Journal Recordings by Rev. Don Spencer
July 12th – 26th 2017
On July 12, 2017 eight people from both the Memphis and Tennessee conferences of the United Methodist Church departed on a mission trip to Kindu in the D.R. of the Congo. We traveled to Africa to lend our support for the Momma Lynn Center. The Center is a complex designed to help fight stigma against survivors of sexual violence. The Congolese people in Africa use rape as an act of war against one another and many women suffer from this violence.
Nevertheless, four team members were scheduled to fly out of Memphis, and four out of Nashville. Our plan was to join together in Chicago for our connecting flight to Brussels, but God had other plans. The weather in Chicago created a delay with our flight out of Nashville. The delay out of Nashville required us to spend the night in Chicago, and as a result, we were unable to fly out with the Memphis team as scheduled for Brussels.
July 13th, we spent the night in Chicago and the ladies spent the next morning viewing the sites while I visited with the people of Chicago down on the streets. We came close to missing our flight out of Chicago due to traffic conditions, but managed to connect for a seven and a half hour flight to Brussels.
July 14th, from the amazing airport in Brussels we connected with our flight to Kinshasa, Africa. Kinshasa made me realized that we were in a totally new world. We had to barterer with some of our flashlights and the people outside the airport grabbed at our luggage feverously. This startled us as armed Militia men were standing by with their machine guns. With a layover scheduled in Kinshasa we soon found ourselves in a city without any rhyme or reason for driving conditions. There were no signal lights, no stop signs, and people ran across the roads in front of vehicles that traveled at any speed they choose. In a nut-shell, it was scary that there was no law enforcement personnel in sight, and I do not believe that it would have mattered if there had been.
The hotel, in Kinshasa, if you could call it one based on our standards, was surrounded by eight-foot gates. When we met the hotel manager, we were instructed to turn off the lights before going to bed. Breakfast the next morning consisted of a peanut butter sandwich and instant coffee; however, that turned out to be a blessing!
We traveled back to the airport for our next flight to Kindu, but the next flight was not scheduled to leave for another four days. After a long wait Rev. Neelley Hicks found a flight for us from Kinshasa to the town of Goma, and then from there we would be able to connect with a flight to Kindu. Instead of losing four more days from our schedule, this would place us only two days behind. The delays and waiting times in the airports were already wreaking havoc on my diabetes, and if it were not for the snacks my wife Sonya encouraged me to bring, it would have been very detrimental to my health.
We finally departed from Kinshasa of which I personally would not advise anyone to travel through or pursue as a destination!
Once landing in Goma, we were met by our guide, Nicholas. Goma sets on the equator and is surrounded by two active volcanoes that erupt approximately every twelve years. One spews lava and the other, water, which cools the lava rock. God’s nature, right! Nicholas took us to our hotel that is surrounded by another eight foot guarded wall. We were asked to not leave the hotel without an escort, so I pulled out my camera and the children ran believing it to be some type of weapon. There was enough daylight left for us to tour parts of Goma. The volcanoes eruptions, overtime, had filled the bottom floors of most businesses and covered the roads with lava rock. And I don’t believe I have ever seen so many motorcycles in my life as I did here. Motorcycles where being used for everything that you could possibly imagine.
We had to walk to the clinic in Goma. The roadway is covered with so much volcanic rock that it is impossible to reach the clinic by vehicle. It was at this clinic that I began collecting stones from all the places we visited. So of course this one was lava rock! The clinic had no electricity and the doctor and midwives were forced to utilize lanterns for lighting during surgical procedures. There was little medicine available and only three small rooms within the clinic. One of the three rooms was used for a doctor’s office, the second for patients, and the third for surgeries. Surgeries, such as cessations, were being performed without anesthesia a majority of the time. It is not uncommon for women, children and babies to die here due to the lack of medicines for treatment of common illnesses including Malaria and Typhoid. It is unfathomable how the Congolese people have to live as they do! I did not realize during our visit how God was working on my heart for help with this clinic. Never again will I take an aspirin without thinking of this small clinic in Goma and what the indigenous population deals with on a daily basis.
Back at the hotel I was pretty hungry, so I ordered what looked like a hamburger from the picture on the menu. When it was delivered I found the center of it to be raw so I ate around the edges. As it turned out what I thought was a raw centered hamburger, was my first undercooked goat burger. Believe me, it was disgusting; never the less, I was very hungry and I was glad that I could eat around the edges of the patty.
July 16th, (Sunday)
The next morning we flew from Goma to Kindu, but not before paying taxes on our baggage and to get us through customs. It took us six airplane flights and five days to reach our planned destination. After an hour and a half from Goma to Kindu, we landed in what appeared to be a field. The runway was so small and I could hear people gasping for air while wondering if the prop plane would stop before the end of the grassy field. At the airport in Kindu we were greeted by a delegation of people, including our Memphis team and children who distributed flowers. By this time I was seriously worn out from our flights and looked forward to a nice hot shower and a good nap. Well, that was not going to be the case!
Although we were tired, and hungry, we were whisked away to the Methodist church in Kindu. At this church, with a metal roof, no windows, no air conditioning, no fans, and wooden pews, we were greeted as never before. On entering the church, where the Congolese people had been waiting for us to begin worship, they stood and began dancing and singing. They rolled out a sofa, and a few soft chairs for us to sit in while they sat on those hard, wooden pews, dressed in their ‘Sunday best’. It was hot, and muggy, and we worshipped for four (4) hours. It was incredibly outstanding! As tired as we were, it seemed as if time flew by while we worshiped God.
After worship we immediately left for Bishop Unda’s residence. We visited the Momma Lynn Center and witnessed bricks being made by hand. Afterward we ate dinner with the Bishop and several invited guests.
We finally made it back to the hotel at 7:30 pm, and that was just before our business meeting that lasted until 9:30 pm. I mean you have to envision this, right! Once in my room there was no hot water, the shower doors fell off. The power kept blinking on and off until it just stayed off and I went to bed.
The day started off with me having instant coffee at 6:00 am. Everyone else later gathered with me for breakfast before we headed to the Methodist orphanage. It was there that the children greeted us in song. What a joy it was to sit and listen to their beautiful voices. It was a fabulous greeting, and I couldn’t wait to begin our Bible studies together.
We were not able to stay at the orphanage very long. We were off once again to meet Bishop Unda and the prime minister at a hospital being built along the Congo River.
The first thing that I noticed when we arrived was the eight-foot privacy fence that surrounded the hospital. And although amazing, the hospital was lacking many basic necessities. The emergency room was empty of medical equipment, beds, and medicines. Out of all the many rooms, I only saw two mothers with their new born babies. Like the eight-foot walls that keep people out, it was apparent that one had to have a substantial income in order to be admitted at this facility.
It was while we were on our way to lunch that we asked our interpreter Okoli if he lived in Kindu during two-thousand and eight and two-thousand and twelve. A time when Rwanda came plundering everything they could get their hands on while burning houses, and massacring countless men, woman, and children. Okoli’s reply was heartbreaking as he shared that Rwanda simply shot or cut people to pieces with machetes at random. He stated that he lost one of his brothers and a sister in the massacre. When Rwanda moved out in two-thousand-twelve, some stayed which changed the political system to date. I still feel the pain from Okoli’s voice!
As usual we were running behind schedule, and when we reached our designation for lunch, there were approximately fifty or so women who had been waiting for our arrival since 8:00 am. They waited so patiently on hard wooden benches, in a hot building, and without electricity. And even though they waited, they were so appreciative of our coming. It was here that Rev. Neelley Hicks and a lawyer gave a presentation on the Momma Lynn center and its need for fighting against the stigma of sexual violence. The Congolese men, women, and children are raped as an act of war. Jermaine Unda, the Bishops son, interpreted.
The team split up for the day! Three of us visited the Kindu orphanage, while others visited the Momma Lynn Center and continued their presentation. It was a wonderful day, and I am not sure if we were there to teach the children, or the children taught us. There were approximately sixty-five children in attendance. Again, they sang for us and we, in turn, sang Jesus loves the Little Children for them. As we made wooden crosses from tongue depressors, it became a day filled with love for one another. Each child received a cross and one Crayola crayon to color it with. You would have thought you had given the each of them a new bicycle the way they held on to their cross and crayon. We held a Bible study while Okoli interpreted. After the Bible study we purchased a few cookies for each child; I later learned that this would be their lunch for the day. It was such a joy to share, but yet a great sadness, to know how much the children needed or let’s say did not have.
After lunch we headed for the school where Shelby and I used flash cards to teach the children English. The older adults were taught what nouns and pronouns were by McKella and Pierre. Pierre being one of our interpreters! It was overwhelming to see how eager both the young and old wanted to learn the English language. The Congolese began trying to speak to us in English. They would greet us for the next few days with a ‘good morning’ or ‘good night’ even though it was in the afternoon. Some of the elders were over ninety-years of age and had travelled for miles to be with us. Some began walking in the early morning hours and others rode motorcycles. They were so determined!!!
The day was a repeat of the 18th. Some of us revisited the orphanage where we found many, many more eager children. Each one was so precious and so loving. One of the teenage girls wanted to keep touching Shelby while commenting that she too wanted to become white. The girl thought that if she touched Shelby enough, the white would rub off onto her. Overwhelmed by this interaction, Shelby must have cried a million tears.
This was both a joyous and rigorous day! We headed to the Momma Lynn Center where we carried rocks for three-hours. The workers laughed, pointed, and talked amongst themselves as they built walls for the Center. The rocks were used to build the foundations for the center and they were very heavy. It was exhausting work; however, we too made light of the situation as we watched every eye of the local people focus on us while laboring.
This was our free day so we visited the near-by villages and markets. There were no Wal-Mart’s, or Kroger’s, nor shoe stores, or a Handy Dandy’s. There were a few ‘mom-and-pop’ stores but nothing compared to what we have in the United States. The Congolese used bicycles with the seats removed in order to transport everything from steel products to construction sites to vegetative items on the streets. They sold whatever they gleaned from the forests at roadside stands. There were things that they sold and ate that would turn the ‘sturdiest’ of stomachs. Bread did not come in a loaf; it was not wrapped for protection and, as a result, would be covered with flies. There were fish-heads and dried snakes! Children begged for candy or whatever one would hand them. There were just many children that I saw where words fail to describe their physical state of being.
We have the opportunity to make some of the bricks for the Momma Lynn Center. The bricks are placed in a form, beaten with a wooded mallet, and stacked before going into the kiln. Kilns are handmade from the bricks. The bricks are fired and dried in the kilns then used for constructing the walls of the Momma Lynn Center.
From the Momma Lynn Center we were able to visit the Kindu clinic. It was here that I again witnessed people that are in such desperate need. People are suffering with preventable diseases, such as Malaria and Typhoid fever. The men, women, children, and babies are literally dying from these preventable diseases. At first glance, I believed that the Momma Lynn Center was, and still is, what I was called to help with. I also believed that if we could build a Church in the Congo that would help people find the help they needed, but then again God stepped into the picture. As we left the Congo, I could not and still can’t get the desperate needs of the Congolese people out of my thoughts. Needless to say that this mission trip has changed my life forever!
As we were on our way back home to the United States, I felt God telling me that the way we could help most is by building a medical clinic for these suffering people. Sometimes while we are so focused on a certain agenda we fail to see the broader picture. The physicians in these clinics have no electricity, and they rely on pressure cookers to sterilize and sanitize their prehistoric medical instruments. They read blurred images on a 1998 model computer screen in order to make their diagnoses. We cannot do it all, but what we can do is build a clinic! That is exactly what God has called us to do. Lord in your Mercy!