The Trip to Luputa/Lusuku
Our most recent trip to the far reaches of the mission was an interesting one. We took with us two men from Church headquarters in charge of building new chapels here in Africa. We have been attempting to change some of the ways and means that the church builds buildings here for some time, and having men come to see for themselves was both helpful and enlightening.
We first traveled to Mbuji Mayi by plane. Every trip to a Congo airport is a new experience. It is hard to describe the chaos that one experiences upon arrival at any of their airports…it sometimes reminds me of the pictures of emergency evacuations of countries, like when the US pulled out of Viet Nam, where hundreds of people are pressing forward in an attempt to get on the last flights out of the country—only they do it here every day. There are no such things a lines, or waiting one’s turn, or common courtesy or helping others…just a mass of people and luggage pushing forwards to be the first to get through the system and onto the plane. We always hire locals to aid us to ‘get through’ the airport—men who aid us in getting our luggage through and tagged, get our ‘GO’ passes and taxes, and move us through the maze of people and stations to get to the point of actually getting on the plane. We have often joked that they create the chaos just so that people will have jobs guiding other people through it!
Once in Mbuji Mayi Terri and I went to the District Center while the President and the two guests went to look at buildings. Terri taught a class on stress management (part of the training of missionaries to adjust to mission life), while I talked to missionaries about apartments and materials we had brought for them.
Some pics of our voyage from Mbuji Mayi to Mwene Ditu:
Tshitenge and Mwene Ditu
The next day we drove to Mwene Ditu. We took two cars as there was 11 people going, along with baggage and lots of boxes for the missionaries in Mwene Ditu and Luputa. One driver, Emanuel (the FM rep from Mbuji Mayi), Pres McMullin, and our two guests from South Africa were in one truck—with all the baggage in the back; while a second driver, another FM rep who llived in Mwene Ditu, Cote-foi, Terri and I, and the APs in the second vehicle.
On the way we stopped at Tshitenge Branch—one of the smallest and most isolated branches of the church here in the Congo. The story is a powerful one. A family is converted but living in an isolated area. They convert many people and need a place to worship, so the father and mother give up their large family home for use as a church and move into a small two-room home next door. In spite of the sacrifice, the home cannot hold all the converts (now almost 200!), so they hold larger classes and sacrament meeting outside under bamboo groves. It is a rustic and idyllic setting—when it is good weather…but in bad weather it becomes problematic as there is not enough cover for the members.
Terri and I with the local children in Tshitenge
The visiting leaders from South Africa and Kinshasa talking to the Branch President about options for upgrading the building here.
This is the Tshitenge Branch building. It is meant to house about 200 members of the Church that faithfully come each Sunday. Due to lack of space, many meetings are held outside.
Terri standing in the ‘sacred grove’ where they hold sacrament meeting. We have named it the sacred grove because of the overpowering spirit that one feels when coming here. There is a peacefulness and sanctity that is unique to only one other place I have been…
Another view of the grove of bamboo that is used to hold classes and sacrament meetings outside, as there is not room enough in the building to house all the members.
This is one of the rooms used for a classroom and Relief Society
When we arrived to see the building there was a morning seminary class being held.
The large home of the Branch President that is used for the LDS church building in Tshitenge
The road leading into the Branch President’s property, and the small Tshitenge Branch
This is the small home the Branch President and his family moved into after ‘giving’ his large home to be used as the local LDS church.
Here is a group shot of the Branch leadership the guys from South Africa and Kinshasa, and President McMullin in front of the Tshitenge Branch building
As we met as a group with the Branch President to aid the church in understanding their needs (both immediate and long-term), the spirit was very strong and we were all impressed by the consecrated lives they live.
As we continued our drive to Mwene Ditu, and during subsequent times during the trip, we had a great conversation around the question “What is the Church?” What do members need to be officially part of the church? Do they need a building? Do groups of saints need all the auxiliaries of the church (such as priesthood meeting, relief society, primary, YM, YW, etc.)? If they don’t need all those things, why do we continue to spend millions of dollars trying to provide it to them? And if they do need those things, how do we provide them to all the small groups of saints scattered abroad? It is, and has been, a great mental and spiritual exercise for all of us as we try to preach the gospel and expand the church in these remote lands.
When Terri and I lived on the tiny island of Tinian we followed the Family Guidebook, Chapter 6: Holding Worship Services at Home (For Families in Isolated Areas):
1. You get authorization to hold sacrament at home.
2. You have an opening song and prayer.
3. A priesthood holder administers the sacrament
4. You have one or more of the following: testimonies, scripture reading, or a lesson.
5. Closing hymn and prayer.
The family submits no report, but is in contact with a designated Church leader.
Terri and I did all of those things for two years while living on Tinian. Is there any reason everyone in the world could not do the same thing? Simply stay home with your own family, teach your own family, have sacrament with your own family, etc., rather than gathering as much larger groups? With our modern means of communication, we can receive everything—all instructions and directions from the Brethren—directly to our individual families without ever having to travel to meet as a group.
Do not dismiss the idea lightly! From the time of Adam until the time of Ezra there were no “meeting houses” as we know them. The Ten Commandments told Israel to worship God on the Sabbath, but never directed them to go to a building to do it! It wasn’t until Ezra developed a system to teach the Israelites the gospel that synagogues were created and used. And the Church in the time of Christ simply followed that example, but on Sundays. When Joseph Smith began the restored church, he did not build a single meeting house for Sunday worship! Not one! They built temples, but rarely held regular, weekly, sacrament meetings. And even when Brigham Young began to build meeting houses for worship, they were simple and were used just for sacrament meetings—all of the auxiliary meetings we have come to know were added-on in later years.
It is entirely possible that in our day and time, with modern communication available to each home, that the church will change—it will return to a much simpler time and format. Church will be in and about home and family. This will fix most problems the church is now facing: how to teach and reach the millions of people around the world that cannot ‘come to church’ due to living conditions; and the simple impossibility of building meeting houses for tens of millions of members of the church. The church does not, and will not have the money to continue to build chapels to accommodate every new member. Returning to a home-based church fixes all the problems. You no longer must teach from “centers of strength” and wait for the church to grow—it can grow as fast as people are willing to hear and accept the gospel, since all instruction can come directly to the home through modern communications. You also do not need to slow or hamper the growth of the church in areas because of building issues: you no longer have to build meeting houses—they simply meet in their own homes. The only buildings being built (just like in the days of the patriarchs and Moses) are temples.
Once we arrived in mwene Ditu we stayed at a local hotel, then, after our days work was done, went to dinner at our good friends and members of the church: jean-Piere’s family (we usually stay in their hotel, but they were full and we had too many people with us—eleven I think!). I had time to check both apartments, and found a new apartment to rent for future missionaries there. Terri taught her class on stress, and the President and our two guests traveled to see the local LDS buildings. After dinner Terri got out her computer and showed a movie to all the children: Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Terri teaching a class on how to handle stress on your mission… in French!… to the missionaries in Mwene Ditu
Return missionaries filling out forms to become eligible to do work for the Church. We have a lot of small work that needs to be done around the mission: finding and fixing apartments, solar and water projects, maintenance, etc. We try to use return missionaries whenever possible to do this work.
The new well we installed at a missionary apartment in Mwene Ditu. Up until now they have had to purchase and haul water every day for their use. Now they have all the water they need in their front yard.
Dinner with the drivers and missionaries in our favorite Mwene Ditu hotel
Terri set-up her laptop computer to show a movie to the children (although many adults watched too!)
Luputa and Lusuku
The next day we traveled to Luputa. The road was in pretty good condition, and I worried our guests would not have the full ‘experience’ of normal Congo travel, but just before entering Luputa the road got very bad (got stuck once, and thought one car was going to be buried for good!), so they got all they would want to experience!
Elder Itayesa, one of the Assistants, posing in front of our super highway
In spite of our best efforts, we did get stuck once and had to use the other vehicle to get out of the hole. I’m not sure what you do when driving this road alone!
Since we made good time, the President wanted to push through and drive to Lusuku that day. It is about a 1 ½ hour drive each way, and enters even further into the wilds of the Congo. We were traveling there for two reasons: I had arranged to rent a home there for missionaries (the town will soon have a small branch created so we wanted missionaries there to aid the branch), and our guests wanted to see for themselves where the members in such wilderness areas met. Wow!
The leaders talking to local church members about their needs
Typical homes in the small village of Lusuku
This is the back of the small building that is used for a church by members in Lusuku
This is the front of the building
our group standing in front of the soon-to-be missionary apartment in Lusuku. Lusuku was just made an official branch of the Church. Following up on this event, we are sending full-time missionaries to the small village to continue to work there (this was one of the few homes available to place missionaries here). They get their water, like everyone else in town, at one of the many water stations along the main road. These water stations, like those in Luputa, were part of the large water project installed by the LDS church here several years ago.
The very small apartment for the missionaries was a good one. It still needed some work (it had no toilet or shower…), but it was moving along. I met a local carpenter and made arrangements for furniture to be made for the apartments. We are hoping the missionaries can move into the house in about 3 weeks.
A better view of the new missionary apartment. Just newly cleaned and painted
A typical room inside the apartment (there are four small rooms).
The church leaders looking at the conditions of the building the members use for a church
This is a view of the front of the building. Keep in mind when viewing these pictures that there are almost 200 members in this small village that use this as a meeting house each week. Those who don’t fit inside must sit or stand outside the building and hope to hear what is going on.
The main room where sacrament meeting is held.
A second, smaller room where other classes are held
The back of the building (looks better than the front!)
The meeting house was another thing. It was a sorry looking building—but one of the few available for them to meet in. We later found out that the members actually meet in three separate buildings (as one simply won’t fit them all). They had something like 80 to 90 members meeting in a small 10×12 room, many sitting outside with the doors and windows open so they can hear. Once again it became a spiritual experience for all of us as we pondered how to care for all of these new members.
It is not a simple matter. In the states, or first-world countries, you just hire someone to build a building and pay them. Here, there are no roads, or the roads are almost impassable (except for four-wheel drive trucks). Even if you could get material here to build a building, no one has the expertise to do the work. They have poor water and NO electricity. So we continue to return to the question at hand: What is the Church? What does it look like? What does a group of member need to function? The problem needs to be solved, and soon, as the Church continues to expand in Africa, India, and Asia the problems are simply going to get worse, not easier.
We returned to Luputa just before dark, and continued our discussions while we ate food we had brought with us (there is no place to buy prepared food or water in Luputa, so you have to bring your own).
The next day I spent looking at apartments, fixing broken water pumps, etc., while Terri taught her classes, and the others went off to see the local LDS buildings. Our two guests left early the next morning for Ngandajika and Mbui Mayi, while Terri and I and the President stayed another day. Terri and I had a relaxing day while the president held Zone Conference.
Thieves get caught!
Two interesting events: while the President was sitting outside working one of the children stole his water bottle. Though it was not worth much, he wanted to teach them a lesson about stealing. After asking the other children who stole his bottle of water, and getting no response, he offered them a bribe: if they helped him find the culprit, he would give them some peanuts to eat. Sure enough, they quickly gave-up the child! Soon the president and a gaggle of children were walking to a near-by house to confront the child. I’m sure it must have seemed intimidating: a large white man with half the kids in town standing in front of your house, demanding you come out and face the music! Eventually the older brother came out, asked what was wrong, and quickly retrieved the water bottle.
Once back at the church the president fulfilled his side of the bargain and opened up several bags of peanuts to share with the children. What a zoo that was! All the children trying to get their fair share of the reward, while the president was attempting to keep some control over the chaos.
The next day during Zone Conference Terri also had something stolen, which caused the whole town to be in an uproar!
Terri had brought with her a small battery powered modem/internet link (about the size of a cell phone), so we could use the internet in Luputa. She was working on updating her medical records and placed the modem in the window (which had a screen) to be able to connect. We didn’t think much about it as the window had a screen and was next to a very busy area of the Stake Center property.
However, at some point during the day, with Zone Conference going on and lots of kids running back and forth, the modem was stolen. Someone had cut the screen on the window and reached in and taken the small modem.
After President MucMullin’s experience, we thought we had a chance to get the modem back, so we asked the children who had stolen the ‘phone’ and spread the word with our drivers and other leaders of the stake, who in turn spread the word in the village.
About 45 minutes later a large crowd of people came walking up to the Stake Center with a young man in hand (the ‘police chief’ had him by the back of the pants, dragging/pushing him along). The ‘police chief’ was not an official policeman, but some kind of citizen police, who had an ID that said “Police Chief”, but it was clear that the actual police had more authority than he had, as they all gave him difference when he arrived a few minutes later. The young man was about 12 or 14 years old, and was quite nervous, but had no remorse for his actions. They gave us back the modem, but we soon discovered that the battery had been removed. After a few minutes of back and forth between the youth and several of the men, the entire group headed out through the back of the Stake grounds (with all the children and others following). A few minutes later they all came back, with the battery in hand. The young man had removed the battery and hidden it, and was forcefully aided in retrieving it.
With all things back, and the modem working, the next phase of the process began. First, what kind of award was to be offered. I knew that money had to change hands, but after asking our driver Cote-foi and the Assistants fo the President, they told me to stay out of it and they would take care of it.
After a very long discussing and debate, the police officer in charge (who, didn’t really do anything, but would be taking the youth to jail later) was given 500 francs (about 50 cents). The ‘police chief’ was not given any money, but handed several copies of the Liahona. He also asked for a copy of the Book of Mormon, which we gladly gave him. He went away happy.
The thief (the picture was taken earlier in the day)
The civilian police chief who captured the thief holding up the item that was stolen.
Here he is being rewarded for his good work: receiving copies of the Liahona and a French Book of Mormon.
We did not find out until later what happened to the young man. We were told that he spent the day in the local jail. I don’t know where the jail was, or what it was like, but it couldn’t have been pleasant.
The children of the village were having quite a busy and exciting day. They had watched President McMullin track down one thief, and the police track down a second thief. Now there was a crowd of people aiding a crazy woman down the street and presumably back to her home (they were not going in the direction of the hospital). They came from the direction of the Evangelical Church that had been having a rousing service just a short time before. The woman was talking and praising and yelling, and falling down. The people were half holding her up and half dragging her along to…well, to wherever they were heading off to—followed by 50 or 60 children that were being entertained by the whole show.
President McMullin decided to drive to Ngandajika to spend Sunday there. The two branches were soon to split into four, and perhaps be changed from wards to a separate district. The road there from either Luputa or Mbuji Mayi was so difficult, it would be better for the area to be separate and distinct, so the leaders did not have to travel there.
So, after Zone Conference ended, though late in the day (we ate dinner after Zone Conference before leaving), we headed out over rough roads to Nganajika. This time we had 8 people in our truck (driver, Pres, Terri and I, the two Aps, the Stake President, and Cote-foi—plus all of our luggage! It was crowded, and a bumpy and rough road. It took 3 hours to arrive at our hotel, and we arrived just after dark.
The next day, after breakfast, we attended church. Terri and I attended the first session (President McMullin and the Stake President would stay for both meetings), but then left with two Elders to see their apartment. It was a great apartment, and to my surprise, had a well (that they did not use, as the water they received from the city was pretty good). After reviewing the apartment, we returned to church and waited for the next set of meetings to finish, at which time we left for Mbuji Mayi.
The next leg to Mbuji Mayi was much longer than we remembered (we had taken this route just once before, just after arriving in Africa) and took about four hours of rough roads. We now had 7 people with us, as the Stake President would be returning to Luputa. We arrived just before dark, ordered supper and went to our rooms.
There was a terrific explosion in Mbuji Mayi just the day before we arrived. An ammunition depot blew up and killed (well, the reports are disputed)… lets say a LOT of people. One of our missionary couples had a piece of iron come down through their home and hit their bed–they were not in the room at the time or they would have been killed. The reports say it was due to a lightning strike…
The next day was a down day for all of us since we did not have a flight back to Lubumbashi until Tuesday. The missionaries brought over some broken water pumps, which I spent the time fixing (I was able to fix four pumps during the trip), the rest I would take back to Lubumbashi to fix. Terri continued to work on updating her medical records, and President McMullin worked on mission business.
The next day was strange. You see, one never knows when, or if, airplanes will fly in the Congo. They often change at a moments notice. So even though our flight was not scheduled until 2:30 in the afternoon, we were asked to be at the airport at 7:30 am…because it was possible the flight might arrive and leave at 9am! So we got up early and went to the airport, checked-in and gave them our baggage. Then we waited. After discovering that they would not be leaving at nine, the President and I traveled to see a new apartment we were going to rent. We got back to the airport and waited until the plane arrived—on time.