Sunday, September 9, 2007

OUR TRIP TO LUPUTA -- Part I

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.

2 comments:

momj said...

Thank you for sharing your blog..my daughter Shara was on a mission in Portugal with your daughter...I think we need to understand the gospel in its "basics and bigness" and your blog is a reminder of that to me.
Sunday I handed out VT assignments to some who feel they can not make their appointments as they are too busy. Its all relative , isn't it? Looking forward to your blogs! Linda

Frieda said...

Thank you for the post,and the reminder to cherish my blessings as I count and give gratitude for them. I have enjoyed your blog and remember you in my prayers.