Sunday, February 1, 2004: Kenshasa, Congo: I awoke at 6:00 Sunday morning so I would be ready when the old yellow Trooper arrived to take me back across town. I rolled out from under my tent thankful that my new accommodations had some air conditioning. At the guesthouse where I had stayed on my previous trip to Kinshasa there had been no air conditioning and I had really struggled.
The faithful driver delivered me back to Pastor Mossi and Martin’s house next door to the Evangelical Covenant Church. Martin had prepared eggs, bread, and tea for me for breakfast. The couple had three sweet little kids ages seven, five, and two. I was the first white man that the little two-year-old girl had ever seen. She may never get over it. Mr. Ndimbo joined us as we prepared for the church services. Pastor Mossi had been a pastor for nine years. He and Martin met while singing together in a choir.
Over 300 of the faithful gathered in the small church building for the service. But, they all got their monies worth. The service lasted for over three and a half hours. I was asked to speak, but my two minutes were not what constituted that length of time. They had lots of good African, spirited clapping and swaying music, a one-hour sermon on the Lord’s Prayer, full communion, lots of announcements, and introductions and prayers. But what I considered unique was the collecting of the offering.
The deacon in charge of the offering brought out large plastic laundry baskets. Two women marched to the front of the church and each held a basket and faced the congregation. Amid hot guitar music, African drum pounding, hand clapping and group singing, the offering was gathered.
The church was easily sectioned off into groups by way of the facility’s physical layout. So each group marched to the front of the church and passed by the two ladies with the waiting laundry baskets.
The baskets were changed after each group had passed by and dropped in their offering. Those filled baskets were then rushed out and the contents counted immediately. It took quite a time for all 300 people to march by and drop in their money. But by the time the march was over and the singing of one last chorus finished, a tally had been made, disclosing how much each section had given. The offering deacon then hilariously announced, amid a lot of excited cheers, trills and hooting, which section had won the giving contest. Each basket had a total and then they added all the basket totals up. The announcement of the grand total then sparked a lot more praising and clapping and drum beating and singing. I would imagine that close to 100% of the people in the congregation had given something. And as I understood, that process would take place each week. It may have been the first time I had ever witnessed such “joyful giving.”
Following the morning service we walked back to the pastor’s house where Martin had prepared fried fish, rice, casaba roots, and boiled chard for us.
I was delivered back across town to the missionary guesthouse. Upon arriving 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.
General Joseph Kabila, the new president of Congo, passed us on the road to the airport with his entourage of motorcycles, mounted 70mm canons perched atop pickup trucks, black limos, 4x4 Suburbans, and lots of flashing lights and sirens at break-neck speeds. Just for passing by the airport, officials there would shut down the entire airport for a half hour after he passed. So we sat at the entrance and waited and watched our scheduled flight time get pushed back from 8 to 8:30 a.m.
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 source of lighting, and water was dipped from a bucket. The people were kind enough to give us mosquito nets to go over our beds. We were in a “high malaria” area.
The Belgian colonizers were greatly influenced by the Catholic Church when the Covenant Church made their request for some ground to build a medical center and church in the old Belgian Congo. The Covenant Church was given a “worthless” piece of ground almost inaccessible from any of the main roads. Over the years it had been improved to a lovely campus of rolling hills and beautiful jungle trees and flowers. The remoteness actually worked to an advantage over the years because during the many wars and atrocities in the Congo, the different armies tended to leave the compound alone because it just took too much effort to go there and burn and kill.
Tuesday, February 3
Tuesday morning I met with all the doctors and staff people of Wasolo Hospital at 7 a.m. Wasolo was an area of about 50,000 villagers, and the Wasolo Hospital had 11 different outlying health centers feeding into the main hospital. There was no water system for the area or for the hospital, but a public well was close by. The hospital, over the years, had earned a strong and positive reputation and drew from a much larger catchment area than just the main town. I discovered that throughout Congo a lot of the surgeries such as caesarean births and appendectomies were performed not by doctors but by the attending nurses. Nowhere did I see a functioning anesthesia machine. Surgeries were performed with local injection or nothing at all. Dental services at Congolese clinics or hospitals consisted only of extraction procedures. Deadening was used occasionally if available. The illnesses that most often affected the villagers were malaria, acute respiratory diseases, meningitis, diarrheal diseases, sleeping sickness, TB, HIV/AIDS, anemia, whooping cough, measles, and many varieties of intestinal parasites.
Following our tour of and assessment procedure at the hospital, the doctors and healthcare staff all met with me back at the chapel for some very informative discussions.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the MAF plane met us at the grassy runway and whisked us off over the jungle floor to bounce us into the medical zone of the Loco hospital. Once again we were met by scores of common villagers wanting to welcome us to their area.
We knew we were under time pressure because we needed to finish our work quickly so that we could utilize the final daylight to fly on to Karawa before it got dark.
As we made our way in the back end of a pickup truck to the Loco hospital from the landing strip, I really struggled with how in the world those remote jungle hospitals could even continue to exist. There were 14 health centers or rural clinics that fed into the Loco hospital, but it had been ten years without the use of even the most simple x-ray machine. They had no dental facilities, almost nothing in their surgery room. They had never known an EKG machine, a defibrillator, suction pumps, or an anesthesia machine. They were even trying to make their own sterile IV solutions out of a simple series of fabric filters.
One of the nurses told me they knew if they had not done a good enough job on filtering the IV solutions because the children would get the “jerks” while receiving them.
There was no such thing as a continual electricity supply. Patients simply waited throughout the night and a small generator was used if there was a “drastic emergency” for the operating room but the high cost of diesel fuel prohibited much use of even the small generators.
Just our “showing up” brought great encouragement and hope to the tired doctors and nurses. You could just feel the surge of excitement and enthusiasm pulse through the hospital as we walked the halls and talked to the patients, the department heads and nurses. No other groups had come alongside those remote jungle hospitals. Hardly anyone else knew them. Hardly anyone else came. The desire to help those needy people burned a hole right into me, and I could hardly wait until they received the first shipments of Project C.U.R.E. donations.
Next Week: A Candle of Hope