Friday, January 30, 2004: Kinshasa, Congo, Africa: The operative word that characterized my life with Project C.U.R.E. was “flexible.” I had been expected to change directions faster than the alternating colors on a traffic light at the busiest intersection in town.
I had returned home from Kigali, Rwanda, just in time for Christmas. I was scheduled to go right back to Africa in early January. Organizations in Angola, Congo, and Cameroon were anxious for me to perform needs assessment studies in those countries so they could start receiving donated goods from Project C.U.R.E.
I continued to travel with two valid US passports, which, admittedly, was highly unusual. But while on one trip using my first passport I would have a visa service in San Francisco or Washington, D.C., that could hand-carry my second passport to the different embassies and obtain visas from those countries where I would be traveling next. When I returned home I would simply swap passports and the process would start all over again.
The passport service company had received my one passport even before I returned from Rwanda. However, it had been held up in the Angola consulate because the application was not accompanied by a satisfactory letter of invitation into that country that. Eventually, we got the necessary paperwork and Angola placed the desired visa into my passport. But the process over the holidays had burned up a lot of days.
The week before I was to leave, the visa service company informed me that they now had Angola’s visa and only needed to walk through the process to obtain the proper visa from Congo. Previously they had procured my visa for Cameroon.
Based on their assurance that there would be no problem with the process at the Congolese embassy, and that they would retrieve the passport and immediately put it in the overnight FedEx delivery, Anna Marie and I went to our travel agency to pick up and pay for the non-refundable airline tickets for the Africa trip.
Behold, behold, a problem arose out of nowhere. As the embassy officer looked at the letter of invitation for me to visit their country he noticed that it did not match up with his country. “Are you not aware that there are two “Congo” countries and they sit side by side in Africa?” The visa service had delivered the paperwork to the offices of “Republic of the Congo” rather than what used to be “Zaire,” which is now called, “Democratic Republic of the Congo.” An easy mistake.
By the time the problem was ironed out and I was able to get my precious passport back into my eager hands, our departure dates for the airline tickets had come and gone. It was a very costly series of errors, indeed.
Within the time frame left there were not enough days to visit all three countries, so, since it had been the folks in Angola that had caused the greatest delay, we had to notify them that we would need to reschedule our visit with them in March. We agreed at that time that Project C.U.R.E. would also grant their request to assess some of their additional hospitals located in the country of Liberia.
Friday, January 30
Anna Marie took me to Denver International Airport on Friday morning where I boarded United flight #1100 to Washington, D.C. After a brief layover, I continued on United #958 overnight to Brussels arriving at 7:10 a.m. on Saturday. We had not scheduled any overnight layovers for the trip so I at once continued on from Brussels to Kinshasa, Congo, with some intermittent stops, and finally arrived at 8:40 p.m. Saturday night with ten additional hours of time change from Denver.
On the flight segment from Denver to Washington, D.C., I began to reflect back on the recent success and excitement at Project C.U.R.E. and thanked God once again for his faithfulness. I was in total awe when I realized what God had done through the simple little operation called Project C.U.R.E. in the last 17 years. We were now shipping into over 95 different countries around the world. That was a lot of countries! Project C.U.R.E. was now becoming known as the largest supplier of donated medical supplies and pieces of equipment in the world.
One thing that had helped me immensely was having Anna Marie now working side-by-side with me full time. Since she closed her school, Academy for Excellence, she had now taken the new position of coordinating all the needs assessment operations around the world.
Our recent audited financial statements showed that we had been able to run our operation worldwide and keep our overhead expenses to an incredible low amount of less than 2%. It was nothing short of a miracle! Most humanitarian organizations would burn up 60% to 85% in overhead alone, which left only a small amount that actually went to the projected needy.
Most of our people, including Anna Marie and myself, would never take a penny for salaries. It was a volunteer-driven effort and we believed we were making God smile.
As you could well imagine, it was just a privilege to be a small part of the historic miracle. Thousands of lives were being saved, and honor and glory was being brought to God.
The only thing I had not totally adjusted to in the recent process was the absence of my mom. She was fully in love with what God was doing through Project C.U.R.E. She prayed daily for my protection and for God’s blessing on Project C.U.R.E. I would barely walk in the door from a long trip and she would call just to see how everything went. She knew exactly where I was traveling all the time and prayed for me continually. She rejoiced in every good thing that happened to Project C.U.R.E.
It had been about 90 days since God had agreed that she had better come on home to heaven. Quite frankly, I missed her. I missed her prayers and I missed telling her all about the good people being helped around the world. But I did get a sense that she was in a plush box seat in the grandstands cheering us on as we continued to run our race.
Saturday, January 31
Upon arriving in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, at about 8:45 in the evening, Rev. Mossi Nzimba, the overseeing Evangelical Covenant Church pastor, met me along with one of his 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 fried plantain.
The meal tasted good and I was appreciative, but it was 11 p.m. when we were served our bananas for dessert. By 11:30 p.m. I was bumping back across Kinshasa in the beat-up van to a missionary guesthouse where I was scheduled to stay the next two nights. 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 and told me they would pick me up at 7:30 on Sunday morning. 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.
I had noticed, however, that there was a general tolerance in Africa for filth, or, rather an expectation. It wouldn’t take much with labor, as available and cheap as it was, to just wash things. Just keep things clean. If you were going to wash towels or sheets you might as well wash them clean.
The towels had at least been exposed to water; otherwise they would not have been as stiff as a board when dry. I didn’t really need a towel rack because I could just stand the towel up in the corner. However, once I put additional water to the towel it would collapse. But a towel in the Congo was definitely not a fuzzy, warm experience against which you would place your body.
If there was mold or scum in the shower it might as well have been scrubbed out. If the black piece of construction plastic was all you had for a shower door, at least wash it down with some regularity. At home I would wash and squeegee down my shower every single time I used it. It was a wonderful and simple habit to get into. Oh well, I was tired and at least I did have a drizzle of water that came out of the overhead pipe in my new Congolese guesthouse.
I crawled in under my mosquito tent about 12:30 a.m. and died.
Nest Week: Three Hour Church and Grass Runways