We just got back from what may be our last trip north. We left on Sunday morning for the airport in Lubumbashi, and with the normal assistance received by paying someone to get us through, we got on the plane with all of our luggage intact (it is always a nerve-racking experience going into the airports here—simply a mass of confusion). When we landed in Mbuji Mayi, Serge (one of the FM people who recently took over for Emanuel, who was promoted and moved to Kinshasa) was there to greet us and aide us in getting through the other end of the airport process. The airport director wanted to meet the new Mission President and get the ‘fee’ for coming to Mbuji Mayi for the first time (about $150).
They had brought two trucks so that the President could be taken immediately to begin interviewing elders while we waited for the luggage. After the luggage arrived we went to the Hotel. There are two hotels we use in Mbuji Mayi: one across the street from the District Center called the Equinox, and another that is father away, but a little better. As this was the Thomas’ first trip north we thought it appropriate to stay at the better hotels (ease them in gradually?). After checking in Terri and I went to the District Center to meet with the missionaries while they wait to be interviewed (normal for us as we always carry stuff to give out and can talk to them about any problems they are having that we can help with). I also left with Cote-foi to buy water for our trip.
The next day we left for Mwene Ditu, about a three hour drive. We had a long stop at the border getting out of Mbuji Mayi as they had some issues with our paperwork. It is very interesting: they insist on checking your passports and paying fees to get OUT of Mbuji Mayi, but never do the same coming back IN to Mbuji Mayi !?
When we arrived in MD we did the same thing: dropped the President off at the chapel to begin interviews while we went to the hotel. Again, there are two hotels in MD we use: one that is more upscale (by upscale I mean a “hotel 6” with no running water and power for only 3 hours at night…), and the other we affectionately call the ‘Turkish prison’ due to it being built out of concrete. We stayed at the better hotel this time. Again, Terri and I went back to the chapel to talk with the missionaries for a while, and I also went with the elders to see their apartments and note problems. The Bondoyo apartment has no power (we have a solar panel there that is having problems), and has a well we installed for water. The other apartment also has no electricity and uses solar panels, but has better water. We have plans to run an electrical line to this apartment soon.
That night we ate dinner with the Mbele’s, the native missionary couple who are living in MD (they stay in a small annex behind the second apartment). After dinner Terri and I went to the ‘Turkish prison’ hotel to see our good friends Jean-Pierre and Aime. They were sad we were not staying with them this time, but were happy to see us. We were all sad that this might be the last time we see each other. Their daughter had just left for a mission the same day we came (we probably passed her on the road!).
The next day we traveled to Luputa. What a difference! The road is quite smooth and we arrived in a little over an hour (the first time we traveled to Luputa it took several hours as it was just after the rainy season and the road was bad). We stayed at the church ‘hotel’—a building behind the Stake Center that has three bedrooms and was built for this purpose. The President did a few interviews and then about noon we headed for Lusuku.
After another 11/2 hour drive we came to Lusuku, perhaps the most isolated village we have missionaries serving at this time. There had been about 200 members of the church ‘discovered’ in this small village and over time (out of compassion and necessity?) it was decided to make it an official branch of the church. When that happened the mission felt obligated to send full-time missionaries there also. It took some time to find a suitable house for the missionaries, but we finally found a house, put in a solar panel (they have no power, and must carry their water from a few blocks away).
We toured the apartment and the President interviewed the Elders as we waited. Then we all went to see the ‘chapel’ used by the local members (if you can call it that…). I also met with the owner of the apartment to pay him rent (there is no bank there, and no other way to get money to him other than sending cash).
After visiting the chapel and talking to some of the church leaders, we purchased some bananas and headed back to Luputa. The President had a meeting with the Stake President that evening, and then we ate dinner. Dinner in Luputa is whatever you bring! You don’t buy food there, other than fruit, so we brought some freeze-dried food and added hot water for our evening meal.
The next day the President finished interviewing all the local missionaries. I walked with the Zone Leaders to visit all the apartments and to see a new apartment we are trying to rent (we have been negotiating for some time, as the apartment is not quite ready to be lived in). We walked through town and visited the apartments. Most of the apartments in Luputa and in good shape now. They either have solar power or power from a local hotel (which comes 3-4 hours each night), and they have a water line run into their yard (not into the house) from the local water—part of the LDS Church water project there.
While waiting to talk to the owner of the new apartment I played with some of the neighborhood children. They were playing jump-rope. I filmed them for a while, then asked to join in. They all got quite a laugh as I tried to jump-rope! Sorry, no film on that!
Just as I was finishing with the owner of the apartment, I heard Terri’s voice in the yard: they were ready to leave for Ngandajika and had come to find me! We said goodbye to the missionaries, and hello to President Binene (the Stake President who was travelling with us).
We filled the car and with people (driver, President and Sister Thomas, Terri and I, two Assistants, and President Binene) and headed to Ngandajika—a good two plus hour drive over much rougher roads than coming to Luputa. We arrived and stopped at the local chapel where the President began interviewing missionaries. We stayed a while to get to know the local members. The driver and I went to the hotel to check-in, get the keys to the rooms, and to order dinner for that evening. Then we came back to the chapel.
After the missionaries were done, and while the President met with the local church leaders, we went to see the missionary apartment, went to the hotel, and then the missionaries and I went to see a new apartment that had been found. It was great: it had two sources of water! City water that worked on and off, and a well. We will need to install a solar panel, and do some other minor things to prep it for missionaries, but it will be a good place.
That night we ate dinner at the hotel and went to bed to prep for a long ride back to Mbuji Mayi the next day. The Stake President would return to Luputa on a moto while we continued on.
The trip from Ngandajika to Mbuji Mayi (completing the circle) is a rough one! It took a good three to four hours on very rough roads. It was amazing to see how many people lived along the road—it was almost one continuous village, with few open breaks between. We finally got to Mbuji Mayi and had some time to rest before the President had a meeting with church leaders. We then ate dinner at the hotel with four guests: the President’s local mission counselor and his wife, and another member who was one of the first members and leaders in the area.
We traveled back to Lubumbashi the next day. As the flight was not until after noon, we stopped and visited a few missionary apartments. When we got to the airport, as usual, it was a madhouse. So many ‘stops’ or stations one had to move through for taxes and fees and baggage checks, etc., yet it was all in ONE ROOM! So though we stayed in one room to get everything done, there were people yelling and pushing and moving around, going back and forth from one station to the other—simple chaos! At one point, in order to get our passports back, they asked me to talk to the station chief. He gave me a receipt for the previous fees he charged President Thomas a few days before, but then wanted some money from me to get our passports back—all being very nice about the whole thing! So I gave him $20 and got our passports and we were finally able to pass through the last document checks and get into the waiting room for the plane.
We were all happy to get back to Lubumbashi…it is amazing how a short trip north can change your perspective! Lubumbashi now looks like a modern city with all the amenities, and seems like home. Where before it might have looked very poorly, after seeing the rest of the Congo, it now seems like a great place to live! Everything is relative!
This coming week is transfer week so we will all be busy moving missionaries around. Then next Friday we fly to Bujumbura for a week. Ahhh, no rest for the wicked, eh?