Sunday, April 29, 2012

Called to Serve in Many Ways


Thierry is our office assistant extraordinaire.  He is unfailingly cheerful and, when greeted each day with the question "How are you?" responds, "Stong and Powerful!!"  He & his wife have three children (the latest, a preemie "miracle baby") and this fall he will earn his Bachelor degree.  He is a brilliant man who knows everything and everyone in our mission (and nearly everyone in Kinshasa) and is a tireless worker.  He makes me look good because of all his help.  Today, he completed 3 days of escorting Elder Tad Callister, President of the Seventy, who was presiding over a Stake Conference in Brazzaville.

Here is Pascal, getting ready to take several newly arrived missionaries to their assigned locations.  
He is our "wheeler-dealer" who knows where to get anything for anyone at the cheapest price (after which he bargains and gets it even cheaper!)  His sense of humor is "British-dry" & hilarious!  
He will make a joke with a completely straight face, but then laugh helplessly himself when we laugh.
You have to be careful of what you say aloud because, if you express a need or wish, he fills it.
 He speaks low, but is often heard humming Church hymns (or something) in a falsetto voice.  He & his wife are saving so they can travel to the Johannesburg temple to be sealed 
"For Time & Eternity"
Quiet and serious and also a gentle, good man.  Aime is one of our drivers and is actually a lawyer and a legal Magistrate in Kinshasa.  To attain that position, he had to compete in a test with 1,800 other applicants for just two openings.  Since we have been here he has been diligently taking an English class, which he passed last month.  We enjoy having him come to us with questions about words or phrases he comes across, but doesn't understand (most recently, "ATM".  How would YOU like to explain that?)  He is also a member of an English Club, which recently asked him to be the President.  He felt so humble about his English that he was going to refuse, but we suggested that he pray about it that night and we would join with him in prayer. The next day, his wife (whom he calls his "best friend") persuaded him that it was a wonderful opportunity for him to bless others, as well as himself.
Our first glimpse of the beautiful Ngaba chapel.  It is located in the midst of the most squalid conditions we have yet seen in Africa, but it stands as a beacon of light to the people.  After the graduation ceremony, we were outside about to leave when Brother Draper came bounding out to the car with a big smile on his face.
A man had come in the front door and walked up to him saying, "How can I become of member of this Church?"  There just happened to be a meeting of some of the young area missionaries there that day (all of whom recognized me and either called out or came over to say "Bonjour, Sœur Smeeet!")
so, he happily took the man over & left him in their hands.

Brother Doucette, who is a retired Obstetrician, is giving Neo-Natal Resuscitation Training to this Congolese woman 
The students were doctors, nurses and midwives and were flown in from all parts of the DRC.
They, in turn, will go back and train an average of ten other people.
Dr. Draper and Dr. Ngoy discussing some of the training.
The official seal of Latter Day Saint Charities on each graduate's diploma.

It's blurry, but I just had to show the happy, proud graduates.
In a few days, a young man who is currently in the Ghana Missionary Training Center will arrive with several other new missionaries to begin his 2-year mission here.  I just heard about his story this week and when I see him, I'll ask him permission to post his picture.  He joined the Church at age 19.  He began working and saving for his mission, which means just the money for his visa & passport (about $150) since the mission expenses are paid by Church funds for most Congolese missionaries.  After six years, he finally had enough, but he had to get his papers in and approved before he turned 25, the cutoff age, which was just a couple weeks away.  To insure that they were in time, he walked to the nearest designated location to turn in his papers.  It was SEVEN miles each way!

Also this week, another young man, who is sacrificing in a different & more familiar way, will arrive in Africa. His home is in Provo, UT... right next door to my very oldest and dearest friend, Trudy Dowling,  Sadly, he will not be in the group that comes to Kinshasa but will fly straight to his assignment in Cameroon, one of the other countries that are part of our mission.  I will see if I can get his permission to post his picture after he arrives.  He and his family have saved, perhaps for years, to fund his mission.  He is leaving a comfortable life, college, family and friends.  He has just completed two months at the Provo MTC to learn a strange language so that he can come to a strange land and share the gospel for two years.  Why?  Because he knows that he has been called serve by our Heavenly Father & that the gospel will bless every individual who hears and accepts it.  What he doesn't fully understand is that the sacrifice that he is making now will be compensated a hundred- fold by the joy of seeing lives changed... and the experiences that he will have, the maturity that he attains & the faith that he gains will bless his own life as well as that of his future wife & children forever.

This was posted by our Mission President's wife and is a sobering reminder of the tragic circumstances which some people have in their lives.  It is also a testimony of the power to overcome, which the Lord gives to all who seek Him.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Called to Serve Him, Heavenly King of Glory..."

During one of our zone conferences last week we had the special experience of having a young man, who's serving as a full-time ward missionary right now, open his full-time mission call. It was a wonderful event for all of the missionaries there and for us to be his "family" for this occasion.
Yesterday we got an email from our office couple, who have known Christian well, telling his whole story. It's a tender recounting of Christian's story, so with permission from them, I'm inserting this in our blog along with pictures that I took the day he opened his call.

 A Call to Serve, The Story of Christian 
I first meet Christian on a Sunday, he introduced himself in Priest quorum as a new move-in. He was a quiet boy with a ready smile. He listened carefully in class and  offered well thought out responses. He was always  clean and neat.   Sister Hatch and I noticed him next at the weekly dance classes we were giving at the Ngaba Ward house. Again it was the same thing every week, always a smile and a happy face. Knowing that the Ngaba Ward was on the other side of the Kinshasa from his home ward, I asked him once how he was able to get to the dance class every week, and he just smiled and said "I manage."
Christian spoke fairly good English and attended every one of our Wednesday afternoon  English  classes.
Another time, the Young Men of our ward planned a service project to clean up the church house early one Saturday morning. I arrived on time and after waiting for about 15 min. I walked around the building to see if there were any young men already there. I didn't see any one so I waited  awhile longer.  As I walked around the building one more time , I noticed someone sweeping the floor in the cultural hall. It was Christian. I asked him when he arrived.   His answer was simple "At 7 o'clock as we had planned."  I found a broom and the two of us swept the building. As we worked I asked him to tell me about himself.
Christian was orphaned as a young boy in his 11th year. Both his parents were killed in the eastern Congo wars as soldiers raided his village and killed many people, including the women and children. An aunt took him in and gave him a place to sleep and eat. After a few years he was able to save and borrow enough money to pay for the transportation to move to Kinshasa. One day he was walking by the LDS church house in Ngaba when he noticed two young men in white shirts and tie's coming out of the building.  He said his heart told him to ask those two young men who they were, and if they would tell him about the church from which they had just come. He was baptised a short time later, and he has been active in the church since that day.
I asked Christian what his greatest goal was in life was and he told me he wanted to be a missionary. He stated " I have been saving my money from the day I was baptised, and I have almost 100 American dollars. I am saving everything I can." When asked  if he had a job, he said "No, but I try to find work anywhere I can, even if it's for a few hours. I have faith that if I do all I can then maybe I can be a missionary before I am to old to receive my call." His quiet voice was filled power and conviction as he told me of this goal. 
I was humbled by this young man's determination and faith. That day I made a promise to myself that I would do all I could to help Christian. It was not very long after that conversation that Christian found a job cleaning an office. One day he came to us and said that he had saved enough money to pay for his passport and visa, and that he had an appointment with his Bishop for a mission interview. He also had a full set of French scriptures given to him by a returned missionary who spent some time in Kinshasa as an intern for the state department. Christian also said " I now have 3 white shirts, 2 pair of pants, shoes, and a few ties."
Two transfers ago Christian was asked to help out the DR Congo Mission as a full-time ward missionary to fill in where there would otherwise have to be a threesome.  He gladly agreed to serve.
 As many of you know all the American senior couples were evacuated during December because of the political unrest. During this time a soldier shot into one of our missionary apartments and the bullet landed in the bed of one of our Elders. It was early in the morning and he and this companionship were up doing their appropriate studying. Because they were obedient one of our missionaries is alive today.  Christian was the companion to this elder.
Finally his call came.  Because he had no family to see him open it, he waited until Zone Conference which was held  in the Mission home for Zone Conference to open his call. He was so excited and nervous that he couldn't  even open the envelope  and asked President Jameson to open it for him.
 President did and the handed it back to Christian saying" but you must be the one who reads it." 
President Jameson asked Christian to read his whole call to remind  all the missionaries of the similar call and commitment that they had made. His missionary family looked on as he read that he  has been called to serve in the DR Congo Lumbumbashi Mission, in the southeastern part of the DRC and will report to the MTC in Ghana on March 2nd.  Christian's dream is about to come true. May we all have the faith it takes to answer the "Call to Serve" no matter where, no matter when.
 Elder Hatch

To Elder Hatch's final comment, I'd like to end this week's blog with a thought:
"If not me, WHO?  If not now, WHEN?"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Failure To Communicate


Some products are fairly easy to figure out, even if they ARE in another language.

Other products tease you with a little English, but remain "inscrutable"!

This was easy to translate, so we bought it.  Then we got ready to prepare it...
Oh, oh!  Can't figure it out!  That's OK... they also have the more directions in another language,
probably English.
THERE!  Now, let's see... 
Do you want to know how to work the evil washer/dryer combo I call "H.A.L."?
Just read the instructions below...
I KNEW I should have taken that Koran class!
For those who don't know Arabic, they also have instructions in French, German & Chinese.
A manual for the "Evil-Cousin-to-HAL" Oven.  The GB is for Great Britain, but don't be fooled.
The stilted English instructions, full of 
malapropisms, were written by a Chinese author... 
and were almost as hard to understand as the French, German and Greek that followed.
Judging from my experience with this product, "Tertmiz Bulasklar Yumusacik Elter" is Turkish for:
"Pretty aromatic pink liquid which does not actually clean anything."
Give me your best guess...What does this picture look like to you?
My guess was artichokes.  "Mais, No"!
IMPALPABLE... adj. 1. Not perceptible to the touch; intangible.  2. Difficult to perceive or grasp by the mind.'s sugar that you can't feel OR comprehend?
Take a capsule daily on a full stomach & those pesky Congo mosquitoes won't give you Malaria.
 (well, most of the time!)
The interesting tradition among the Senior Missionary Couples here is for the host or hostess to pass around the box after dinner.. lest anyone forgot to take theirs that day. 
Here we have an unusual mix... German, Norwegian, Spanish & Arabic.  
I'd need all my fingers & toes to count the total number of THOSE nationalities here.
Look at those little critters!
These are de-worming pills... and when we leave the Congo, we will have to take the medicine.
Personally, I was sorta hoping to get a tape-worm & lose some weight.
Found this on my desk at the Mission Office.  Essential equipment? 
Apparently not.
George & I really liked the name of one of the assignment areas on our Kinshasa Mission wall board.
For a fun name, "Bumbu A" just cannot compete!
Loved the look of this Knorr soup.
Thought the picture on the package looked yummy.
Liked the fun name.

Fixed it for soup & sandwich dinner this week.
Didn't notice small red pepper in upper left side.
Should have.
George decided to get this different brand of peanut butter because it was cheaper.
Well, it IS different because it's honey!
Was sooo excited last week to see "Sparkling Apple Cider" on display near checkout.  
Chilled it and pulled it out for our anniversary dinner.
Got one good sip in before George read the fine print.
Anyone want some slightly used 4.5% alcohol Sparkling Apple Cider?
The "Pièce de Résistance"...
Our first week here, President and Sister Jameson took us grocery shopping.
They helped us get used to foreign labels & products and gave us guidance on quality, brands, etc.

Guess I didn't listen carefully to the comment about a certain cut of meat being good for hamburger.
For the past two months, the butchers have looked at me strangely when I told them what I wanted.
Turns out, I've been pointing to the wrong cut of meat and we've actually been eating ground 

Filet Mignon hamburger in various dishes at least once or twice a week!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Monkey Business

Today is our 4th Anniversary.  Who would ever have guessed that we would someday serve a mission in Africa!
This area used to be a tourist attraction for people stopping at the nearby Belge train depot, presumably like us, on their way to see the Bonobos.

Elder Billings' assignment is to teach and train construction skills to help make the trainees more employable.  Naturally, he was interested in these locally made bricks.
The spring that the Church 's Humanitarian program, through the Binghams, will "capture" and cause to come out of a protected  pipe so that it can be free of dirt and germs.

Here is the hopscotch-type game that two children played at once.  They got a big kick out of Elder Billings trying his hand at it without success.  Unfortunately, I was around the corner & didn't get a picture of his good-natured attempt.
The mounds of sand have been brought by hand from the river below because the river has washed the sand clean.  They are piled to a certain height, after which the pail-packed "top" shows they are ready to be used for cement.
Just one of the areas of very neat and tidy gardens we observed.  The thatched cover was for the eggplants.
This was the first & only rock-crushing operation we have seen with machines.  You often see individuals crushing  rocks by hand.
A pile of locally made bricks ready for pick up.
Our first view of the Bonobo Primate Preserve and our first foray into REAL jungle.
Approaching the pavilion where guided tours were offered... in French! 
I loved the very tall and beautiful bamboos.
Our initial glimpse of some Bonobo babies in a special area.  You can barely see one baby in the middle way back.  After a long walk to the separate area where the adults are, we ended up where these people are standing.

A "small" termite hill.
It's blurry, but essentially explains how close the Bonobos were to extinction before they were shipped to this preserve.
Just a regular cat... but a rare sight!  Congolese don't keep house pets.
The same thick, waxy and very beautiful flowers I'd bought just a couple days before.  Before I bought them from the vendor, I actually had to touch to verify they were real.
Information on the eating habits of the Bonobo.
For those who are particularly interested in animals, I made this larger so it could be read

And a final bit of information.
More of the beautiful jungle scenes.
The sign SAYS Bonobo Beach... but, as beautiful as this scene is, I wouldn't want to swim in that murky water.

 And here comes the Army... ants that is.
They marched along in amazingly disciplined formation.
Does anyone else share my love for this beauty.
Every step seemed to present a new view that captured my attention.
Perhaps the best shot of all... Sister Bingham is discussing something with Elder Smith because Sister Smith has been lagging behind taking pictures every few seconds.
THIS termite hill made the other one look like nothing... It is taller than 6'4" Elder Bingham.
An abandoned, broken down Belge machine now covered with vines.
This was a VERY common sight on this trip... women carrying baskets FULL of chickens.  They were alive, but barely.
I took this picture of boys playing in and above the river just as George told me that at least some of them were naked as jay-birds... which leads me to ask, "Just how naked IS a jay-bird?  And why does it matter?"
As always, using resources at hand to provide the shade for these crops.
Another rare sight... a dog!  Rare to see them because they ARE sometimes eaten.
Over-exposed, but another example of the half- dead chickens.  We weren't sure if they were taking them somewhere to sell, presumably to people who were planning to kill and eat them right away anyway.
We always marvel at the size and weight of things people put on their heads.
Here's that narrow-gauge railway near the old Belge depot.
Looking over the hills can be quite a pretty scene.  But, those are not nice houses & mansions on the hill. 
Just scenic.
A very large truck approached us further down this narrow road with ditches on each side.  Sometimes, I would "front seat drive", but was usually only able to utter mono-syllabic words in quick staccato rhythm... "Large hole! Large hole!" 
Terraced gardening.
Sometimes you see things like this out in the middle of nowhere.  Who knows how old this Belge structure is.
The road runs right along these trenches on either side.  They are deep and you don't want to be pushed off the  narrow road by someone coming at you too close.
This is the mansion of "The President''s Brother" cited in a previous posting.
The entrance to the home of the current President's father, who was  assassinated there.  Every year, on that anniversary, it is opened to the public for a tour.  We plan to go next February.
We passed two or three chapels on the trip... neat and nice-looking.
Sister Bingham had a very nice designer purse she had purchased here.  Maybe  I'll try it someday.
Most people don't have electricity in their homes, but they may have a cell-phone.  Charging phones in places like this or even roadside stands is a very popular business in the Congo.
Another LDS chapel we passed.
A better view of the trenches that scare me to death when we are trying to squeeze through narrow traffic jams.
The owner of the bakery.
After I'd taken one picture, he motioned that he wanted me to take one of him proudly holding the bread.  It comes out with a dense texture and white-wheat looking color.  We think it is made with cassava flour.
You can see some of the village people who were already waiting to buy bread when we arrived.  Our group ordered several dozen, but rejected the owner's repeated offer to give us ours first.  We hung around to take some pictures and then did some trekking while the bread was baking.
The young man is putting some rolls into the multi-layered oven.  It is tremendously hot even as far back as we were. 
Several minutes after we left the bakery, Sister Bingham pointed to a fence along the highway & said, "Do you  see anything familiar about that fence?"  I did!  Portions of that large-scale corrugated fence had apparently been confiscated to serve as baking pans for the bakery.
This young man never stopped working, but it seems as if his friend had time to chat.
He's cutting a slice at the top of each roll.  Also, part of his job was to open the oven door & throw water inside periodically.  We are not sure if that was to control the heat or provide steam for moisture or what?
I think this was our group's order.  George & I were having 13 for dinner the following night, so we bought  2 dozen and froze what we didn't use.
We were standing far back from this burning log and this pile of hot embers and still felt uncomfortable.
But, imagine how HE felt stoking that fire in the oven with bare legs and flip flops.

If you look VERY carefully,, you can see several little chicks who would run in quickly after mama hen scratched in the dirt.  It was fun to watch.
You have to use your imagination on this one.  George smiled at this shy little girl as her siblings tried to get her to come out toward us.  She strongly resisted their efforts.  But George's charm won her over and she slowly came to him.

Look at how clean and neat this garden is.

Almost mathematical precision in the rows.
Everything was coming up and the garden was thriving.
What gardener wouldn't take pride in this layout?
This is the source of the spring which will be "captured" to provide a better, cleaner water for the villagers.
George took this picture because he thought that this car was carrying Vermont plates. It wasn't.
We were told that this is the equivalent of a "Starter Home" for a family in the Congo.  It consists of corrugated tin sides and a roof held down by bricks.

We hiked up a steep, rain-gutted path to reach this old Catholic school where the Church has begun a latrine project. The chalkboard is ancient, but better than the black paint on concrete which we saw at the orphanage.
Again, everything in this school was incredibly old, but it was neat and organized.
Though our group got there well ahead of the  guided tour group, thick jungle (out of the picture to the right) and an electrified fence with the French word for "Enclosure" let us know we had arrived.  I tried making "monkey sounds" to lure the bonobos out of the jungle, but had no luck.  Then the guides arrived and THEIR calls brought instant, very loud "replies" from the dense brush & trees. Suddenly, you began to see some of the Bonobos swinging through and down from the tops of the very high trees and then, in an instant, they had run from the jungle and were within inches of us on the other side of that fence.
These two sat casually eating the food that the guides had tossed over for them, with the one on the right looking much like a wizened old man in "The Thinker" position much of the time.  As George snapped this picture, I had just received a phone call (amazing that the coverage reached this far-out place) and had turned off my camera, when the younger Bonobo apparently infringed on the older, dominant one's "personal space".  The latter LEAPED up and began loudly attacking and chasing the former, who was spry and quick enough to escape into the bushes.  Later, they came back and resumed their original positions as if nothing had happened.

Shortly after we left this area, the young adult Congolese, who were laughing and taking pictures of themselves up next to the fence with the Bonobos in the background, apparently had quite a scare from a "close encounter".  We suddenly heard frantic screams and turned to see several young women scrambling (scared, but laughing) as they ran in our direction..      

He doesn't have his chin in his hand so my camera didn't quite capture this guy in his "The Thinker" pose, but it is on video.

These two young Bonobos were just like little children who like to be held and cuddled.

This guy was definitely a little more independent and quite a prankster.  More than once, he positioned himself  inside & at the edge of the pool, then purposely splashed all of us...afterward giving us a "Now, what are you gonna do about it?" look.

Another LDS chapel.  They are always well-built and maintained, so they stand out in the surroundings as a great example.  One prominent business man came to our Mission Office recently and said it was because he had observed so many of our chapels being built in the last ten years in the Kinshasa area and saw how nice they were.  He said, "I think that God is orderly and clean and therefore I think your Church is of God."