Once Upon a Time in Congo

Congolese flags fly at the border

Congolese flags fly at the border

Saturday Martin, Joseph and I crossed the border into Congo DR. There was no difficulty getting through immigration control although the apparent attitude of the officials at the border did make us a little tense. We kept our voices lowered (even Martin, at least for the most part), and quietly waited while our papers were carefully examined by the Burundi agent. Then we walked across a short bridge to the Congolese side, where an equally somber clerk completed the requisite paperwork.

We thought we were done at that point, but we drove only about 1/4 of a mile when we had to stop again for customs. Martin was concerned that he had left money in his suitcase, and started to get out of the car. I informed him in calm tones that he would only raise suspicion if he got out to get his luggage and that he should get back in the car, which he did. The official walked around the car—slowly, deliberately—and then let us go. If he had decided to open our luggage we would have been there for a while.

Through it all, God was merciful to us. We had no troubles, sailed through the border crossing (comparatively speaking) and were on our way to Uviria

The view of Uvira across Lake Tanganyika from our hotel (Villa Illac)

The view of Uvira across Lake Tanganyika from our hotel (Villa Illac)

Our hotel is nicer than the one we stayed at in Bujumbura. The Villa Iliac is nestled right against the shore of Lake Tanganyika. This gives us a beautiful view, but also brings plenty of mosquitoes. It's a good thing the beds are equipped with large mosquito nets. The staff tucks the nets under the mattresses every day so you only have to let loose enough to crawl in. Even so, when it's really quite, you can still hear the thirsty critters buzzing around.

Yesterday was our only day to attend the REMAC conference for this year. The teaching of the pastor's always precedes the actual conference for the churches. There were five or six choirs there, each taking the opportunity to sing. I'm hoping to put together a montage of the singing a little later. If you haven't heard the Congolese sing, you're in for a treat.

Generator used to power the sound system

At least I love to hear them sing when there is no electricity. Then all you hear are the complicated rhythms of the drums (there are always drums), and the uniquely beautiful harmony of their voices. 

But when the generator is running, the sound system comes on. I have yet to visit a third-world country where someone knows how to make a amplification system sound good. The speakers are over-driven. There is the ubiquitous ground hum. The crackling of the mics was occasionally relieved by the constantly disconnecting signal. Mercifully, for most of the choirs, they didn't use the sound system.

I confess I understand their need for a sound system at this convention. Martin and Joseph both calculated that there were around 400 people there. It's hard to project your voice to that many people without help. It can be done, but the people must be quiet. But with children alway running around, there was always some background noise. 

The pictures above portray what an emotional time was had by all of us at one time or another.

One of the choirs sang a song to welcome us to Fizi. As they sang, two young members of the choir, I'd say between 8 and 12 years old, started working their way over to us. I should explain that every time a choir sings, they dance. Unlike we mzungu, they can't sing standing still.  

At any rate, they begin to dance over to us. We rise as they stand in front of us and slowly dance their way to their knees. Then, with heads down, the lifted to little potted plants. The plants were artificial and obviously homemade from materials at hand. Still, we found them precious. 

When I received my plant, I bent down and kissed the young girl on the forehead. When Martin received his, he did the same. Joseph got left out because they only had two gifts. I don't think he minded however, since he seems to prefer the background.

It was a special moment. Martin, overcome with emotion, buried his head on my shoulder and sobbed. The choir kept singing and we just stood there for a moment and hugged. Then we sat down and the service continued. No one really knows what it's like to visit these special brothers and sisters until they have done so. If you don't believe me, ask Martin. He'll tell you.

When the singing was completed, I stood to preach. It's always tough to preach after the singing and dancing because the people, quite frankly, are worn out. But I think I had good attention to my sermon. Even though most of us in fundamental churches in the US know of Christ's coming for his Church, I'm pretty sure that isn't common knowledge here. 

So I spoke from 1 Thess 4:13-18. I told them that even though they lived in uncertain times—the fighting in and around Goma hasn't traveled south, but it could—we had an enduring hope. Perhaps today, I told them, Christ would return. The lights in their faces as I spoke of the resurrection of the dead and the translation of our bodies was unmistakable. 

Tomorrow we will be working with the church in Uvira doing evangelism of some sort. I never know what the plans are completely, so we just go with the flow. But this much I do know: Perhaps today Christ will return. Just as it is a hope of the Congolese, it is a hope for us as well.

The lights are beginning to fllicker. That usually means the electricity wil be going out soon. Must dash this off. Please continue to pray for us.