Looking back at Congo Mission
One person asked me, “What was your first day like in Africa?”
As with many big changes in our lives, the first day of a new experience is one of the most memorable. Moving to Africa and becoming a missionary was a major life change and challenge in my life and for my family. At the time, I was married and we had three daughters. Getting to Zaire (referred to as Congo in the novel, Congo Mission) had taken over 30 hours of travel time. We stopped in airports in Dakar,Senegal; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lomé, Togo; Lagos, Nigeria; and Douala, Cameroon before our stop in Bangui, Central African Republic.
We were all exhausted and hungry, hot and felt dirty. We stayed in a guest house in Bangui, with other missionaries heading to various countries in Africa. The hosts in these guest houses have a huge job, juggling incoming missionaries, handling mail, picking up packages(another whole story). Without such gracious people, I don’t think we would have been able to navigate our way to Zaire.
With 8 hours difference in time, it took several days to adjust. We all slept the first night but I remember being wide awake until early morning the next night. Bangui was just a stop on the way to our ultimate destination where we had to wait for a flight in a Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) plane (another agency that is a Godsend for missionaries). It was a small Cessna with a large cargo pod beneath. It was just large enough to carry the pilot and the 5 of us in my family. At the time, our youngest daughter was Christine, only 7 months old. On our third day in Bangui, we boarded the small plane with some of our luggage (we had suitcases plus 11 boxes of supplies for the year).
Every step of this experience was a new adventure for my family and me. It was hard for my parents and sister to understand my desire and feeling of a calling to go to Africa. My heart was set on giving back to God what He has so graciously given me. We planned for a year. My respect and prayers go out to those who make mission work their life. I believe they live in such a way as to not put limits on God. Their trust must be total to dedicate their lives to such difficult work.
As we flew from the international airport in Bangui to the mission, called Tandala, we flew south over the ever-increasing dense green jungle. Much appeared swampy as I could see water reflecting the sky. It was about a 2 hour flight but seemed like only minutes. When the pilot pointed at the airstrip where we would land, at first I couldn’t see anything but a few buildings. At last, we could see the hospital and the airstrip as we descended. He took a loop around the hospital and surrounding village then came in for a smooth landing on the all-grass landing strip. Cows loitered along the edges of the landing strip but, thankfully, none of them chose to run across at the time we landed.
I remember that it was very warm and I was covered in sweat. I met Tim Wester, my partner for the next year, as he approached the plane. Dr. Bill Colby, the senior physician, was there to greet us as well. He and his wife were planning to return to the U.S. at the end of the month (June 1988).
The gaggle of missionaries and their house helpers who met us, helped us unload the plane and carried the luggage to an awaiting truck. We rode, as well, the half-mile to the house we would occupy for the next year.
The house, built in the 1950s, was fairly large with 4 bedrooms. Each daughter had her own room. The house was built of earthen bricks coated with cement. The floor was a concrete slab. Furniture was locally built from mahogany. Chairs and the couch had foam padded seats and were relatively comfortable. The house had not been occupied for 8 months and, though it had been cleaned, lacked some basics. Someone had stolen the electrical wires that could be accessed outside the house. This meant that we had no power for several days. It wasn’t a major problem because power was only available when the hospital needed the generators to run. Lighting was primarily by kerosene lanterns. The refrigerator used kerosene as well (an interesting process I’ll try to describe at a later time).
The bathroom had running water (water was carried by bucket to a half-barrel which was plumbed to the sink, toilet, and shower. Unfortunately, a gecko had found a home in the pipe and died. The first shower (I’m sworn to secrecy on who took it) was very foul-smelling. Not a stellar way to try to cool off.The pantry was empty and we had no helpers yet. We were hosted by other missionaries for several days until we could stock our shelves. The first day ended with us very tired, very warm, but very happy to have finally arrived where God wanted us to be.
Congo Mission on Amazonby