Archive for December, 2018

December 8, 2018

Holding onto Hope

Dear friends;

What a crazy few months it has been! It is hard to believe that I have been away from Beni since August (now away longer than I was there). Although nothing has gone to plan, we are trusting that God has us in His hands and that He wants to use us where we are. We have so much to be thankful for. God provided affordable places for me to stay prior to the wedding, a wonderful and affordable Airbnb for me and my family in the week before the wedding, and now a place for Othy and I to live until mid-January. We are overwhelmed by people’s generosity, particularly many of the staff of EMI.

It has been a period of such highs and lows. The high points have been the celebration of our marriage, time with family and time experiencing God’s beautiful creation, a relaxing and enjoyable honeymoon to begin married life together, and the celebration of the marriage of our dear friends Matt and Jess. But in all of these activities, there is a grey cloud that has been looming over us. Every day we hear news of new ebola cases that are growing in number around Beni. The cases are not being reported soon enough because initial symptoms look similar to other tropical diseases like Malaria and Typhoid. There is also distrust of the health authorities which is causing communities to be uncooperative by not reporting cases, or not following the prescribed burial practices which can feel very cold and distant.

The distrust is warranted because insecurity is at an all time high in Beni with rebel attacks happening every week, often within the city itself and with little to no protection being offered by the Congolese army or the UN. It seems as though the rebels see an opportunity to create more chaos to make the fight to contain ebola more difficult. Whole neighbourhoods have been emptied out because of fear of attack which only gives more space for rebels to come closer and be undetected. Events have only increased the number of internally displaced people which makes tracking contacts of ebola cases more difficult. Vox recently published an article that outlines many of the challenges in containing the virus. Community groups are demanding that the international community help them to end the insecurity as well as the Ebola. They don’t want to survive ebola only to be attacked while they sleep in their homes. It doesn’t make sense to meet one need and not the other.

Another layer to this situation is that elections are scheduled to happen on December 23rd. So far plans are moving forward for elections to take place, but the Congolese population is on edge because the government has decided to use machines to vote making everyone nervous about the possibility of cheating. There are also three major candidates running instead of two, making the possibility for vote rigging easier. Originally the opposition were planning to come together behind one contender, but last minute one of them changed their minds, which makes people wonder what the real motivation was. Kabila is not running again because he is constitutionally barred from doing so, but has selected what many people are referring to as his pawn, a person who they think he will be able to manipulate to continue pursuing his own interests. So in January much could be the same or could be very different. We pray that God will direct these elections and help establish a leader who knows Him and will pull this country out of the deep sludge of corruption and exploitation by political elites.

God at Work

At times it becomes difficult to continue praying for Beni. God’s word tells us that our prayers have authority, and yet it is difficult to pray when the situations remains unchanged or even worsens. One thing we have to remember is that God still hears our prayers and uses us in these times for his purposes. Othy and I were reminded in talking with the rector of UCBC, that Congo Initiative and the university were started in a time of war. The seed was planted in a time of lamentation when enough was enough. And now the university has had its ten year anniversary and has impacted countless lives. And so we must keep working even through dark times, even though we cry out asking why this is happening again. God did not wait until a time of peace to send his son Jesus into the world. Christ came into a very messy situation to seek out the sick and the lost.

Despite the difficulties, UCBC has started classes and has taken measures to give staff and students a safe working and learning environment. They recently obtained a property in town, City Campus, where they have decided to run classes because the main campus is in an area on the outskirts of town that has experienced insecurity. For Giving Tuesday, CI raised a few thousand dollars to purchase tents to set up at the new campus to be able to accommodate more classes. They also had a special service day where staff and students gathered together to clean up the property. Another part of CI that is very active at this time is the Bethesda Counselling Center who are providing support services for grief and trauma resulting from the ebola and insecurity. Although international staff are currently away from Beni, they are still working from afar on their regular tasks, and also pursuing new partnerships and initiatives. One such initiative is being headed up by our friend Ben Lawson to raise money for lab equipment to support the transition of the faculty to active-learning classrooms. For Christmas this year, please consider contributing to one of the items on the Wish List of UCBC Applied Sciences that will help equip future Congolese leaders!

Prayer requests

Praises:

  • Othy and I are married and family and friends were able to travel safely and celebrate with us
  • We had a relaxing and enjoyable honeymoon and have enjoyed our first month of life together
  • We have a temporary place to call home in Uganda
  • UCBC found a property in the city to use for classes and the ebola and insecurity has not directly affected anyone in the community

Petitions:

  • Pray for peace and healing to come to Beni
  • Pray for ongoing protection of CI-UCBC community as they continue their work and service in the community
  • Pray for smooth and fair elections to happen on December 23rd
  • Pray for discernment for Othy and I as we decide how we can best continue serving CI from a distance and resolve our finances
  • Pray that we continue to grow in the knowledge and grace of God as a couple and discover how to use our gifts and serve together in this new season of life
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December 5, 2018

Kigali

Our final stop on our journey was Kigali where we decided to stay for two nights as we traveled back to Kampala from Bukavu. Because I had such a negative experience on the night bus on the way to Goma, we decided to take day buses and take the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Early on Monday morning we left Bukavu by moto, crossed the border, and then took another moto to the bus station in Rwanda. We took a smaller bus called Omega Express. There are two possible routes to get to Kigali: one that goes through the Nyungwe Forest, a mountainous rainforest, or along Lake Kivu. Our bus went through the forest and the views were stunning. There was one moment I found stunning where we were passing tea plantations but approaching the forest. Another moment we were on a road that was high up on the mountain and there was a view down into the rainforest below that looked so incredibly deep.

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We spent two nights in Kagali: one at Yambi Guesthouse and another at Auberge Beausejour that was recommended by Mark and Karen. On our free day we had plans to meet up with Othy’s old school friend. On our way to meeting her we walked to the Convention Centre which was a building I wanted to check out. Again I was caught off guard by the cleanliness and orderly construction of roads, sidewalks and retaining walls. The convention centre’s dome could be seen from a distance. The landscaping around the building was nicely done. There is also a hotel beside it that has a playful facade that reminded me of basket weaving. A covered walkway offers relief from the sun and rain for people walking from the parking lot. This building is definitely not very approachable on foot from the street as we had to walk all the way around to the back to enter. We went inside the lobby areas but couldn’t find anyone to ask to show us the main auditorium. Overall it is a nicely designed building.

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Next we took motos and went to a restaurant called the Rotisserie where we were meeting up with the friend. We waited for half an hour and she did not arrive. Unfortunately we did not have data and the restaurant did not have wifi to communicate with her. We decided to walk to a cafe called Shokola that shares a building with the Kigali Public Library. It is also a nicely done building. The levels of the library are situated around a generous atrium. It looks like the roof used to be glass but then they boarded it up with wood because of the heat. The cafe is on the third floor and accessed by an exterior stair (I think it could have been nicer for it to have a closer physical or visual connection to the library). To our dismay the cafe did not have working wifi either and so we were unable to meet Othy’s friend. We stayed a while there and then decided to go back to the hotel. On our way back we stopped at an art gallery called Inema Arts Center. We saw some beautiful pieces by local artists, some that I have included below. We spent a lazy evening at the hotel watching a movie! The following morning we woke up early to catch a 6am bus to Kampala. It was so early the hotel couldn’t have breakfast for us and so they gave us some fruit, bread and eggs the night before. The driver we arranged for to take us to the station was late and so we took motos instead. It was a fun ride because the roads are so smooth and it was still dark. This marked the end of our honeymoon and it was time to try and get settled back into something of a routine in Kampala.

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December 4, 2018

Around Bukavu

While most of our friends left Bukavu the day after the wedding, Othy and I decided to take one more day to explore the city since neither of us had been there before. Mark and Karen surprised us with a delicious Sunday morning pancake breakfast, complete with locally grown strawberries and close to real tasting maple syrup that they make with maple extract (this is a Canadian saying this). While we enjoyed breakfast they gave us some tips on places to visit. Othy asked me what I wanted to visit first, and I chose ITFM (Institut Technique Fundi Maendeleo) because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to be like and the school offers one of the best views of Bukavu. We hired motos and began the winding journey up the hill. At a certain point the paved road ended and the dirt road was extremely muddy. My driver in particular was having trouble getting through it (Othy told me later it was because he was short) and I wondered if we would fall. Thankfully we did not, though the drivers wanted to charge us more because of it! The motos in Bukavu actually put tarps on the back of their bikes to prevent mud from flinging up and hitting their passengers. We walked through the ITFM campus and were shown around by the guy we met at the gate. Then we exited by the gate that faced the edge of the hill, and found the view that we had heard about. It was beautiful! Bukavu has such a unique landscape with the changes in elevation, the lake with islands in the distance, and several peninsulas, one of them taking the iconic shape of a boot. But with the change in elevation and rains are dangers of erosion and mudslides. Just across the road from the campus, the earth was a large eroded area that in only a few more years might actually reach the edge of the campus and the buildings there! Kids were playing there and standing on the edge of it and even climbing up it!

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The same moto drivers waited for us and we asked them to take us to the boot that I described above. On the way down the hill we passed houses that were built rather precariously on the hillside. We passed by the main roundabout Place de l’Independence. We also passed another roundabout with one of the traffic lights invented by Congolese female engineer Thérèse Izay and manufactured by Women’s Technology, although this one is not in the shape of a humanoid like the one I saw in Kinshasa and Goma. Once at the boot the drivers stopped at a parcel with a large tent. We asked the person at the gate if we could see the place, and upon entering we discovered it was an event space. They were in the middle of preparing for an event, and Othy ran into an old acquaintance! The tent faces the water and offers a beautiful view back to the city.

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Our third destination of the morning was to visit a hotel called Orchids that is supposed to be another beautiful spot in Bukavu. We first went to the restaurant and took tea, and then went for a walk to explore the gardens. It was an absolutely stunning combination of gardens, architecture, and another amazing view of the lake and Bukavu. The path meandered its way down to the water and there was something beautiful to see around every corner. The gardens were well landscaped and included many different species of orchid. I loved the simplicity of the clean white-walled buildings with rich wood windows and doors. There were a few larger buildings and then some smaller private cottages. Finally we reached the water where there was a swimming area and sitting area. I noticed that this was the place that Jess and Matt had gone to take their wedding photos because of one photo that they had posted standing on a pier by the lake.

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This time we decided to walk back to the apartment since it was only a few kilometers away. We rested for a short time and then went out again, this time to visit another school called ISP Bukavu (Institut Supérieur Pédagogique). The university has been around for a long time and is where some of the leadership at UCBC attended. Upon approaching the gate we discovered that we couldn’t go and see the campus for the sole reason that I was wearing pants! From the gate we could get a glimpse of the building blocks which have an interesting form. We walked for a bit from there, thinking that we might find a place to get some lunch, when Blaise called and we arranged to meet him at a restaurant called Le Gourmet. He didn’t make it in the end, but a friend of Othy’s called Beni joined us and we had a nice time hanging out. It was coming towards late afternoon and we had talked about the idea of going to Mark and Karen’s church called Le Phare (the Lighthouse) that starts at 4:30. Surprisingly Beni also attends this church and offered to take us there since it was only a short walk away. At this point it was only raining lightly and so we went for it. The service was on the top floor of a newly constructed building and so had a very raw atmosphere. I felt refreshed and challenged by the worship and the message.

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After the service I had made arrangements for us to visit Dachiku, a friend from UCBC and sister to another friend Butoto (we had seen him last in Kinshasa and now he is in Europe). Beni offered to come with us since it was dark and the road to Dachiku’s place is very muddy. Dachiku came and met us at the Eglise Ararati and from there walked to her house. We had to use the flashlights on our phones because the power was off across the city. What a strange feeling to be in such a big city and yet so dark. We went down some narrow steps that opened to what in the the daytime would be a view over the city. Their house was built into the side of the hill. It was so good to see Dachiku again as I was just getting to know her better during my time in Beni before the Ebola outbreak began. I think their family was also happy to meet members from the UCBC community where two of their siblings/children had gone to study. Dachiku and her siblings offered us some whole milk and bread (the milk was like yogurt). As we chatted, more of their family arrived until her parents and all of her siblings were there to greet us (they have a big family)! Othy sent Bututo a picture on Whatsapp and he was so pleasantly surprised! It was getting later and so we soon had to go. The family generously arranged for a driver to take us back since transit at night in Bukavu is difficult. What a full and interesting day it had been!

December 3, 2018

Bukavu Wedding

Our friend Blaise who came to pick us up at the harbour brought us to the place we would be staying during our time Bukavu. We were being generously hosted by Mark and Karen who are friends of Matt’s family. It was nice not to have to spend money on accommodations for this part of our trip! We dropped off our things and then took a short walk to a nearby guesthouse where several other friends of ours were staying. We saw Adelphine, Lauren, Mary, and Noe, Bethany and the kids. Othy went to get a haircut with Blaise and Regis and then later in the evening we had dinner with Mark and Karen and got to know them better.

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We took the following morning slow because the wedding was not until the afternoon. We then walked back to the guesthouse where we came upon Matt, Benjamin and Regis, members of Like Christ reunited! We worshiped together for a bit and then Regis and Matt started getting ready. Othy and I went back to our place to get ready and then went to the church which was only a short distance away. We met Noe and Bethany and took Lydia to look after her during the service since they were Jess and Matt’s “Perrain” (mentors) and were therefore part of the ceremony. The service was beautiful! Jessica and Matt both looked radiant. Reverend Dr. Kasali gave a thoughtful meditation on marriage that looked at the example of Mary and Joseph and how God called them, and calls us, out of our respective places and cultures, and at times brings a two people together to serve in ministry together. I also enjoyed hearing Matt and Jess’s vows that they had both prepared in English and Swahili. After the service we joined a procession of vehicles around the block and then went home to rest a bit before the reception.

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The reception was in a large hall that was nicely decorated with white, green, and gold, and had tables surrounding a large square open area in front of the stage where the couple and perrain sat. There were strings of white lights over the open space as well. It was a cool way to set up the space since everyone could see the couple well and the MC called in the bridal party in one by one and they had space to walk around and take time to face and greet each side of the room. Matt and Jess then surprised us all with a dance to the song “A Thousand Years” for which it was obvious they had done some practicing! It was so fun to watch them! The next thing on the program was the gift ceremony. Matt and Jess, the perrain, and the parents lined up, and groups and individuals took turns bringing up their gifts and greeting the couple. Othy and I joined the Congo Initiative group that went up together. Gifts took quite a long time because there were so many different groups who wanted to appreciate the couple and the mother of the groom! Unfortunately Mary wasn’t feeling well and so I took Lydia again for a time until the ceremonial part of things was complete. Finally the tables started going up to the buffet line to get dinner. Near the end of the evening the MC called up married couples to dance in a circle. At first I didn’t want to because I was feeling tired, but Othy convinced me and I’m glad he did because it turned out to be fun! Eventually the bride and groom came into the middle of the circle and the rest of the bridal party and as people started filtering out it was a chance to greet Matt and Jess and her family. It was a memorable day!

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The Texans Lawson and Dawson!