Archive for August 30th, 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

Praises

  • 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.

Petitions:

  • 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.
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