Archive for March, 2012

March 29, 2012

Day 10: Safari!

Safari in Swahili means journey, and this day was quite the journey from beginning to end!  We woke up very early that morning to begin our trek back home.  We left Beni at six thirty in the morning in order to get to the border by nine.   I was given a seat in the smoother riding car due to my previous incident, and it was indeed much more comfortable than the box van with the inexistent shocks!  After only a half hour however, we abruptly came to a stop behind a long traffic jam on the rural jungle road.  There were lines of trucks and people were everywhere.  We got out and walked up to see what the problem was.  We quickly discovered that a big truck had stalled and that another big truck had gone into the ditch while trying to get past the other one.  We walked further and were very discouraged to discover that there was a complete gridlock of trucks that had decided to double park themselves on the road.  The line went on for at least a kilometer and it looked like most of the people had been there overnight.  These trucks if you can imagine, are loaded up to the max with whatever they can fit.  They hang things off the back and pile things extremely high on top.  Some had the extreme odour of fish and were also piled up with groups of people and other animals.  It looked like we would be delayed for the entire day and the whole team was silently worried.  All we could do was wait and pray.

While we were away from the vehicles, our drivers foolishly attempted to get around the right side of the stalled truck because there was a bit of a way through although it was very slanted and muddy.  The car made it through okay, but the van got stuck on many attempts.  Our driver kept backing up and retrying, and finally with a group of people pushing, he succeeded in pulling by.  Getting past that truck almost meant nothing however because of all the double parked vehicles that were still ahead of us blocking our way.  Then the people who had helped push (and even those who had not) began to demand us for money.  The situation was only getting worse.  Our team made ourselves scarce and stood behind our van while our escort tried to calm the people down.  Eventually our presence became old news and the people dispersed.  It was surprising, when only a hour and a half later, people managed to tow the truck out of the ditch and the line of trucks slowly began to move.  I was frustrated at myself for feeling so much doubt and worry that we would be there all day, and not trusting that God would bring us through.  Finally after double parked truck after truck passed by us, our way was clear to go again.

Besides being a bit behind schedule, the rest of the ride was extremely smooth.  We met up with another eMi team in Mbarara to transfer some supplies to them, that was heading out to begin their project trip in Kigali, Rwanda; we then headed to Queen Elizabeth Park where we had arranged for a Safari.  My first ever safari was amazing!  At first all we saw were antelope and the occasional warthog.  Our driver was experienced however and managed to drive us right up to a lion that was sitting in the shadow of a clump of bushes.  What a majestic looking creature, especially in the wild!  It was very lazy and calm in our presence, although our driver managed to make him growl by opening and slamming the van door a few times!  We also saw a lone buffalo that had been rejected from the herd, monkeys, interesting birds, and several waterbuck.  Another amazing find was driving up close to the water in a lake to find a group of hippos chilling out in the water!  We were really hoping to see elephants but we only saw a herd from a far distance.  All of the lakes in the park were created from volcanic activity, and there was one in particular that is extremely high in salt and has been used for decades as a salt mine.  There used to be a factory until it went into disrepair and there are still people who collect the salt by hand.  My favourite part of the safari was standing up in the pop-top van and then pulling myself onto a small cushion that was on the roof.  With everyone else still below me in the van I felt like I was all alone, and with the wind in my face and the uninterrupted view I felt as though I was flying.

Photo by Robert Donahue

Photo by Robert Donahue

Photo by Robert Donahue

Finally after a long day we arrived at the resort we would be staying at for the final night of our trip.  It was a quaint hotel that sat on the edge of steep hill that overlooked the expanse of Queen Elizabeth Park.  For the first time in a very long time I got my own room.  After I had a quick nap, a dunk in the pool, and then a marvelously warm shower with perfect water pressure, I joined the team for a delicious meal.  That evening we had a time of sharing and prayer to wrap up our time in service together.

We spent most of the following day on the road, stopping only to grab lunch at a restaurant that sat near the equator line (which I strode of course!).  We arrived back at the office just as everyone was leaving for the day.  It was good to be back.

In Swahili to ask someone how their journey was you can say:

Habari ya safari?



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March 27, 2012

Day 9: Beni

The day finally came for us to present our culmination of work from the past week.  We began the afternoon with some prayer and praise and worship, and then enjoyed a big formal lunch with all of the attendees.  There were about forty invited leaders and representatives from the Congo Initiative, UCBC, and the church and community.  First Robert and I presented the architectural program and master plan, and then the engineers followed with the civil and electrical requirements.

After the presentation we began our farewells.  It was sad to leave after such a short time, especially since we had worked so well and really melded with the ministry in such a short time.  It is sad to leave a ministry and only have such a short period of involvement in their work.  For the next few months we will continue working on the project, but from our office in Kampala.  I would encourage anyone who feels led to support the ministry of the Congo Initiative.  They are a driving force in the DRC as a University and are drawing a lot of interest.  They subsidize the education of many students who otherwise would not be able to study, and are already accomplishing their mission of educating Christian leaders.  I have no doubt that the students coming out of UCBC will go on to do great things and that the university will continue to have a positive impact on the surrounding community in Beni.  Check out their website at

Some things in particular that I will miss from the DRC is the ministry and its leaders, the students at the university and the energy they bring, the friendliness of the native people, the beautiful jungle and the mountains in the distance, the spoken Swahili and French, and of course the monkey that was always tied up outside of our guesthouse.  I call him Cornelius.

Photo by Tim Ellis

Left photo by Brittany Coulbert

The name Beni in French actually means ‘blessed’.  I think that this amazing little city will be on my thoughts for years to come as I pray for God’s blessings to come upon it and the rest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Once again I am sad to say the following words,

DRC, until we meet again.

Photo by Paul Berg

“See, I am doing a new thing!…

I am making a way in the desert

and streams in the wasteland.”

-Isaiah 43:19

March 25, 2012

Day 8: Do you know what you are doing?

Monday was the final run to get finished our work in preparation for our final presentation the following day.  What I remember most from this day is a story that David Kasali told us that I want to share.

When the first academic building that they have here was under construction, David was walking through the site while they were putting the floors in.  One fellow was working with a vibrator on the concrete floors.  From a distance David called out to him saying, “Do you know what you are doing?”  The man replied, “Yes, I know what I am doing.” and continued on with his work.  Then David called out to him a second time: “Do you know what you are doing?” and the man replied again, “Yes, of course I know what I am doing”.  David, not yet satisfied, called out a third time, “Do you know what you are doing?”  Finally the man turned off the vibrator and walked over to David with a questioning look on his face.  He asked, “Why do you continue asking me this question.  I know exactly what I am doing.  I have done this job many times.”  And David replied, “You do not fully understand the job that you are doing.  You are creating a floor that will serve God’s Kingdom.  Hundreds and thousands of students will pass over this floor where they will be learning about Christ Jesus and how to be leaders in their communities.  This floor will be here for generations to come and will witness a transformed Congo.  The man had not quite thought about it that way before; finally he set back to work, applying himself to his job with renewed energy.

The following day David came back to the construction site where the fellow was still working, this time with a group of a few others.  David called out again asking, “Do you know what you are doing?”  With a huge grin the man replied, “Yes, I know what I am doing”, and pointing to the others he added, “But they do not!”

David told us that in that same year this man went to be with the Lord.  The floor lives on however, and is a testament to how God works through each and every one of us.  Thousands of students have already passed over it and many more have yet to.  It doesn’t matter how mundane the task may seem, every piece plays its essential part.  Only in focusing on Christ can we gain this mindset and grow this spiritual hunger and thirst that essentially change the reasons behind the work that we do and the decisions we make.

Now I ask you again; do you know what you are doing?

“Jesus answered, I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will give you.  On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” – John 6: 26-27

March 23, 2012

Day 7: Hakuna Mungu kama we we

On Sunday morning we went to a church that was just down the street from the guesthouse.  It was a beautiful service.  The African people have such musical rhythm!  The songs are very repetitive, but they sing in beautiful harmonies.  They sang songs in French and Swahili, and the message was in French and David Kasali went up to translate for us.  The message was about tithing and it was strange to hear a message that I’ve heard so many times back home being preached in Beni to people who have less wealth and possessions.  But then again God asks all of us to give of what we have, no matter how much or little it may be.  The church is in the process of constructing an addition to their building; it’s impossible to borrow money and so what they do is they just build little by little as the money comes in.  Although the church still has a long way to go in construction, it looked as if they had done everything humanly possible just to get that steeple with a cross in its place in the air!  After the service the elders invited us to sit down and offered us sodas.  They were very thankful that we had come to Beni and for the work we were doing for UCBC and therefore for the community and for the Kingdom.  Their thankfulness was overwhelming because the sacrifices that I made to come here seem so small in comparison to the challenges that the people here face every day.

Photo by Tim Ellis

Photo by Tim Ellis

On Sunday evening we were invited over to the house where the internationals stay for a time of dinner and fellowship.  On the way there we finally got the opportunity to explore the town a bit by foot.  A few memorable sites that I have from Beni are the many children that are around playing or doing chores, men washing their ‘motos’ in a stream, and the many small shacks alongside the main road that sell petrol in reused water bottles.  That evening we had a wonderful time of food and fellowship and it was wonderful to get to know these ministry leaders better, and learn about how they to came to serve with the Congo Initiative.  Before we ate dinner, we were introduced to a beautiful Swahili song that translates in English to:  There is no God like you.

Photo by Tim Ellis

Hakuna Mungu kama wewe (There is no God like you)

Hakuna Mungu kama wewe

Hakuna Mungu kama wewe

Wewe Mungu wangu (you my God)

Twasema “Asante” (We say “Thank you”)

Twasema “Asante”

Twasema “Asante”

Wewe Mungu wangu

Wewe ni Alpha na Omega (You are Alpha and Omega)

Wewe ni Alpha na Omega

Wewe ni Alpha na Omega

Wewe Mungu wangu

Photo by Bob & Eileen Gresham

“O Lord, God of Isreal, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.”  – 1 Kings 8:23

March 22, 2012

Day 6: Maji safi

Saturday was a bit of a jump away from routine.  In the morning the engineers went into Beni to get tours of two water treatment facilities leaving Robert and I to work like crazy on the architectural master plan.  In the afternoon our entire team went to visit a cocoa plant that is owned by an acquaintance of Paul whereby we were first hosted in their home for lunch and then given a tour of the cocoa and vanilla factory.  It was fascinating to see a cocoa and vanilla factory and learn about the production process, smell the vanilla, and most of all see an establishment, specifically in the DRC that cares about stewardship.  It is a rare quality because this is a country where corruption still reigns.

The cocoa factory had a pretty impressive setup.  Not only do they buy the cocoa beans from a network of over 12 000 farmers, they also track everything and if there is an inconsistency they inquire about it to hold the farmers accountable.  If the issue is a disease in the crop, they help to find a solution.  They have field agents that go by boda and teach farming and fermentation methods to the farmers which in the end benefit both parties.  Essentially this business buys the fermented cocoa beans from the farmers, sorts and grinds them, and then prepares them for export.  The process with the vanilla is a bit more arduous as they must dry them out in the sun on racks for about 30 days, bringing them back in at night or in bad weather.  They provide safe and honest jobs to several people.  I didn’t realize that cocoa was a fruit before it was chocolate, and got to try it for the first time.  The fruit is just a pod that you can basically suck on until the fruity goodness is gone and then spit it out.  It’s beyond me how they discovered the possibilities behind these amazing plants because it certainly isn’t obvious!

Photo by Erland Mowinckel

This was the day I learned my first Swahili besides the simple ‘welcome’ (karibu) and ‘thank you’ (asante).  When the engineers returned from their morning escapade to the water treatment plants, Kabale our driver greeted me with the words ‘maji safi’.  For a while I didn’t understand what he was trying to say to me until he held up his water bottle and said ‘clean water!’  Well the term stuck, and it became a common term of greeting with Kabale for the rest of our stay!  In Africa the word has a bit more potency than it does in North America.  I am so used to filtering or boiling my water now that it will be strange to go home and drink it directly out of a tap!  I think we certainly take for granted the infrastructure that exists in the developed world.

I have been constantly reminded here how complex systems like infrastructure are and how all of the different parts depend on each other for the whole system to fully function, even something that for us can seem so simple such as obtaining clean water.  I am also reminded that it is the same way with the work that we are doing in partnership with this ministry.  It can be so easy to get lost in the process of accomplishing a job, that we can forget the overall purpose for it, or begin to consider our own role in it to be of little worth.  A verse I keep coming back to while I’m here is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 where Paul describes how just like the human body, the body of Christ also has many parts, all dependent on each other, that work together to do God’s work.  Architecture and engineering mission work can sometimes feel so distant from the people it is serving, but at the same time we are offering expertise that are very much needed and will in the end produce a building that will be a space that changes lives.  That is all I can hope and pray for as I sit at my computer and draft the day away.

March 7, 2012

Day 3: Work and partnership

After learning about this amazing vision, it was finally time to get to work.  It’s all well and good to have a big idea, but nobody likes to think about all of the hard work it takes to bring it to fruition!  This day was challenging for me as I tried to find out what my place was in our work and how I could contribute and serve the efforts of the team.  Our team split up into our various disciplines and began to tackle the areas of electricity, water, sanitation, and the architectural program.  My role for the first few days can be summed up as number crunching.  As a team it was important for us to really involve the CI team in our work because after we leave, it will be them who will have to carry the project through.  We had the opportunity to work with two local engineers, Osee and Victor, who had just as much to teach us as we did them.  They are the experts when it comes to implementing successful strategies using local means.  It was a joy to work with them and get to know them a little bit.

Photo by Bob & Eileen Gresham

We also had a great opportunity to share a bit about the work we were doing with the student body by preparing a presentation for the school’s weekly ‘exposé’.  We were asked to present on the subject of sustainability and stewardship, and so several members of our team presented on sustainable land development, sustainable architecture, and some alternate methods of water purification.  After the presentation we took questions and it was great to see a string of students come up to the front.  They all had very relevant and critical questions and expressed a large amount of appreciation and interest in the work we were doing.

That night when we were back at the guesthouse again we studied Philippians 2:1-11.  I was hit by the challenge that the apostle Paul poses to being like-minded, having the same love, and being one in spirit and purpose to that of Christ Jesus.  How tough that can be when we can become so easily absorbed in the habits and little problems that come in daily life!  It is so easy to have pride and put our focus in our own abilities and the work we do, rather than being full of pride in what God is doing through our work.  God asks us to partner with him and with each other to accomplish His purpose.

March 2, 2012

Day 2: Vision

On our first day in Beni, we met with several of the leaders of the Congo Initiative and the UCBC and got to see the university for the first time.  What an amazing place it is!  The university is absolutely alive with over 400 students.  We met David Kasali, the founder of the ministry, and his wife Kaswera, and learned from them the vision that God has placed on their hearts to start the Congo Initiative.  David told us a bit of his story and spoke of how he was a slave to his wallet, how he had a dream of getting away and having the American dream, and that he actually succeeded.  When the war broke out in the Congo however, he found that he was being called back to serve his home country of the DRC.  Over time he gathered together a group of several indigenous Christian leaders, and after much delegation and prayer, they came up with what was to be the Congo Initiative.  It has the ultimate goal of raising up educated, indigenous Christian leaders to influence and transform their communities and the country that is the Congo.  It works to accomplish its mission through the work of various centers that aim to educate and influence not only students, but people in the community as well.  Their main energies have been put towards establishing the university, and we can already see the fruits of their work just by walking around the campus and talking to the students.  I recall very clearly something that Mary said to us that day.  She said that the direction that Congo would take in the future was a precedent for what would happen to the world.  Why?  It is because the Congo is the most untouched territory in the world, and also the most rich in untapped resources.  The Congo Initiative wants to claim the Congo and its future for God.

The vision is a big one, and they have a mountain ahead before they will reach their goal of being a full-fletched university campus with significant community participation and outreach.  They are currently constructing a large community center.  We got a tour of the unfinished building and it really was a lesson for me to see how they have to use whatever they have immediately available.  They have to do things like pour their own concrete blocks and weld their own windows and doors.  We heard stories of how students and people in the community are helping to build the center because they know that in the future it will serve their children and grandchildren.  Everyone in the school and community will be able to point at a brick on the building and call it their part.  That is how this vision will come to a reality:  one brick, encouragement, donation, prayer at a time.

Photo by Bob & Eileen Gresham

Photo by Paul Berg

That night we headed home with our minds spinning from all of the information we had gathered that day!  Not only did we take everything in and process it, we also began asking questions about the CI-UCBC’s specific needs, not only immediate, but also what they are imagining for the future.  For our daily devotions we studies Psalm 139.  It is an excellent reminder that God knows us, cares for us, and has a plan and purpose for us.  I am hoping to memorize this verse before I head home.  Sometimes I think we don’t fully register the fact that we are ‘beloved’, and that it is in this love that we can fully extend the love of Christ to others.  I really like a quote that they have here and there on the walls around the existing building of UCBC:  ‘Être transformé pour transformer’, ‘Being transformed to transform’.  Today by getting to know this ministry and the people behind it I got a taste of what true selfless love is.

Photo by Tim Ellis

Photo by Paul Berg