Dreaming in the Rain

A “carter” selling potable water in a Kinshasa neighborhood. Radio Okapi/Ph. John Bompengo

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Mt 5:43-45 (NRSV translation)

It rained all night. Sheets of rain coming down at 3 in the morning. In the morning, the rain gauge registered 5 inches at our place. Cars were submerged at the Toyota dealer where we take our cars for servicing. The normally peaceful, lovely Indian Creek where the mill stood for one hundred years burst its banks.

Like a magic carpet, the downpour transported me to the tropical rain forest and through the night I dreamed of Congo. One story after another. The one that stayed with me concerned a missionary who during the unrest following independence had told his family’s “houseboy” he had started a fund for educating the man’s children. Soon after the conversation, the missionary returned to the U.S. and lost contact with the family’s cook and housekeeper. Two or three decades later, he learned that leaders of the Church in Congo wanted to connect with him. What had happened to the fund he had created for his “houseboy” they wanted to know?

The former employee, now at the advanced age for Congo of 60, had been asking for a way to contact the missionary. Every morning he appeared at the entrance to the Church headquarters wanting to know if they had heard from him yet. It was urgent because the man’s wife needed to have an operation and their only hope to pay for it was the fund the missionary had talked about creating.

Whether going to a poor nation as an aid worker, a “missionary” or a tourist, we travelers from the north are advised these days not to make promises we cannot or do not intend to keep. On recalling the story, after the rain, that counsel came to mind and so did my learning from experience and from study of colonial and post colonial African history that our promises in Africa often do not coincide with what the African people need or want. Although the man’s children likely did not advance beyond the six grades of primary school, there was no call on the missionary to help pay for further schooling. Not surprisingly, the missionary’s help was called on when death threatened the household.

It also occurred to me on awakening after the rain that the story of the missionary speaks to the failure of the U.S. and Congolese governments to serve the Congolese people. Neither State’s investments in Congolese economic development reflect respect for the people’s vision for the country’s future. Massive foreign-financed projects like the Inga Dam stir hopes and make for good media stories, but in what way do they represent progress in realizing the people’s vision?

The speeches of the first and only fairly elected President of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, articulate that vision clearly and powerfully. “We are going to see to it that the soil of our country really benefits its children” Lumumba declared on June 30, 1960, Congo’s independence day. Despite the Congolese State’s intense, continual repression of dissenting voices, politics in Congo have time and again given voice to this vision of the people sharing in the wealth of the country’s natural resources.

U.S. government aid for Congo has seldom supported the people’s vision. In the first years following Belgian colonial rule, when Congolese saw the U.S. as their best friend, it was the threat of Communist rule and more recently it seems to be unimpeded extraction of Congo’s vast resources that makes the Congolese State’s stability and security the priorities of U.S. Congo policy. It now seems possible that U.S. government aid will never reflect recognition and respect for the enduring vision of the Congolese people.

During the same speech on the day Congo’s independence was celebrated, the now venerated Congolese leader added to his written text this commentary: “The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent.” Today, with Congo being the most blatant and distressing example, the “soil” primarily benefits a very small elite of many African nations. When will Congo, when will Africa, become truly free and independent? When will justice “roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” on Congo and on all of Africa? When will the abundance of the creation uniquely on display in Congo lead to improved health and well being of the Congolese people? The rain assures us that some day it will be so.

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Experience the force and the message of the rain in the Congo rainforest by clicking below (and turn up your volume if you dare!):

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Uncovering the Truth in Congo

For the six million people who have died due to the wars in Congo since 1997.  For the future of the youth and children of Congo.  For a peaceful and just Congo, spend twenty six minutes of your time and watch the newly released film “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth” by going to this web site:

www.congojustice.org

If you would like a copy of this first, abridged version of the film – perhaps for use during Congo Week October 16 -21 this year – go to this section of the same web site:

http://congojustice.org/download-video/

For suggestions on other ways to honor the people of Congo and educate and raise awareness in the U.S. of how we can support social change in Congo, go to the Friends of the Congo web site at:

www.friendsofthecongo.org

For the children of Congo, see the film "Crisis in Congo"
For the children of Congo, see the film "Crisis in Congo"

Return to Another Home

Eqeuateur Province's Governor walks back to his seat after amusing the villagers who have offered him gifts on the occasion.  Leaders of the Province's Protestant denominations of the united Church of Christ of Congo also participated in the dedication
May 1971 Equateur Province's Governor walks back to his seat after amusing the villagers who have offered him gifts at the Ikengo farm project dormitory dedication. Leaders of the Province's Protestant denominations of the United Church of Christ of Congo also participated in the dedication

In 1971 hopes were high in Congo that prosperity for the new nation, so rich in natural resources, was just around the corner.  Optimism among the people was fueled by the change in the foreign presence in the country:  Americans, representing U.S. based corporations, a large U.S. diplomatic and military advisor corps, and the Peace Corps, had replaced the Belgian colonialists, and the Congolese saw us Americans as true, worthy friends.

By the end of the 1970’s those hopes in American investment, foreign aid and support for the new nation were fast eroding with the increasingly brutal repression of the Mobutu dictatorship. By the beginning of the 1990’s, there was good reason for Congolese to believe that their new American friends had betrayed and turned their backs on them.

A new era for Congo was struggling to be born when I returned in 2010.  Thanks to the presence of nearly 20,000 U.N. troops and increased international pressure on the Kabila administration, a new constitution called for a presidential election in 2011 and again some dared to believe that the post independence years of dysfunctional, corrupt and brutal rule might come to an end in Congo.

But for me it was the reconnecting of  U.S. Disciples with the Disciples community in Congo, leaders in the creation of the Church of Christ of Congo, that led me to return after forty years to Mbandaka.  Since the rioting of Mobutu’s troops in 1991 led to the evacuation of most foreigners, no American Disciple has served as a missionary in Congo.  And until the naming of former Congo missionary Sandra Gourdet as U.S. Disciples Africa Executive and the election of Rev. Sharon Watkins, who served for three years in Congo, as President of U.S. Disciples, ties with our Congolese long time friends had weakened.

This context added to my thrill in returning to Ikengo on June 19, 2010 and seeing the dormitory we dedicated to house the staff of Director and ten young men in training at the Disciples farm project.  Two videos have been posted on You Tube that take up the story from here. The first, titled “Return to Ikengo”, shows our arrival by pirogue and the second records the villagers singing on the shore to welcome us.  You may catch a glimpse of one of the soldiers making up the small Congolese Army outpost at the farm’s port. He was and is a reminder that for Congo to realize those hopes held so widely and fervently in 1970, much remains to be done.

See the videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-r62aw9vRs

I spent a couple of nights in the Centrer AgroPastorale d'Ikengo dormitory  last summer.
I spent a couple of nights in the Centrer AgroPastorale d'Ikengo dormitory last summer.

Congo Preschoolers Make the Grade

Short video of June 24, 2010 Preschool Graduation at the Nouvelle Cite Disciples parish in Mbandaka, Congo.  Note the talcum powder poured on the graduates’ head at the end of the video.  Anyone out there who can explain why the powder please let us know.

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Offering taken for the Guest Preacher, that would be I, 6/27 at river village parish of Kinshasa.  The man’s basket contains 58 bills totaling over $5 ($20 in a month would be above average for a minister here) and the woman holds an mboto, but you must look closely as the fish spans the breadth of the platter.

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June 13 Ikongo Wassa Church – one of the four or five choral groups performing on this morning

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Posted June 11, 2010. Apologies for the flawed video; future posted files need to be smaller apparently.  The burial of Mama Entamboji followed immediated the funeral service which took place 6/10/10 at Mbandaka III church, the Disciples “cathedral” church.  The dirt road fronting the church divides its parcel from that of the Bokotola housing project whose beginnings Millard Fuller describes in his book of that name.  Bokotola was the first community to realize the Fullers’ vision of Habitat for Humanity.

“My first afternoon in Mbandaka Joseph Ikete informed me of the death early that morning of “Mama” Entomboji, 78 years old, long time leader of the women’s movement of the Disciples community here.  In this video you will see her burial at Bolenge, the first Disciples mission “post” in Congo. Leading the mourners is Rev. Mputu Clement and Rev. Bafalanga Jeanette.