Archive for August, 2018

August 30, 2018

Yet Another Layer

July was a full month of intense work. I was finishing with the IRI trainings. Campus too was busy with students wrapping up final projects and writing exams. On the last Saturday of July we had graduation, and then after that the campus became quiet. During that week I saw a post on the IRI Whatsapp group that reported an unknown illness coming out of a region several kilometers away from Beni. I decided to google it to see if I could find any confirmation and I found a local news article. Unknown illnesses are always a bad sign in a place that is so familiar with identifying tropical diseases. Everyone feared that it might be Ebola. A few days later it was confirmed from samples that had been sent to Kinshasa for testing. Unfortunately since the unknown illness wasn’t reported immediately, it gave time for people in contact with Ebola patients to travel to other parts of the region. A few cases soon showed up in Beni, and a few in other places as well. In the face of this new challenge people in Beni were quick to take action. People stopped shaking hands (an everyday gesture here, so it feels strange to refrain), setting up hand-washing stations, and sharing texts and e-mails describing how the illness spreads and the best ways to prevent spread. Going about the everyday with my Congolese colleagues felt almost normal; I felt hopeful because the recent epidemic in West Congo got contained so quickly. However, it was clear that this situation was different because it is yet another layer of challenge in a zone that already deals with insecurity and a great number of displaced people. There were fears that if it got worse, then neighbouring countries might consider closing borders – something that could make evacuation more difficult later. And so it didn’t come as a surprise when the security team met and advised the international staff to leave for a time.

On August 9th Othy and I left Beni by road to Uganda. We left a day after the other international staff because Othy still had some remaining things to finish up at UCBC. Our plan was for him to join me for the first two weeks because he was planning to go to Kinshasa to apply for a South African visa for a conference he will be attending at the beginning of October. We decided it would be good to go together so that at least we would have two more weeks together and it would be a good chance for me to experience Kinshasa since it might be where we end up in the long term. Once through the border at Uganda we took the Link bus and arrived in Kampala at around 2am the following day. We found a hotel for the remaining hours of the early morning and then stayed with Othy’s friend for two nights before heading to the Entebbe airport to begin the second part of our journey to Kinshasa. That will be for another blog post!

God at Work

There are many ways that God is working through this challenging time. He is present with those who are suffering with the illness, with the health workers who are caring for them, and with the workers who are tracking those who have been in contact with Ebola patients and administering the experimental vaccine. Communities have drawn together to make sure correct information is shared and that contacts are identified. One of the realities coming out of this challenge is that the international community and national government have quickly intervened to contain a disease outbreak that they know might have wider impact, and yet very little intervention is happening in response to the attacks that have become almost normal to life in this region that have killed over 1500 people since October 2014 and displaced tens of thousands of people. The corruption that permeates political decision making is itself a disease that is hurting this country. It is my hope that through this epidemic there might be an increased international awareness of what is going on in this region, especially in light of the upcoming elections in December.

It is hard to describe all of the feelings I experienced and am still experiencing from these events and my own displacement. Part of it is frustration at God for allowing yet another layer of challenge to come upon a region already struggling with so much. I thought a colleague of mine put it well when she said that this is a real “Job moment” for Beni, a reference to the story of Job in the Bible when God allows many hardships to fall on him. I and the other international staff had to leave our friends and community behind, community that I was just starting to feel more connected with after being there for 2.5 months. The epidemic has also put Othy and my marriage plans into question if the epidemic cannot be contained before October. I knew I had to let go of these worries by giving them to God and to trust Him while proceeding on this journey that I hadn’t planned on taking. I also had to remind myself that God has always provided and that He often works through difficult trials to bring out good in us. Soon after the epidemic was announced when I was still in Beni, my friend Jessica sent out an update e-mail to her supporters that was a good reminder for me. She wrote that God is not unfamiliar with death and is saddened by it. Jesus himself experienced sorrow in the face of the death of his friend Lazarus from a disease and also in the face of his own coming death on the cross. God also has a plan to overcome death once and for all and demonstrated this through Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and Jesus himself being resurrected. Just as a seed gives birth to new life out of the decay of winter, and just as darkness cannot conquer a shining light, God has plans to redeem the world and He has already begun.

Prayer requests


  • No one from the CI or UCBC community has been impacted by the illness to date.
  • All of the international staff experienced safe and smooth travels out of Beni.
  • This time away in Uganda/Kinshasa has afforded me an opportunity to make new connections and reconnect with old friends and colleagues.
  • God answered CI-UCBC prayers for funding that will address some of their financial challenges that I mentioned in my last update.


  • Pray for continued discernment, energy, and health for health workers and officials
  • Pray for healing for those who have contracted the virus and for God to be present with those who are suffering because of the illness or the loss of loved ones.
  • Pray that the region may experience increased security.
  • Pray for continued health of the CI-UCBC community and their families.
  • Pray for wisdom and discernment of CI-UCBC leaders as they decide how to best care for the community in the face of the epidemic and as they decide about what factors will determine the timing of the return of international staff to Beni
  • Pray that good and affordable accommodations may be found for those of us who are temporarily displaced.
  • Pray that I may remain effective in my work and find valuable ways to contribute from a distance.
Tags: ,
August 4, 2018

UCBC Graduation

Campus was lively at the end of July with final presentations and graduation of the fourth year students. It was slightly difficult to concentrate on IRI work because the presentations were happening in the new classrooms in the same block and so there was a lot of applauding and cheering and conversation after each student finished. At the end of one of the days I attended Hortense’s final presentation for her final project. Afterwards there was a lot of cheering and congratulating as we headed over to the lawn for photographs. Her sister and cousin had also come for the event. It was fun to witness this important moment for her.


On the last Saturday of July I attended the UCBC graduation. I was hosting Jessica’s father Bill for ten days at that time and so we went together at around 8am. While waiting for activities to start we went to sit at the pavilions near the CDP office, but before long we could hear the sound of brass instruments. That was the cue that the graduates had arrived to campus. There is a tradition that the graduates meet in the early morning at the mayors office and march all the way to campus which is no small distance! They were led by three students who made up the UCBC Brigade. When Bill and I found the group they were just arriving down the driveway to campus. It was so fun to take part in the energy and see the graduates dancing and grinning from ear to ear!



The delegation proceeded to the Hope Tent and soon everyone was seated and the ceremony began. There was some praise and worship, welcoming words, a sermon in Swahili with translation to French (I was proud I could pick out quite a few words in Swahili), and then a long line of speeches and reports from various representatives. The ceremony started at 9am and it was not until 1pm that the graduates started being called up! They called the graduates up in groups by area of study, they walked across the stage and received their diplomas, they lined up in front of the stage, and then a few minutes were given for friends and family to go and congratulate them. People would come up with tinsel garlands and fake flowers to give to their loved-ones. It seemed like a fun way to do things! When it was Hortense’s turn I went up and joined the throng to congratulate her again!


After some more worship, the UCBC leadership led a prayer for the graduates and then gave closing words. They encouraged the students to go forward and be their best selves and work to transform lives, communities, and situations around them in the same way as God has been transforming them in mind and spirit. In Congo people are often secretive about having higher education, and so the students were encouraged to hang up their diplomas in a visible place and not be afraid to take their place as leaders who bless others with what they have learned!

After the ceremony everyone was invited to visit and celebrate the opening of four new classrooms. By this time it was 3 o-clock! Everyone formed a line and walked through the various spaces, and along the path there were stations offering sodas, grilled meet kabobs, samosas, bananas and pineapple. The new rooms are very well done and it is an exciting milestone in the construction of the community centre.  It was a day full of celebration and new experiences!

Tags: , ,
August 3, 2018

Highlights from Beni

Since my last post focused a typical day, this post shares some highlights from my first two months in Beni!

I lived for two weeks with a lively crew that included Jessica and two visitors, Blaise, and David. I enjoyed spending the evenings with them. Jessica, Blaise, and I (and Matt one time) went on runs together to ENRA which has a decommissioned runway. It is a beautiful spot that I would love for the owner to turn into the central park of Beni! I enjoyed David’s insights into politics and other topics (including an excellent impersonation of the French president calling Justin Trudeau’s wife “delicious”).

Only a few days after arriving I celebrated my 30th birthday. I invited Othy, Hortense and their two roommates to come for dinner. Everyone came dressed to the nines. Before eating we played a game of Codenames. It was difficult to play with language and cultural differences but we had a fun time! The dinner was chicken with cooked cabbage and fries. It was probably the toughest chicken I have ever eaten! Jess made a delicious cake and Othy and Hortense surprised me with gifts of a dress and wrap.

The second weekend after I arrived, Jess, Matt, Othy, and I went to visit Butembo. On the way there we had a flat tire, and the jack wasn’t working because it needed oil. Fortunately a moto driver stopped for us, went to get oil for us, and even helped Matt and Othy change the tire. In the meantime Jess and I were drawing the attention of a small cohort of children who had gathered on the adjacent embankment to see the site of two “wazungu” waiting on the side of the road. Once in Butembo Othy’s family welcomed us with open arms. We visited Othy’s parents, his brother who was in the hospital, and his older sister. We had dinner at Auberge Butembo so that we could stay late without having to go out again. Jessica and I shared a room there and Matt stayed with Othy at his parents place. The next morning Othy and Matt joined Jessica and I at the Auberge for a devotional time and then afterwards we had some fun taking some engagement-type photos. After stopping in on Othy’s family, we headed back to Beni. We were sent off with an abundance of delicious food including a live rabbit! The Tuesday after the Butembo trip I invited Lauren, Ben, Davide, and Othy to enjoy the rabbit together. It was tasty!




Jessica left for the US at the end of May and a colleague from UCBC named Vivian came to stay at the house. I have enjoyed her company and it has been nice to be able to switch between speaking english and french with her. Othy would often come for dinner and we had a lot of fun conversations. Vivian went with me to visit a tailor to get a dress made and also inquire about the cost of making a wedding dress. We also went to the big market and she helped me in my search for fabric for bridesmaids dresses. There were a few fabrics I kind of liked, but no outright winner that I was ready to buy!

Soon after arriving in Beni, Ben, Lauren, Othy, and I were talking about the idea of having a double date at some point. The challenge though is that the international staff in Beni have a curfew of 7pm. But then I had the brilliant idea that Jess’s room was free and that Ben and Lauren could sleep over! So one Friday night in mid-June they came over, Othy brought a projector, and we shared dinner and watched Les Miserables because Othy had not seen it!

On the first weekend in July Othy wanted to visit Butembo just for a day to visit his brother who was now out of the hospital. I came along and we went on his motorcycle. We left at around 6am on a Saturday morning. It was wonderfully fresh and I enjoyed feeling the wind in my face and seeing the landscape around me without the windshield in between. Othy then stopped, we switched places, and he taught me how to drive! It was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to having more chances to learn so that I can eventually ride on my own. Once we got to Butembo we visited with Othy’s parents and sister where his brother was staying. I’m glad I brought a skirt to change into because we were both covered in dust! Othy’s father than took us on a tour around Butembo to stop in and visit some friends and family, and also visit several plots of land that he owns and wants to develop. I took notes and drew quick plans for each property. I have no time now, but hopefully in time I can propose some ideas for these sites! It was hard to believe that we accomplished as much as we did in a single day! We had to head out by 3pm to make sure that we were back in Beni before dark. The journey back was a bit less fun because I was burdened with more gifts of food from the family and the road was much busier and dustier!


Sketching a site



A few days later Othy went to Uganda for his graduation from Uganda Christian University where he did his masters. I could not join him because I was in the middle of leading the GIS training and also the staff were not allowed to take the road to Uganda. I woke up early and drove to his place to pick him up and bring him to the terminal to get a taxi. I am glad that his brother and cousin could be there to celebrate with him. I am so proud of him!



Othy was away another few days in July because he went with a delegation from UCBC to visit Uganda Christian University (UCU) in Uganda. While he was away I hosted Hortense and Wivine for a sleepover on a Saturday night. We did errands around town in the afternoon and then came back, had dinner together, and watched About Time. The next morning we got up early and went to the church together. At the end of that weekend I was starting to feel fatigued and had a sore throat. After several more days I still wasn’t feeling well and so Othy convinced me to go to the hospital to make sure I didn’t have a tropical disease. After a blood test we found out I had some Typhoid. The doctor prescribed me antibiotics and after a day or two I began to feel like myself again. This wasn’t a positive highlight, but still memorable!




August 1, 2018

A Day in My Life in Beni

To give you a better idea of what my life is like here in Beni, I thought I would try to describe for you a typical day.

I wake up at 5:30am every morning. My schedule has totally shifted because the sun starts to rise at that time and in the evenings I usually climb into bed early to get away from the mosquitos. I sometimes do exercise because I find I am missing the regular activity I had from walking and biking all over Toronto! At around 7 I eat breakfast that consists of tea with either buns with avocado or honey, wheatabix with milk, and/or rice pudding (rice from the previous night, milk powder, a bit of hot water, and banana… yum!). Before leaving the house I have to make sure the cats have something to eat. There is Mama Cat, George the papa, and four energetic kittens that are growing fast. Soon we will be giving them away to some of our friends and colleagues. At 7:45 I am out the door to head to the university.



I usually drive to get the university though it is also possible to take a motorcycle taxi or “moto”. I feel fortunate to be able to use Mary and Jessica’s car while they are away. Driving here is an interesting experience because all of the roads except the main one are bumpy dirt roads, and the car is from Uganda and therefore the drivers seat is on the opposite side. Fortunately it is a Toyota Rav 4 and so it can handle the bumps pretty well. It has taken several weeks to get used to the turning signal and the windshield wipers being in the opposite positions. On the road you always have to be 110% focused because there are motos and pedestrians everywhere and there is always the possibility of vehicles going in the wrong direction, not having working lights, etc.

UCBC is about a 15 minute drive away. I park near the welcome centre and then walk to the office of the Integrated Research Institute. The campus is small but growing. The community centre project is still ongoing (a project that EMI has been assisting with for several years now), this time with four classrooms complete and two more classrooms and a hallway being worked on. IRI is located in two of the newly built rooms; one of them is more of a meeting style room with a large conference table, and the other has individual desks. A few times a week we have meetings, but other than that everyone works fairly independently. On Monday and Fridays there is a chapel time at noon before lunch with some worship and a message. UCBC had a huge tent donated and built that they use for these large gatherings. At lunch most people gather on the balcony of the Academic 1 building. The school has a cook who prepares Kiringiti which is rice and beans. There is usually also a choice of Ndizi (a savoury plantain but ironically I don’t care for it because I find it too sweet) and greens that could be Sombe (made from cassava leaf), Aubergine (eggplant), Chou (cabbage) or others. I often eat with the group from IRI and try my best to follow their fast conversations in French!


New classroom block where IRI is located

The school day ends at 4pm. Some days I leave an hour or two earlier to take calls or do work for my job with E4C. I also try to devote some time to learning Swahili. Slowly but surely my knowledge is increasing. Often I’ll make the short walk to a nearby small corner store and market to buy things like toilet paper, canned sardines for the cats, bread, bananas, and avocados. Othy sometimes visits and we sit and talk or watch a TV episode and then he stays for dinner. Dinner is prepared by two mamas who we hire who also help take care of the house. They are the main people who I try to practice my limited Swahili with. “Mama” is the term given to any woman who is married, and similarly “Papa” to any man, and so soon I will be called “Mama”! Dinner usually consists of a meat dish of either goat, beef, or fish, a carb dish of rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, ndizi, or fufu (a thick puree made from cassava root flour), and a vegetable dish of various kinds of greens (cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, cassava leaf, and even some greens I don’t know the name of). I enjoy dinner time because I always eat together with whoever is staying in the house at the time; it feels so different than my solitary meals during my studies and time working in Toronto. After dinner we usually enjoy tea and some fresh fruit like pineapple, mango, or passion fruit. After dinner I try to do one more hour of work, e-mails, blogging, or Swahili, and then I get ready to turn in between 9 – 10pm already! That about sums up a typical day! In the next post I will share some highlights from the last two months because not every day is like this!

Tags: , , ,