Wednesday, December 26, 2007


OK -- this post is going to be a little unfair to you, emotionally. It's a heart rending story, but there are some good elements of joy to it.

We challenged each set of missionaries to do an act of charitable service for someone else to enjoy the real spirit of Christmas. The couples in the office chose to do our service for the Center for Polio Victims in Kinshasa. This center at any one time has between 60 and 110 young people, virtually all orphans, who have deformities usually associated with polio. As there is little vaccine here, a disease that we don't give much of a thought to in the more civilized world can strike young people with terrible effects.

The Center's goal is to bring the young people in, arrange for surgeons to do the best possible corrective action that can maximize the young person's mobility, and then try to use physical therapy to help them re-enter the world. What world they will go back to will be very challenging, given the lack of employment and their capacity to compete. We see hundreds of handicapped people on the streets of Kinshasa each day. Society generally is very tolerant of them, and they are able to beg without any hassle from others. We wish we could give meaningful things to them, but given all the demands on our time, the best we can do is to hand out tubes of crackers that we can buy here for about 40 cents. Marsha tries to keep 8 to 10 in the car whenever we go somewhere, and we hand them out with the hope that at least they won't go hungry for 12 hours.

The Center has an annual grant from external sources (in this case, US AID is a major donor), but last week, the Barlows came here and discovered that there was almost no food in the entire center. So our service project was relatively simple -- help these young people eat for a week or so, until the 2008 grant is received.

The Center is run by some wonderful people. A young English woman from London arrived about two weeks ago to take the place of another volunteer. She is planning to be here for two years, and she will be stretched and challenged in every way. The plumbing is down most of the time -- there are only about two flush toilets for the 60 to 100 young people, and there are always things to be done from a physical facilities standpoint. Stretching the grants and aid received from external sources will be a challenge. Somebody has to work with the doctors who provide corrective surgery on an as available basis, at very low cost. You are so grateful for people like this who are truly making a difference in the world.

Here the Barlows are with the African mama who "really runs" the place -- the children all respect and obey her, and she deals with preparing the food, etc.
As the three couples in Kinshasa (the Barlows -- Humanitarian Directors; the Thomas's -- who serve in the office and keep the mission running; the Livingstone's), we decided to ante up and buy 100 kilos of rice and 60 kilos of beans. It won't be fancy, but it will be a good complete protein and filling for the children here, and will keep them fed for another week until their 2008 grant kicks in. Along with the rice and beans, we also prepared about 100 little sacks with a sleeve of crackers or cookies, a few candies and some other things for Christmas which we distributed to the youth who are here.

While we were there, another gift arrived -- a car with the back stuffed with bagettes. Most of the bagettes were stuffed into big white plastic sacks and carried into the kitchen -- both not all. Most kids received a bagette and started gnawing on it with gusto, a pretty good sign that they had not eaten all that well for some period of time. The bandage indicates that this young man has received his corrective surgery, and hopefully in the near future will be able to start walking, although it seems that his left leg will be very much shorter than his right leg. Even so, look at the diameter of his right leg -- so small!!

Each person at the center has to have braces and crutches which are made pretty specifically for them. Right now, this is done by hand and is a laboriously slow process. One of the things we hope to do as a Humanitarian project is to secure funding for about $ 10,000 which will buy a very effective metal bending, cutting and drilling machine that will allow the center to make the braces and crutches much more quickly, and also provide them with a way to make things for other purposes and bring a source of sustainable income for the center so that it won't have to totally depend on grants and aid.

This young man sat pensively almost the first 20 minutes we were there, watching us with eyes that at times were questioning, at times suspicious, but finally he accepted us and opened the small bag of cookies, etc. that he is holding in his hands. He ate the cookies -- more like devoured them, and we moved on. But the next picture will break your heart. I hope and think that he is one of the children waiting for the corrective surgery.

If your heart wasn't aching by now, then look at how this young man has to get around. Physical therapists come here on a volunteer basis, unfortunately not often enough, to help these young people rehabilitate themselves as best they can.

We wish we could show you the short video clip we took of these young kids swaying back and forth, dancing to a boom box in the background. That young man in the center next to the one in the yellow shirt had ALLLL the moves, even if his legs are terribly deformed.

At the end of the day, everyone is dancing -- even Elder Thomas, our laid-back terrific financial genius in the office. What a day!!

Africa is full of stories like this. A good friend told me that once a year, he tries to do something really good and meaningful in a secret fashion for someone else, and doesn't tell a soul. Then that way, the deepest secret in his heart isn't something dark and ugly, but a good memory of what he has done to bless the lives of someone else. Thanks for all of you that are out there, doing good things for others. That's the real spirit of this Holiday Season, and something that we should be doing everyday for Heavenly Father's other children.

This afternoon we visited a brand new hospital on the east side of Kinshasa, that has been funded and built by the Dikembe Mutumbo Foundation. Dikenbe Mutumbo is an NBA basketball player who played for years in the league. Several years ago, his mother became very seriously ill and died before she could receive appropriate medical care. Adequate care has two challenges here -- to find those who can provide proper care, and for the people to be able to afford care, as there is no system of insurance and no government sponsored medical program.
Mr. Mutumbo contributed somewhere around $ 15 million of his own resources, and obtained roughly the same amount from various donors, and has built a sparkling new medical facility on the east side of Kinshasa in a section known as Masina. We toured the hospital with the director today, for two reasons -- one to make arrangements for the young missionaries to be able to be treated there, and another to see if there is a way that we might be able to work with them on a Humanitarian basis. The hospital is sparkling new and has, in a very simple way, most of the services that you would want to have in a hospital. We hope that it can be maintained over the years.
As we left and went out the main gate, there was a crowd of 30 - 40 people pushed up against the locked gate. We wondered if these were people that wanted health care and were trying to cajole their way into the facility, or if they were people that could afford to pay and just couldn't get in for treatment because the facility can't begin to meet the needs of the total community. How blessed we are with our healthcare system in the U.S. and Canada and other developed nations. It may not be perfect, but be grateful for it.

Love to all - Don and Marsha


The Jorgensens said...

Mom and Dad--
What a feast of entries in the last few days, and this last one most touching of all. It is truely such a blessing to live in the United States -- one we take for granted far to often. Thanks for adding to your blog. We love to see how you are doing and look forward to your posts. Love you. It was great to talk to you on Christmas. We pray for you always and think of you often. Amy

heidizinha said...

mom and dad, i want you to know that this blog is my favorite thing about the internet. love, heidi

theodoreable said...

President and Sister Livingstone, Thanks for sharing this great story and thanks to the Elders and Sisters there that made this happen.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Dave and Georgia said...

Dear Don and Marsha,
I just read your December posts. What a great work you are doing ! We watch with great interest the ongoing spread of the Gospel in Africa though your experiences as well as those of John and Naomi (I assume you know about John's successful heart procedure) as well as those of Elder and Sister Bill and Shanna Parmeley, John and Marlene Jex, and Ted and Heidi Harris, who have served or are now serving in South Africa.
Biff and Marie, who were visiting their children, came to our Christmas program on the 23rd. Joyce Anderson, et al, provided the accompaniment for the choir in For the Glory of the Lord and the Hallalujah Chorus--just like old times. All we needed was the Sundowners. FYI, John Castleton retired on December 15 from his job selling suits at Nordstrom's. We would see him occasionally. Have a great New Year. Our thoughts, love, and prayers go with you. Dave and Georgia