Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Today was a special day for me. Just another busy day doing missionary work, meeting with our two wonderful young missionaries who are my assistants, having our Tuesday morning devotional with the two couples who serve in the office and who head our humantarian project work here.

What made it special was remembering about six years ago today. For sure, there will be lots of news stories etc. in America to remind you of six years ago. Here in Congo, in our cocoon, there were no special stories or reminders. But thinking about this day made it very special.

Where were you six years ago today? Remember what you were doing? It's one of those questions now that goes along with, "Where were you when JFK was assassinated?" (if you happen to be 50 plus years old).

Steve Gibson, a great associate for many years in the BYU Entrepreneurship Program, and I had taken a late plane on September 10th to Honolulu, where we were going to work with the BYU-Hawaii Entrepreneurship program people for several days. We'd gotten to bed about 11 pm Hawaii time (about 3 am Utah time). At 3:45 Honolulu time in the morning, the phone roused me from a deep slumber. It was Steve, with a tone of urgency in his voice -- "Meet me in the lobby in 20 minutes!!" "Why?", I mumbled. "Turn on your TV and see what's happening!!", was his terse reply.

The images were too incredible to imagine. As soon as the picture flickered to life, I saw the first of the two World Trade Towers collapse. Having spent many days in those buildings, and eaten dinner several times in the Top of the World Restaurant on the 107th floor, it was too incredible to think that the first tower had collapsed in a gigantic cloud of dust, and the other was blazing in the last minutes of its agony. I watched spellbound and shocked, to see the destruction and then the second tower collapse in slow motion, like a planned demolition. Only it wasn't, and there were thousands of people trapped in those buildings. Our rooms were at the top of a tall Waikiki hotel, and Steve correctly felt that we should get out of there as soon as possible.

Eventually we headed up to BYU-Hawaii, where President Shumway led a very silent and somber studentbody assembly, to give them a message of assurance, that our Heavenly Father's plan for his children was a one of happiness. Steve and I called Bette and Marsha, and wondered how we would get home, as we heard of the shutdown of the commercial aviation system.

In those days following 9-11, there was an incredible outpouring of patriotism for this land that all of us love, deep down in our hearts. We felt righteous indignation at terrorists who would turn our greatest asset, our freedom, into our greatest liability. I remember driving by Deer Creek Reservoir, close to Provo, and thinking how easy it would be for a terrorist to put some awful toxin in our water.

For a time, we all had an intense, and visible love for America. Remember all the flags, the memorial moments at public events like sporting events, singing "God Bless America" in the 7th inning stretch of the World Series, the stickers on everything that proclaimed our love for America? And there was a strong feeling of association with God. The phrase on the coin of "In God We Trust" was suddenly a feeling, a passion, and not just a target of the ACLU.

As someone born elsewhere who became an American citizen, I felt a particular love for a country who would be willing to welcome so many people from other lands to partake in its freedom, its opportunities, and its promise to "give me your tired, your poor, your heavy laden....".

Fast forward six years to today. I hope you have a special feeling for this land. It's not perfect, but it sure beats anything else. How long did it take us to set aside or loosen our grip on the intense patriotism that we felt? Viewing America from afar on this day, I love her with all my heart. I am proud to be an American (and also a Canadian). I'm grateful for a country that will give so much of its resources and its people to defend freedom on foreign soil. It's been almost 200 years since Americans fought on their own soil to defend their own country. How many times since then has this great country been willing to fight on someone else's soil for the rights of peoples of that country? And then to extend fortunes of reconstruction funds to help rebuild those whom we fought? And name one country that has given a 10th, or a 40th, of the aid that America has given freely to other countries.

We see a lot of countries here, trying to do good and help the people of Africa. The other day, someone asked, "How many foreign countries give aid to the United States?" We were hard pressed to think of an answer.

When missionaries return from other countries, one of their most intense feelings is that initial re-entry into the United States. I look at my passport now, and think about the stamps of all the other countries where we have been, and wish there was a stamp somewhere of the times when we re-entered the U.S., so I could remember that moment of "coming home". Entering the U.S. is so easy for us -- the agent swipes your passport, looks at your picture and the monitor, and says, "Welcome home." You should see what we go through to leave or enter countries over here.

Appreciate her. Love her. Work on making her better. Be a righteous people, so our Heavenly Father will keep His promise that, as long as there are righteous people in this land, He will preserve it. Take good care of her until we can come home.

Love to all -- Don and Marsha


We have been fascinated by the various means of transportation in Africa, and thought you would be interested in a blog on what we have seen so far. It's all very basic, but it works, and people seem to be very content with their system.

The most basic means of transportation is "the head". You see the most amazing loads being carried on people's heads. Here a graceful African "maman" strides down the road with three baskets stacked on her head. Because there are three, she's using a hand to steady them. With only one container, she wouldn't need a hand. And often there will be a cloth tied around her back and shoulders, with a little baby bouncing along behind her. Yet, they will give you the biggest smile and wave if you wave at them. And most of them wear only flip-flops or very elementary feet covering as they walk for miles. On our last trip up to Cameroon, we had four stuff bags loaded with 50 pounds each of materials for the church. No problem -- the porter carries one in his hand, and one on his head. As a veteran of three back surgeries, I could only wince.

The next step up from walking and people power is the lowly bicycle, but not as we use them.
Bicycles are sometimes used for riding, but mostly as a two-wheeled means of transporting large loads by foot. Here, probably 15 miles away from any meaningful inhabitation, a man pushes his bike, loaded with sacks of maize (corn) probably totaling 300 - 400 pounds.

Once you get past the bicycle, there is one other two-wheeled conveyance. It's a cart called a "pousse-pousse", meaning "push-push" in English. We see them all over Kinshasa, delivering all types of stuff, and will do a special on the "pousse-pousse" in one of our next posts. So let's explore four-wheeled transportation.

I couldn't begin to estimate how many people were on this small truck, with its cargo as well. But I suspect that somehow they are all glad that they are riding instead of walking. When we first saw something like this, it boggled our mind. Now it's an everyday occurrence and we don't even pay attention. Think something like this would draw interest driving down the main street in your home town??

A rural scene, with a small station wagon like vehicle with about 8 people and lots of cargo inside, and another 5 - 6 people perched precariously outside, hanging onto whatever they can. Plus note all the people walking down the side of the road ahead of the car.

A great scene typical of close to large urban cities -- a road with almost no pavement, and a big truck coming from the provinces, loaded with bags of cargo and lots of people on top. During our trip to Luputa, we saw a truck like this, lying on its side, about 50 feet off the roadbed and 15 feet down a hill. We cringed, and wondered how many people were riding on top of it when it careened off the road.

Big giant diesel trucks are the lifeline of rural Africa, carrying cargo and people between towns. In this one, there must be 25 people up on top of the bags of "manioc" -- the root crop that is the staple of the African diet. The leaves are boiled and eaten somewhat like spinach. The root is pounded into a whitish/brown powder and then cooked and shaped into balls about 5 - 6 inches in diameter. The balls are then cut into slices and served with various sauces and little pieces of meat. Our first introduction to "fufu" -- the cooked manioc flour, came with a topping of tomato sauce with dried fish and goat.

More about the minivan "combies" in Kinshasa in a minute. This one is in Mbuji-Mayi. No space goes unused, including open doorways. Our good friends have a picture of a combie with a passenger standing on the back bumper hitch, hanging onto the rain drip rail as the combie speeds down the road. You pray that there are no accidents.

In a city of more than 8 million people with a very rudimentary bus system, and not too many private vehicles, how do you move people? The answer is the "combie". Every VW bus on the planet that is more than 15 years old, is here in Kinshasa. They take out the seats, and put in a structure of wooden benches so they can crowd in 5 or 6 rows of 4 to 5 people each. In this bus, there were 4 on the front row, and 5 rows (you can't see the last one) of 4 - 5 people each, making close to 30 people. The combies are in deplorable shape -- belching oily smoke and usually lurching to one side. The bodywork has all kinds of dents, and the other day, our friends saw one with the tailights painted on. No wonder you couldn't tell it was stopping!! Each has a sign indicating its destination, and riders use an elaborate set of hand signals to flag a combie over (if there is room). Whenever one that is relatively empty loads up, the scramble of people for seats is something to behold.

This is another "commuter special" headed from a suburb into Kinshasa. For the people who can't afford either a "combie" or a bus, which is usually loaded with three times what we would see in America, there is always the big empty dump truck. At about 15 people deep, and 5 or 6 rows across, this gets 75 to 90 people downtown. One wonders what they will do when the rainy season starts!!

Anyways, hope that gives you an idea about transportation in the Congo. We'd show you pictures of the railroad, except it only runs about one train a week between Kinshasa and the coastal port. When we cross the Congo River to Brazzaville to visit members and missionaries there, we take a "canoe rapide", which is a 30 year old 24 foot waterskiing boat. These usually are loaded with about 15 people, as well as assorted luggage, etc. Taking pictures is prohibited. On our last trip there, the boat stalled out about 150 feet from the other shore. The river was starting to take us at a pretty good speed towards the rapids about 3 miles downstream. But the operator called another boat on his cellphone and we were safely towed to shore. Our visitors from South Africa on this trip were a little wide-eyed, and more than a little leary about the return trip. But all went safely.

Taking pictures at the airport is forbidden for national security reasons, but suffice it to say that there are no jetways, you walk out to your planes, and there is only one "luggage carousel" in each of the national and international buildings. Whenever a large Air France or SN Brussels plane comes in (we use SN Brussels between Kinshasa and Cameroon) with 250 people and about 3 - 4 bags per person, we can wait almost two hours to get our luggage. Lesson learned -- from now on, it's "carryon only" when we're coming into Kinshasa. We haul huge athletic bags full of materials and manuals out to the districts and branches, and then stuff the bags inside of our little carryon cases on the flight back. So we're learning to transport stuff like our wonderful friends. Someone told us that we are at least "50% Congolaise" now.
The local airline prides itself on a fleet of 7 DC9-32 planes. (Production on these halted sometime in the 1970's.) But I trust them a lot more than the fleet of ancient Ilyushyn turboprops from Russia that are used on many flights. On our last flight back from Lubumbashi, I noted that one of the tires on the main landing gear was showing a "lot of cord" instead of a "lot of rubber". So we cross our fingers, arms, legs and eyes. It's so cute -- when the plane lands, all the passengers break out into loud handclapping, whistles and cheers. Wonder if they know something we don't?? Timetables are at best an approximation -- if the plane operates on the day it is listed, it's considered ontime. So we get lots of delays sitting in terminals -- non-airconditioned waiting rooms with white plastic lawn chairs, waiting and reading and remembering when we silently cursed an airline because the plane was going to be an hour late. Oh, how spoiled we were.
So this gives you a basic idea about how Africans get around. Hope you learned something, and you are grateful for everything you have.
Love to all -- Don and Marsha

But, all the smart aleck comments aside for a minute, we love this work and this land, and count it a great blessing to be here for these two years. We feel God's hand trying to urge this country to put the wars and corruption behind it, and move into an era of peace and less-poverty.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


Part of our responsibilities here are to supervise congregations of the church in the smaller cities of the Congo. Four of these congregations are located in a city called Luputa, smack dab in the middle of the country, where we will go every six months for a conference of the church members i the Luputa District. To get there, you fly 600 miles, then rent a jungle vehicle from Catholic Charities and drive about 100 miles down very primitive roads. There's no water or electricity once you get to Luputa, so we will rely on freeze dried foods, buying about 20 large bottles of water for the six day trip. Two days to get there, two for the conference, and then two to get back. Here's the start of the packing -- hot water pot (white pot at top), freeze dried foods, toilet paper, some peanut butter and granola bars, etc. We can buy fresh fruits, as long as we wash them in the bottled water. As it turned out, we were treated to several native African meals along the way -- large steamed planteen bananas with goat in a tomato sauce and a meal of fufu -- kind of like poi, with goat and dried fish. We just went on faith that it was sufficiently well prepared to kill any germs.

Luputa isn't easy to get to, but the trip is so worthwhile. The people there are so pure and humble -- it is a city literally 50 miles away from anywhere else, and hasn't been overly spoiled by the advance of modern civilization. When the Belgians left the Congo in 1960, they had several stores and facilities in Luputa, but as in most of the Congo, the country has gone backwards in the last 45 years due to many factors. Roads that used to be decent have deteriorated, electrical distribution systems have been looted for the copper wiring, etc. The people in Luputa are less worldly, but far more spiritual and receptive to the teachings of Jesus Christ. So come along for the trip......

We are going to travel with Elder K. Tusey Kola, a leader in our church from Kinshasa who was appointed to a position of worldwide leadership last April in the General Conference of the church in Salt Lake. He is the first such leader from the Congo, and a man of great faith. He and his wife and their 12 children live in a very humble home on the east side of Kinshasa, most of the time without electricity. Like nearly all people in the Congo, he has no car, so to receive his emails from church leaders in Salt Lake City or Johannesburg, he takes "combies" -- old VW busses crowded with 25 people in them for 90 minutes to get to our office. So, to read his emails is a 5 or 6 hour journey, and very expensive as well. Here he is with Pres. Binene, the president of the district who leads our four congregations in Luputa. Both of these men are wonderful humble, but very accomplished leaders. I would match their leadership capabilities against anybody in the church in the United States. Both of them are first generation members of the church, new converts within the last 18 years, who have grown in the church as it has expanded in the Congo.

Here's a part of the chapel complex in Mbuji-Mayi. It is a jewel in its neighborhood -- white and clean within its gated walls, compared to the dirt and filth of the surrounding nighborhood. Many classrooms are in a separate building at the right, and the baptismal font is outside. The members have worked hard to plan a nice lawn that will grow together.

After buying diesel fuel for our rented truck ($ 12.50 a gallon or just under $ 400 for the fillup) and buying some bread from a local bakery, we were off!! We navigated 70 miles through little villages and homes along the roadside to a city called Mwene-Ditu, where we would stay the night. There are 50 members who moved here last year. They meet each week but haven't been organized as a branch yet, and so are only a group and haven't had the sacrament for over a year (I called the leaders in Johannesburg and immediately received approval for that). Our plan was to meet with them at 5 pm on Thursday night for a one hour meeting, but our plane to Mbuji-Mayi was very late and we didn't get there until 8 pm -- three hours late. I felt very badly as we had really wanted to meet with them, and I feared they would have walked home in the dark to put their children to bed. When we pulled into the enclosed courtyard of where we would stay, about 35 of them were there, sitting in the dark and quietly waiting. We immediately took most of the bread we brought and gave it to them for their children, and asked the hotel proprietor to turn on a light. We had a meeting with them with Elder Kola and I both talking, and then gathered in a circle under the little light to sing several hymns together. Then they quietly walked home in the dark to their little homes.
Saturday and Sunday, about 15 of them took public transportation the 35 miles to Luputa to attend District Conference there. How humbled we were to think of their faith, to wait three hours in the dark for us. How many North Americans would wait in the dark for three hours, not knowing how late their guest speakers might be?

Our room in Mwene-Ditu had the basics, but not much more. In the bathroom, two buckets of water -- one for flush with, and one to wash with. We ordered electricity long enough to heat some water for the REI freeze-dried meals, and the Kolas and Omer dined with us in our room. With a little bread, and dried fruit for dessert, it wasn't gourmet, but it satisfied.

We are traveling in a rented Toyota jungle truck together with the Kolas and our great driver, Omer. There is a bench seat in front, with two rows of benches down the side. Because we are carrying about 100 pounds of supplies for the church congregations at Luputa (which will save about $ 750 in shipping costs), we just had the bench on the left hand side. We bounced around like pinballs in the back as we careened down the road (see the following picture for some of the sections of the road).

Last post we showcased the potholes in the roads in Kinshasa -- out in central Congo, in the dirt roads, the holes are a little larger. These were two - three feet deep. On a dry road, not too much of a problem, but when we come back in February or March of next year in the rainy season, this promises to be a very interesting and challenging trip.

The lifeline in Africa are huge diesel trucks. They carry food between communities, and serve as the busses, as people ride on the top of the load. Unfortunately there are no methods to monitor the weight of the trucks, and they load everything on that they can, as it creates more revenue. The overloaded trucks create huge ruts when the roads are wet. And sometimes they're too heavy for the bridges. No problem here -- just lay planks over the broken steel decking -- and hope that it hopes. So you hold your breath, and creep across the broken section. But we met huge trucks that will cross here -- and were glad we were in our smaller vehicle.

In Luputa we stay in a Catholic monastery, as the only hotel in town has only 4 rooms and no water or electricity. Here's our luxurious room. Truly the necessities -- bed, concrete floor, one light bulb and two chairs. Those mosquito nets come in handy, but a couple of mosquitoes still got inside the nets and we had big red welts in the morning. We paid more for the diesel generator for electricity ($ 15 a night for two hours) than we did for the room -- a bargain at only $ 10 a night. For a bath, we ordered a plastic bucket of hot water one night. Surprising how good you can feel after a cat wash in your room, on the bare concrete floor.

Luputa has sent some wonderful young men on missions. Friday afternoon, Pres. Binene told me that on Saturday morning, I would be interviewing 7 young men who wish to serve church missions. When I started on Saturday, he said that there were now 10. By the time I had finished on Saturday morning, I had interviewed 17, all of whom had great desires to serve and were really prepared. Here's Marsha with four young missionaries from Luputa who have returned from serving in Kinshasa during the last year.

We will start building a new building in Luputa next year, but for now, the biggest chapel here is a former store from Belgian colonial days. It only holds about 250 people inside, so the brethren built a shade structure out of bamboo poles and those great blue tarps. Sunday morning there were 250 inside and 650 outside - 900 people out of the District's 1,080 members attended. We moved the podium and the portable generator powered microphone into the doorway so those both inside and outside could see those who spoke. A great meeting, and there was a wonderful spirit present.

One of the things you always do is to meet the officials of the city or territory. The man in the middle of the group is the territorial governor whom we met on Friday, who came to our church meeting on Sunday. The guy behind Marsha and him is his guard, complete with his AK-47. Thank heavens it wasn't necessary.
See Part II for the rest of the trip's story.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Well, this picture is "out of order" -- it should be on Monday, but it shows how you eat lunch in the middle of Africa. Pull over to the side of the road, have Marsha open the suitecase commissary and it's time for sandwiches. Here are Elder and Sister Kola, along with Omer. The big sack is 30 kilos of corn which Omer purchased to take back to his family. Later this afternoon, he stopped to look at the biggest catfish I have ever seen -- about 3 feet long, and bargained whether he could purchase it. Fortunately no deal was struck -- we weren't keen about sharing the back of the truck with a smelly dead catfish!!
So back to the District Conference in Luputa on Saturday and Sunday. We had three meetings on Saturday -- Marsha and Sister Kola taught the female leaders for the church organizations for the children, young women and the ladies, while Elder Kola and I taught the men in leadership positions. Then we had a meeting for all the adults. Sunday, there was a two hour meeting for all members and their families.
During the Sunday meeting, there were about 250 children in attendance. They were amazingly reverent. After the meeting -- it was another story. Mass chaos!! Everyone wanted to shake hands about 3 times with a hearty "Bonjour", or reach out and hug us. Here's Marsha in the middle of a mob. I think that some of them enjoyed shaking hands to see if our skin felt different than theirs. Most crowded around, but a couple of little babies shrieked in fear whenever they came close to us.

Monday morning, it was up early for a two hour trip from Luputa to Ngandajika. It had rained during the night for 2 to 3 hours, so the roads turned to mud and we slithered down the trail. Not tropical here -- high African highlands with vistas where you can see for 20 miles in many directions. An amazing country.

Here's a typical African village -- abode brick houses about 12 by 12 or 16 by 16, with thatched roofs. The women cook outside using charcoal to cook their meals. Everyone has a great smile and a big wave as we drive by.

In Ngandajika, we met with 50 incredibly faithful members who have moved here during the last couple of years. About 30 of them rode their bikes 35 miles to Luputa for the Sunday morning meeting, then rode back in the afternoon. We gave them approval to have the Sacrament in their weekly meetings here (as in Mwene-Ditu), while we apply for approval of a branch in each of these cities. The fellow in the green in the front row is the territorial governor. We met with him when we first arrived, and several minutes before the meeting began at 10 am, he showed up. Several members gave great talks, and Elder Kola and I both talked about the Book of Mormon and its truthfulness, and how it can guide our lives in today's world as a second testimony of Jesus Christ, together with the Bible.

After the meeting, the territorial governor came up and we shared a nice chat. Then he asked, "Where could I get a copy of the Book of Mormon?" Darn -- we had left about 25 copies with the district in Luputa, but didn't have any with us now. But I had my leatherbound edition -- so now the territorial governor has a Triple Combination with the name of Donald Livingstone on the cover. He said he will be a friend of the church and help us do anything we need -- will come in handy when we build a chapel in a couple of years.

Once a Grandma, always a Grandma. Marsha will hold any baby, anywhere, anytime. Here she is getting a love from a little six month old son of a sister in Mbuji-Mayi on Tuesday morning (this picture is a little out of order as well, but I can't seem to correct its placment, so pardon my technical ineptitude). Since our plane back to Kinshasa turned out to be five hours late (not an uncommon experience), she got in a lot of baby holding. What a great companion -- it's easy for me to say "I LOVE my companion!!" She always smiles, does whatever is needed, and when we get lemons (like late planes) , she's great at making lemonade.

Here Marsha is with some of the ladies who came to a Monday afternoon meeting for all the members in the Mbuyi-Mayi branch. 200 came on a Monday afternoon at 4:30 -- great dedication of these wonderful African Saints.

We were so amazed and grateful for the faithful example of these wonderful church members. They have such a great spirit about them, and are so greatful for anything and everything that you do for them. While they may be "young in the Gospel" as far as their years of membership are concerned (many of them have just been members for two to five years), they have so loving hearts. And they are happy with their circumstances in life, even though they have so little in comparison with us. When we take a picture with the digital camera, and then immediately show them what the picture looks like, they clap their hands with joy and crowd around to see what they look like. And then immediately want to pose for another picture.
Where else would people be willing to wait for three hours or more in the dark for someone to show up? Where else would people ride bikes for 35 miles each way -- taking three or four hours in each direction, to attend a meeting? Surely there are other places in the world where people make sacrifices. But in North America, we are so privileged and spoiled to have what we have. And we take it for granted.
Over the next two months, we will visit three other "districts" of the church here, along with smaller congregations scattered over the Congo, Republic of Congo and Cameroon. What a joy to serve these people.
Love to all -- Don and Marsha
P.S. It's 4 am on Sunday morning and I just finished listening to the BYU-UCLA football game on the internet. Rats -- we lost, but the game was a good game. You gotta have time for a few diversions in life, don't you?? Off to bed -- bye for now.