It has been over two years since we arrived in Lubumbashi, DR Congo. We are now in the middle of our four-year assignment period and several things got moving. Despite the rainy season we were able to visit since past October practically all projects that are funded by Connexio and the Pacific Northwest Conference.
For our work it is crucial to do regular project visits even to remote areas and despite bad road networks. It is during the times of sharing with local project coordinators where we learn from each other and can move forward in the same direction. With a selection of stories and pictures we want to make you part of this experience:
Change at Kapanga hospital
Dr. Faby was appointed only recently as the ad interim medical director of Kapanga hospital. His predecessor left him a few construction sites and a fairly unmotivated workforce. A less than ideal starting point, but the young Congolese doctor already has some years of experience at Kapanga hospital and the motivation to do better than his predecessor.
Just a few weeks after his appointment as a.i. medical director many positive reports have reached us from the population in Kapanga. The change of leadership is also a unique opportunity to strengthen the supervision and support of the hospital by the board of directors and by the local church.
Something is happening in Mulungwishi
Rector Kasap has big plans for his Katanga Methodist University (KMU) in Mulungwishi: improving the existing infrastructure with new auditoriums and dormitories for students and teachers and creating new faculties to meet the large educational demand. From the American and Swiss partners’ perspective these big plans can only be realized by embedding them in a comprehensive strategic plan that takes into account all stakeholders.
Finally this strategic planning including the university campus, the primary and secondary school as well as the health center is taking shape under the leadership of Rector Kasap. In collaboration with consultants from Connexio and the Northwest Texas Conference a series of workshops took place in the last months and will continue throughout 2015.
At the same time, the University’s accounting system has been upgraded to a new software that is in line with international accounting standards. This sounds wonderful, however unfortunately the university’s bookkeeper, who happened to travel to Angola to get passports for his Angolan wife and three children was held back on his return at the border crossing to the Congo because on his way to Angola he was categorized as refugee from DRC. We hope a solution can be quickly found with the respective authorities and that he can return to his post at Mulungwishi. The beauty of the Congo is, even in the seemingly most hopeless situation a solution is found!
Solar panels for Kabongo hospital
Dr. Raffin has no easy life. The young chief physician at Kabongo hospital has only the simplest means available to provide good quality of care to the population of Kabongo and its surrounding villages. The availability of water and electricity of this remote area 760 kilometres away from Lubumbashi, are just some of the many challenges he faces every day.
Recently the hospitals’ water hand pump (they have no running water) could be repaired. The outdated solar panel system was completely renewed last year. Constant power supply is important especially in emergencies at night and for the operation of diagnostic and monitoring devices. For a year, there is now water and electricity around the clock – a luxury throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo!
Child Action in Lubumbashi
Esaie is not only a good manager, he also encourages the people around him to use their gifts and talents in their daily work. The findings of his master’s thesis on rural development at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, have motivated him to put to practice in his home country what he studied abroad. Thanks to the program called “Child Action Initiative” he started in a poor suburb of Lubumbashi , 120 children, mostly HIV orphans and other vulnerable children, can be sent to school, young girls and mothers are trained and micro projects are realized to improve livelihoods of the poorest families.
Laying Mama Louise to rest
On 27 December 2014, our long-term Swiss missionary Louise Werder went to be with her maker. Towards the end of her 94 years she was very weak and ready to die. The Congolese UMC has organized a very touching funeral honoring her serving heart and her accomplishments during her service. Following her wish, Mama Louise was buried in DR Congo, on the hilltop in Mulungwishi, next to Rev. Springer, the first Methodist missionary in the Congo.
We were grateful not to have gone on holidays over Christmas as initially planned. So we were able to celebrate her life and passing in a very intimate way: participation in vigil, preparation of the body at the morgue, funeral services, laying her to rest, household resolutions. We gained insight into a beautiful aspect of Congolese culture and warmth… What will remain in our memories for a long time is a phone call of a Congolese woman at the vigil: “Muzungu Yetu alikufa…” – OUR white lady died… That was very touching…
Connected to the passing away of Louise was also the cleaning up of her house. That was a tough job. The house belongs to the local Methodist church and we were offered to move into the place. During the last 30 years virtually nothing has been done to it and the house was in dire need of renovation (new septic tank, water and electricity installations, new bathroom and kitchen). After 3 months of intensive renovation we were able to move in at the beginning of June. It is not completely finished yet but we are delighted to have more yard space and being closer to the city center.
Holidays with elephants and lions
We took advantage of the invitation to a missionary gathering in Lusaka, to spend a few days at South Luangwa National Park. After 4 days of driving for 1300 kilometers, 3 hours of customs formalities, countless potholes or – where the pavement was too good – speed bumps, 1 throwing up event in the backseat and 0 traffic tickets we arrived at Flatdogs Camp. We were very lucky and saw the whole range of wild animals (leopards, lions, giraffes, hyenas, antelopes, elephants, hippos, buffalo, crocodiles etc.). Jael was impressed by all the animals, which she only knew from visits to the zoo or images, and she was quite sad when we left the park again.
Missionary gathering in Lusaka
In mid-April we were invited by Global Ministries to a meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. It united all the missionaries working in Africa in the fields of health and agriculture. We got to know the new directors of Global Health and Food Security at Global Ministries and UMCOR and also had time for sharing experiences among missionaries. Some we knew only by name and were able to finally meet them in person. Such as Emmanuel and Florence Mefor who work in the mission hospital in Mutambara, Zimbabwe, Paul Webster, who runs a well-functioning agricultural project in northwestern Zambia since 1992 (Mujila Falls Agriculture Centre) and the family Vinson, who serve in Lusaka as pastors since last August. It was a pleasure to hang out with another missionary family in our age range. So we went back home strengthened with new experiences (this time with 2 traffic tickets, but only 59 minutes for the Zambian-Congolese border crossing (an absolute record !!)).
Romans work as a project coordinator and consultant gets more and more rewarding. The examples mentioned above are the results of the untiring commitment of project and church leaders.
For Daria the mid-term conclusion is less encouraging. There have been some successful experiences such as the organization of several productive meetings of the health board as well as the distribution of medical equipment at various health centers from a container donated by UMCOR. And recently a grant application was sent to “Imagine no Malaria” to ask for support in a malaria control program and associated renovations of health centers. Here we are waiting for feedback from the Technical Review Panel. Being a Technical Assistant to the local health board is often a balancing act between offering support where needed and suggesting changes. This can be a touchy business as initiative can sometimes be perceived as a threat and local leaders can feel undermined in their position. It needs tactfulness, thick skin, humility, perseverance and hope that some way it will go forward. One bright light is the collaboration with Dr. Kasongo, the current coordinator of the Health Board. He is also the director of the Methodist Hospital in Kolwezi and obviously has a lot on his plate. In preparation for the “Imagine No Malaria” application he was heavily involved and Daria thanked him for the many hours that he invested. He then only said: I alone do not have a lot of time; but because we are all working together for the same goal, we have plenty of time at hand.
Generally we feel now comfortable here in Lubumbashi. And we look forward to the work in the next two years. Of course there is still one or the other difficulty, but either there are less difficulties or we now know better how to deal with them. 🙂
What is coming up next?
We will join our Bishop Katembo on his annual conference tour and try to drive ourselves all the way to Panda Mwila (which is even further than Kapanga ca. 800 km on mainly bad roads). We will have Andreas Staempfli visiting from Connexio, Switzerland to determine whether we are doing a good job as missionaries. Then in October there will be a round table meeting for all stakeholders involved in missions with the South Congo Episcopal Area.
From November until January 2016 we will be itinerating in Switzerland and in October/November 2016 we will be itinerating in the United States. So if you would like us to come and speak at your church please let us know so we can include you in our itineration schedule.
Kind regards, we miss you all!
Daria, Roman, Jael and Noah