Jungle Pilots & Water From a Rusty Bucket

Note: Democratic Republic of Congo may well be one of the most difficult and dangerous venues in all of Africa. Torn by decades of war and want, it’s culture struggles to manage it’s deficiencies. It seems like my Congo assessment trips were always edgy and perilous, but the result of Project C.U.R.E.’s work in Congo has always been spectacular.


Congo: Saturday, January 31, 2004

My flight from Brussels jostled over the rutty tarmac and came to a lurching halt at the terminal gate. I had arrived in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. It was about 8:45 in the evening, Rev. Mossi Nzimba, the overseeing Evangelical Covenant Church pastor, met me along with one of his faithful churchmen, Mr. Sido Ndimbo. Mr. Ndimbo would interpret from French to English for me. We loaded into a dilapidated yellow Trooper and the official church driver worked his way across the city to the Kasa Vubu district of Kinshasa. Pastor Mossi’s wife, “Martin,” was waiting on us for dinner. She had prepared whole-fried fish, casaba, boiled eggs, and some chicken pieces for us, along with a generous helping of fried plantain. 

By 11:30 p.m. I was bumping back across Kinshasa in the beat-up van to an old, neglected missionary guesthouse. The place was dark when I arrived but the little African guard opened the gates and let us in. My hosts sort of handed me my bags. I asked if I was to take breakfast at the guesthouse in the morning, but they didn’t know. I asked if I would be returning to the guesthouse after I had traveled to the hospitals in Congo’s northern country and they didn’t know. 

Through the dark hallway I was shown to my cot. Fortunate for me it did have a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling over the cot. I can’t express how tired I was having traveled straight through from Denver to Washington, D.C., to Brussels and on to Congo without lying down. I didn’t even have enough energy to think about my nice bed at home in cool Colorado. 

Sunday, February 1

On Sunday I was met by two young Caucasian men who told me they were from Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF). They were there to check if there really was a Dr. Jackson who would be going with them Monday morning in their airplane to the hospitals in Loco, Wasolo, Karawa, and Gemena in the northern part of Congo. They also asked me to show them how much luggage I would be taking with me. However much space I didn’t take up in the plane they would fill with cargo to deliver to the north. 

The MAF personnel coming to my door certainly gave me the assurance that there was a plan for me for the next four days. I told them that I had flown with MAF over the years in other parts of the world: Brazil, Zimbabwe, and even in Congo the last time I was there. 

I was sort of waiting for the ugly yellow van to come and pick me up for a bite of food when dinnertime rolled around. But dinnertime came and went and about 9:25 p.m. Pastor Mossi and his family came by to talk about my trip to the north and then said they thought it was too late to take me to dinner. For such a time as that I was glad I had a granola bar in my bag. 

Monday, February 2

At 4:45 a.m., I moved the mosquito tent off me and went down the hallway to share the bathroom with a legion of cockroaches and spiders. 

At 6 a.m., a white van arrived with two MAF pilots. After a brief stop at their headquarters building we honked our way through the Kinshasa morning traffic zoo to the municipal airport. Even though I was flying with a private carrier, I nonetheless had to go into the terminal and proceed through passport control and all the security functions. 

Sam and Rod would be my pilots for the next four days. Sam was from Sweden and Rod originally was from America. They had both joined MAF as flight missionaries and had been assigned to Congo. MAF provided a most valuable service to the missionary communities throughout developing countries by enabling them to fly to points within a country otherwise unreachable due to inaccessibility or time restraints.

There was no place to get any breakfast Monday morning, and my stomach growled a reminder to me that we hadn’t had dinner the night before either. 

MAF kept three of their airplanes at the main airport at Kinshasa. The plane we would be using was a single-engine Cessna 206 with five seats and some luggage space, a capable little plane to be getting out of valleys in the heart of the Congolese jungle on mud and grass runways. 

Our flight path took us north and a bit east. We flew for about an hour and a half, and then landed to refuel in the small village, Suliaim, where MAF kept a spare airplane. Our next leg of flight took us on north for nearly four hours to the old insurgency city of Gemena where we took on an extra passenger, Rev. Luyada, the president of the Covenant Church of Congo. 

Another takeoff and another nearly one-hour flight took us to the landing strip of Karawa, a Congo town of about 350,000 people. Keith Gustafson, our main Covenant Church contact in the north and the medical director for the whole Wasolo medical zone, and Mbena Renze joined us on our little plane as we once again took off and flew to the town of Wasolo. There, scores of village people came to meet our airplane on the dirt and grass runway another hour and a half later.

It had been a full day with over seven hours of flight time to get us from Kinshasa to Wasolo in our small Cessna craft. It was getting dark as we walked from the landing strip to the compound where we would be staying. Since there was no regular electricity there we decided to eat first and then hold our introductory meeting with the medical and church leaders outside around the lanterns. 

Keith Gustafson and I shared a small room together. Candlelight was our only source of lighting, and water for washing was dipped from a rusty bucket. That bucket was also the only source of water for drinking. I dipped and poured the water through my nifty portable REI purifier for drinking. The people were kind enough to give us mosquito nets to go over our beds. We were in a “high malaria” area. High risk balanced by zero comfort . . . I must be in Congo. 

Next Week: A Burning Desire to Help

© Dr. James W. Jackson

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