Congo, Sunday September 6

The Drama.

We go to Nouvelle Alliance Mennonite, as they say here, “to pray” (as in, they don’t ask “where do you go to church,” they ask “where do you go to pray?”)

The singing is robust. Robert knows that we will be on a tight schedule to get to pick up my bags from Brussels Airlines by 3 PM, so as he calls group after group to come up and sing, he tells them, hurry hurry you have two minutes.

The young men

The children

The young women

and so forth, everyone has a sort of impromptu choir. Each group leads a song. There is a great deal of clapping and dancing. I mean you would love the energy. I think even my atheist friends would love the energy, dancing and clapping. This group knows how to rejoice. Life is good for a few hours under the shade of a tarp in a rented courtyard.

The leader pushes his people. If they don’t say AMEN loud enough, he exclaims ALLELUIA again. We are giving it UP.

We are in a neighborhood, the houses packed in tight, courtyards ramble here and there. Robert came to pick us up around 10 AM, with a van borrowed from a pastor friend and driven by the pastor’s son. We get to the service around 11, Robert is the man who planted this little congregation in this part of the city two years ago. it is a really BIG DEAL for him that we are visiting. Robert is not ordained, so while he leads the service for the most part, there is also a pastor complete with suit and collar. Now, about 100 people are packed in here, and our van is parked on the soccer field.

The singing lasts at least an hour. Then Charles is asked to speak, and he preaches in French with a Lingala translator. He talks for 45 minutes. Jeanette and I are asked to speak. Jeanette takes about two minutes, I take maybe five. We encourage the little congregation without their own building.

We MUST stay for food. There really isn’t a choice. We walk down a ways, not far. Robert’s wife was not at church because she was preparing our meal. Oh my. Here we go again, fufu AND rice AND plantain (essentially three starches) and spicy beans and greens and grilled fish and the ubiquitous hot pepper paste which people call “L’ami de Charles” or Charles’ Friend. And a huge bottle of water, 1.5 litres of Canadian Pure. (Charles eats a tablespoon of the hot stuff, I eat a tenth of what he does.) It’s all really good. Yes, the head is on the fish. Why would it not be? I do not look my fish in the eye, I focus on removing his filet from his ribs. He doesn’t need it any more.

We are in more of a hurry than anyone wants. It would be best if we could stay after the meal for at least an hour if not two. But I am wolfing down my food as fast as I can at 2 PM. We will need to get to the Brussels Airline’s baggage depot by 3 or I don’t get my suitcase. Tomorrow we don’t have time to go down there, and it’s pretty well along the way home anyway. We excuse ourselves almost too rapidly and head for the van.

The soccer players have busted out the rear window on the passenger side. Robert goes to try to find someone to pay for the damages, but the soccer teams disappear quickly when they realize he wants someone to take responsibility. Robert told the driver and van owner’s son that parking on the soccer field was a bad idea. Robert’s three year old boy Obed climbs in the back with me. I have been teaching him to give me five. He wants to ride along. An older sister comes and says you cannot go. I ask him if he wants to get out by the window or the door (since the window is now busted this is a legitimate option.) Robert does his best to find someone who will pay, but there really isn’t much hope for that. It looks as though Robert is going to be the fall guy, because everyone else, including the driver, seems to be passing the buck. I wonder if there is a hope that we will bail them out but part of what we hope to exude is the coaching value of people taking responsibility for their own lives. If we shell out bucks for the window, we’re reinforcing an old assumption that the whites will pay for any problems.

We get to the baggage claim with 18 minutes to spare before closing. But there is no line, and my bags are there, intact. We are in and out in two minutes and back to the Guesthouse by 3 PM. Along the way we see an SUV that has just been drilled in the highway. As we ease past, forty people lift the SUV manually back on it’s wheels. (This is where in the USA the EMTs and firemen would say “don’t move the driver” but they just pick it up and heave it over so they can drive away.) We don’t see much but Robert says the driver of the SUV which flipped was a white woman. Not a situation I want to be in here! We could see that the side airbag deployed so hopefully all is well.

I take a nap and a walk in the garden out back before supper to shoot photos and enjoy the quiet at dusk, and find a few fallen mangoes which prove to be ripe and delicious.

I talk to my wife and kids in late evening. My oldest son tells me that I don’t go on adventures, I just go on these trips where I primarily just talk to people (or, listen to them) and I can’t disagree with that; this isn’t tourism in the shoot-the-rapids-and-climb-the-mountain sort of way. But there’s always plenty of drama. I’ll get some photos up on the blog soon. There are photos already on my Facebook page as others post them.


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The author lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife and four children. He is self-employed as a leadership coach working with business executives, writers and other artists, and spiritual leaders. His clients enjoy business growth, increased vision and purpose, work/family lifestyle balance, and freedom from writer’s block.

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