (find someone to ‘help’ you)…they get you in the door and aid in getting your bags. Usually $5 will do, but on this day there was lost luggage…another $5 to find the lost luggage.

On Tuesday we had a staff meeting to discuss upcoming events: a lot of things going on in the next few weeks: this week we travel to Likasi by vehicle, then to Kolwezi by vehicle (a long drive, about 5 hours?), then the next week is a Mission Leaders Conference where most if not all Zone leaders come to Lubumbashi for training (and we all have a part in training them).

Several times during the week (it gets lost in the mist…) Terri had sick Elders that we either visited, or took to the hospital, or visited the hospital, etc. On one occasion an Elder called very late with the claim that the right side of his face had no feeling and had lost movement. After some discussion Terri felt it serious enough to drive to see the Elder. Driving at night here is very difficult—so many people walking on the roads, crazy taxi drivers, etc.—and, of course, one has to remember how to get there with no signs and just dirt roads! But we made it safely there, to find it was worth the visit. Terri diagnosed the problem as Bell’s Palsy. The right side of his face was in fact paralyzed—when he smiled, only one side would move! She gave him medicine and put him to bed (the hospital here would not have done more), but the next day we brought him to the hospital. He is better now, but it will probably be an ongoing thing for this missionary.

We had a departing missionary dinner and testimony meeting, which is always quite moving. But the very next day, as the missionaries began to leave for home, others were arriving. This meant that they had to go through a gauntlet of training and ‘stations’ at the mission home: they are interviewed, given a phone and taught how to use it (including texting); taught how to use a computer and given directions as to how to write a weekly letter to the President; each missionary gets a medical examination and fills out a medical questionnaire (we have discovered some missionaries that need glasses or have other problems that need follow-up), and they are given a large bag of stuff to take with them: sheets, pillows, blanket, mosquito net, emergency light, etc. They also have a dinner and time to meet with the Assistants to the President, and some of the local missionaries are paired-off and sent to their area to begin work. Others are shipped off to other parts of the mission to serve. Those departing later we took to the Golf apartment—a large home with dormitory style sleeping quarters used to house lots of missionaries during transfers and conferences.

On Thursday Terri was supposed to meet with Elder van Gass, a psychologist who works for the Church who came to do some training, but we were off early to take an Elder to the hospital, then to pick up another Elder to take him to the hospital for something else. It was during all the driving that we began to be stopped by all the police.

We were stopped for a half hour in one location as they decided to test all of our lights, brakes, windshield wipers, etc. They said we had a tail-light out and demanded money. Terri got out of the car (!) and asked them to show her. Miraculously, the light now worked, and they reluctantly let us go.

We then had to travel into town to the pharmacy to pick-up medication for missionaries. After making a right turn, three police stopped us and claimed I had run a red light. I looked around, trying to find a light, and they pointed to one about a block away, in a different direction than I had come! There was no arguing the point, as they were there to get money. After 30 minutes (Terri had got out of the car and walked to the pharmacy and left me to deal with the police!), I finally agreed to pay a fine—mostly because we were in such a hurry. It had started at $150, but after 30 minutes it was down to $45.

The next day, as we traveled to see another Elder in the hospital, we were stopped again by three police (They use three police, as one jumps out in front of you to get you to stop, one gets behind you, and one talks to you). This time they made the same claim that there was a problem with the tail-lights. Terri again jumped out to prove them wrong, but to no avail. They were not letting us go. After 45 minutes they/we agreed to a $20 fine for…? At one point, seeing we were missionaries and on the way to the hospital, two of the police began arguing with the third to just let us go, but he was stubborn and wanted some money.

The next day, as we were going to lunch with the Wrights and van Gasses, a policeman walked out in front of me to stop me once again…but left just enough room for me to drive around him, which I did! Most times there is enough traffic, or traffic coming the other way, that it is impossible to avoid the police, but this time the road was clear, and I was not going to get stopped again…

So it was a crazy week…OH, I forgot, along with everything else, some of the McMullin’s family came for a visit, and we had roofers trying to fix a porch roof, and an electrician trying to work with me in fixing the Golf apartment and get a new generator, and completing or starting about 8 other projects in others cities around the Congo where missionaries will be moving to, etc….

On Sunday we took Elder and Sr. van Gass to the airport (who doesn’t look forward to that!). They had no tickets (they were planning to get them at the airport, and he had misplaced his wallet (his wife had it), which made it all the more interesting. And, as usual, it was totally different at the airport this time. As we tried to enter the terminal, they would only let two of us in (without a bribe), so Elder van Gass and I went in to pay the travel tax and get boarding passes, etc. Just after entering the door, they had set-up a table to inspect bags. This was new. So they inspected the bags and we went to pay for the ‘GO’ pass (just a tax for the local government). When we got to the window, instead of the normal $15 per ticket, they wanted $55 per ticket! They explained that since they were traveling ‘internationally’ it was $50 for the international fee and $5 for the local fee. Elder van Gass had no money!? as he seemed to have lost his wallet (it turns out apparently his wife had it in her bag). Fortunately I had money with me, and paid for his Go passes. Then we asked them for copies of the tickets, or boarding passes…I could see a glazed look come over his face… But then he simply called for one of many of the airport ‘helpers’ to come over and guide us through the Congo maize (for a fee of course), and we were on our way again. We got his bags inspected again, then shuffled through to where they weigh the bags and tag them. To my surprise, they had what looked like a makeshift ticket counter set-up way inside the terminal (never seen this before!), where we were directed to get the tickets, boarding passes, luggage stickers, etc.

All this time, Terri and Sr. van Gass were still outside, trying to get through the door into the terminal! But our new friend and helper went with me and got them through, and we said goodbye just before they exited stage left to go through a final security check and into the waiting room for their plane. I gave our helper $5 and Terri and I were off to have a (hopefully) quite Sunday! Just in time for the next busy week to begin:

Travel, church auditors, sick missionaries, moving missionaries, avoiding police….

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Missionary farewell: 6 Elders and one sister return home

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The McMullins daughter-in-law and granddaughter

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Terri getting food from the great ‘spread’ put on by Sister McMullin

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Justin’s family and children join the fun (Justin works in the mission office)

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Justin’s new daughter

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Bro & Sis Wright, Sis & Bro Eastman, and Pres. McMullin

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Terri aids in singing with the children

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Those going home gather for one last song

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Remember our big septic project? It is finally finished, and all the toilets work! The sisters are happy once again?

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The McMullin’s granddaughter was a real culture warrior! She not only tried Foo-Foo, she liked it! and spent a whole afternoon having her hair done in the local style! (by Emanuel’s wife) I tried to convince them to do the same with me, but then I would have to grow my hair out first… if I have any left?

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Here is yet another brick kiln we passed in our travels. This one is in full cooking mode!

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The owner at one missionary apartment is working on beautifying the place by making fancy new columns for the porch area!

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Typical kitchen for our missionaries: Charcoal, pot of water and bag of F00-F00 flour.

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Picture of the new roof going on the front porch of the mission home. It is a torched down asphalt membrane (you have to use a blow-torch to heat the back of the membrane so that it melts enough to adhere to the concrete roof deck). They worked hard, but had some problems… the torch they were using was a very small hand-held torch with canister gas (think of a small torch you might use to solder with, or work with copper tubing). The torches we use for this are very large, with a flame that goes out 2-3 feet… theirs was 2-3 inches! Instead of taking hours, it is taking days! AND they keep running out of fuel because the cans of gas they are using are about the size of a soup can!

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Elder and Sister van Gass. He is the Area Mental Health Advisor based in Johannesburg. They left from here to go to Uganda and then somewhere else. His territory covers about 26 countries. They were a great couple, and we had a lot of fun getting to know them.

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