The Congo is a place where one can truly learn to understand the scriptures. Because their culture is so old, and much of it is so unchanged after thousands of years, the things we see and the events we experience here have a remarkable resemblance to things one reads in the scriptures!
The scriptures often talk about the crippled and maimed that sat at the doors of the temple, or gates of the city, or entrance to some rich man’s home. In the states, we seldom see anything resembling these scenes! Oh, we might see someone begging, or with a sign that says ‘needs work’, but we all recognize that the need isn’t quite the same.
Here in the Congo one actually sees and experiences beggars like the scriptures describe: people who are lame, or have lost an arm or leg and so are limited in what they can do for work; or an old woman or the blind, etc., who come to the city to beg for a living. Often, like described in the scriptures, they have chosen a place that they come every day—they become well known to you and everyone else. We always carry change with us on our trips to the city so that we can give something, no matter how small, to those who sit in need.
It is easy to see how astounded people would have been at the miracles that Jesus did, or that Peter did when he healed the lame man who sat at the door to the Temple. Everyone knew these people! They saw them day after day, sitting in the same places, begging for their living. And suddenly, they were healed of their maladies… No one could possibly deny the truth of the events—they simply were too well known.
The story of Jesus healing, and forgiving, the young man who was set in front of him after his friends or family removed the roof of the house he was in and lowered him down from above? Can totally relate to that now that we have been in the homes of the villagers here. With roofs made of simple wood sticks covered with grass, a person could easily remove a section of roof to gain entrance to a home.
The concept and stories of washing the feet of those who come to visit is commonplace here. With nothing but dirt roads, and most wearing sandals or flip-flops, when one comes to a home their feet are usually dirty from the walk. It is simply common courtesy to take off your shoes and/or wash your feet before entering someone’s home.
The list could go on and on. Living in a country that is still living like they might have been during the Savior’s time is enlightening.
One of the main ways young men earn money is to shine shoes. They have a universal technique they use to guide the person receiving the shine: They carry a small slanted board with them that they use to place your foot while shining. As they walk they tap the piece of wood to let you know they are near, so you can call them over. Often while walking in the city you can hear the tapping of wood as the shoe-shine boys call for customers.
After agreeing to a price (always negotiated somewhere between 250 franc—25 cents—and 1000 franc–$1), they place your foot on the small piece of wood, roll up your pants, and then reach into a small sack to get their can of shoe paste. They first clean your shoe with a rag, then, using a toothbrush, put the shoe paste on your shoe—always covering everything but the sole of the shoe with black wax. After the first shoe has paste on it they ‘tap’ the side of their wood board to signal you to switch shoes. After placing your other shoe on the board, they go through the same process. After both shoes are waxed, they then begin the shine. They start with the normal shoe brush, and then turn to a piece of foam, rather than a soft cloth, to ‘buff’ the shoe to a brilliant shine. With another ‘tap’ on the board, you switch feet again so the first shoe gets buffed. Once finished, you pay the fee and are on your way.
I get lots of shoe shines.
The simple hierarchy of wealth
There seems to be a simple hierarchy in the Congo—three tiers of wealth or status that is easily seen and understood.
At the bottom are those who live off the land, and who do manual labor. They are the poorest of the poor, with no other means of support. They either live off the land (literally gathering food each day to eat) and/or working the most menial jobs to earn just enough money to buy food for that day. These are those who haul anything and everything on their bikes—charcoal, wood, steel, car parts, etc.; or haul things by cart—dirt, bricks, garbage, etc. All done by the force of their legs and personal strength. They are the women who carry things on their heads—mostly water, but basically anything and everything, all the while carrying a baby on their back at the same time.
The second tier is those who find work in stores or shops, or have enough money and capital to set-up their own roadside stands. It is the adage that it takes money to make money: those on the lowest tier never receive enough capital to buy things to sell. If they do sell things it is stuff they made themselves, such as charcoal or fruit. But those selling shoes, clothes, and a million other odds and ends you can find on sale in roadside stands (and the roadside stand itself) all takes money to obtain—creating a second tier of those who can and do make more money and live better.
The third tier is a huge leap to the wealthy. Usually those who work for the government, have had families in the military, or have education of some kind. They own homes, drive cars, can actually eat out at restaurants, etc. It’s simple: if you drive a car in the Congo, you are rich. No one can own and drive a car here unless they are very rich.
Tithing is Consecration
I have often wondered about the difference between tithing and consecration. In the temple we covenant to consecrate all of our time, talents, etc., for the building up of the Kingdom of God. And yet, in practical terms we simply pay tithing. Will we ever be required to ‘give all that we have’? But then I remembered a scripture that seemed to bring it all into balance: The Prophet Samuel taught that to obey was better than sacrifice. So, in a way, it doesn’t matter how much or little we are required to give, what really matters is that we are willing to obey. So obeying the law of tithing is the same as consecrating all things, because it is not the amount, but the obedience that makes the difference! When I see the local members paying tithing here—sometimes just 500 francs (about 50 cents)—it is clear that it is not the amount given but the attitude of obedience that is demonstrated. It that obedience that develops in us the power of faith that will, in turn, prepare us for the Kingdom of Heaven.
I don’t remember if I have talked about how they wash floors here. Most, if not all floors here are tile. When they wash the floors they use one of two methods: either they simply dump water on the floor and then use a squeegee to move the water and dirt out the door; or they use a large rag as a mop (I have NEVER seen anyone use an actual mop here in the Congo). This is done by pouring water on the floor, or getting the rag wet, and then, bending in half, the women wash the floor with their hands and the rag. They don’t kneel and wash the floor, nor use a stick or other method to move the rag around, they literally bend over so their hands touch the floor and wash the floor by hand, while standing! It looks hard, it is hard, and must be tough on their backs! It reminds me of the women we saw in Viet Nam and Cambodia who work in the rice fields—some of them were permanently bent in half (they literally could not stand-up straight) due to the amount of time they spent bending over to plant and harvest the rice.