Wednesday, February 27, 2008


One of the four member districts that we travel to is in Luputa -- a community of about 125,000 people in the middle of Africa. Last August, we used just one vehicle for 5 of us.

This trip, we are coming with a second vehicle. The Church has agreed to contribute $ 2.5 million to build a water system for Luputa. The source is a great spring about 40 kilometers from Luputa. The water will be captured in a large reservoir, and then brought by a "gravity feed" pipeline to several villages along the way and then to Luputa. The Barlows (missionaries who are the Humanitarian Directors for the Congo), David and Anna-Lena Frandsen (church volunteer missionaries who travel the world for the church reviewing large water projects), and Robert Hokanson (a church employee in charge of the world-wide water initiatives for the Church's Humanitarian Services) are here to review the water project, meet with the tribal chiefs, and select a project manager.

We're traveling in two Toyota Land Cruisers rented from Catholic Charities. After paying $ 12.50 a gallon to fill up the two vehicles, we put our trust in our two drivers -- Omer in the trusty green truck we used last time, and Alphonse, in the white Cruiser. You'll see pictures of the white truck because I sat in the back of the lead vehicle and took pictures of the following vehicle throughout the trip.
The first 80 kilometers from Mbuji-Mayi to Mwene-Ditu is paved with potholes. The remaining 40 kilometers to Luputa is dirt in the dry season and like this in the rainy season.
The distance we traveled was probably a lot more than the straight line distance, due to zig-zags and detours. Here's the zig-zag -- the first picture in the blog with the palm tree is on a detour.
The Land Cruisers, and our drivers, are amazing. We were in the lead vehicle, and didn't have the perspective of what our truck looked like as we drove through mud holes, water, etc. The people in the following truck said they just looked and held their breath. But thanks to Omer's skills, we never got stuck. Then, from the back of our truck, I would take pictures of the second vehicle, and we were always amazed to see them make it through. Half Land Cruiser -- half boat!!
On the way back, it was time for lunch and we pulled off the road. Omer chose wisely, but unfortunately, Alphonse didn't. Despite his best efforts, he was stuck. Bro. Barlow is not too happy!!
Fortunately, a passing truck has a steel cable, and with a help from Omer and our trusty Land Cruiser, Alphonse and the white Cruiser are soon out of the ditch.
You share the road with people pushing load on bikes, other vehicles, and this herd of goats. Goats are a very real measure of wealth. A male goat is worth $ 40, a female is $ 80. So here is a lot of money, and you give them a wide berth.
Well -- just had to throw this one in -- as always, you are amazed when you see trucks overloaded with stuff and the always-present people riding on top and on the back, at 35 miles per hour.
At the end of the trip, everyone is exhausted and bumped and bruised. Except you know who -- what a great companion. I love her!!

Anybody who smiles like that all the time is the best!!!!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Let's go for a ride down a street called "Poids Lourds" -- essentially French for "very heavy" loads. This used to be the only street into downtown Kinshasa from the east side of town, until they built Lumumba Blvd, which is a divided two lanes in each direction road. Sometimes when you are approaching the junction where Poids Lourds takes off from Lumumba, you can see the backup on Lumumba, so you take Poids Lourds and hope for the best.

Here's what 15 minutes driving down the road is like. I will probably have my driving privileges revoked when someone from the church's safety division sees that I'm driving and talking on the cell phone or taking pictures at the same time. But this will give you an idea of what driving is like. I generally drive at least 15 hours a week, going to meetings or interviewing the missionaries and their investigators who need interviews for "special situations" before they are baptized.

Taking pictures is a tricky business. If someone sees you taking their picture, they either want money, or are mad at you. So you learn to take pictures very carefully and not too openly.
Here's a guy that is intent on passing someone -- so I better swerve to the right. Note the silver Mercedes ahead of us, and the red and white bus coming in the opposite direction. Hidden behind the yellow VW bus is a "pousse-pousse" cart. These carts occupy the right hand lane and are given right of way. Which means that the red and white bus will have to get around the "pousse-pousse" somehow. Usually that means they will be in the center of the road and into your lane.
You can see the dust where the Mercedes wagon has driven on the shoulder to give the oncoming bus much of our lane.
This isn't the same white VW van -- just one of the many. This is typical Congolese style driving -- because traffic is pretty slow in the lane coming our direction, this guy has lurched across the road and is now traveling on the shoulder in the opposite direction. The real fun comes when someone going in our direction is traveling on the same shoulder, and the loser in the game of "chicken" has to figure out where they are going to go. Usually it is somewhere into your lane.

A common sight -- someone swerving to miss a pothole. Driving here is like a video game -- you hope your reflexes are fast enough to miss the holes on your side and the guy who maybe coming over to join you!!
There are no such things as "lanes" -- just lines of traffic that snake down the street, searching for ways around the potholes and watching for the cars coming in the opposite direction to make sure they're not in your path.

These are "people movers" that the government uses to transport the workers to their government office (you can guess that the colors in the DRC flag are blue, yellow and red). About 60 plus people will be crowded into one of these -- the lucky ones get to sit, while most stand for the hour or so commute. And the people who ride really are the lucky ones -- each night from 5 to 8 pm, people stream out of downtown headed for their homes. Many ride in the combies, but tens of thousands walk home. Driving on the roads gets very hairy because the walkers just ooze through traffic. You inch forward a little at a time and hope you don't hit someone.
Not all the interesting things are happening on the road. Here some shoppers are checking out a "marche" on the right side of the road. I don't know what the lumber is -- maybe scrap just left out for people to take home, either to add onto their house or to burn for their fire that night.
Meanwhile, on the left hand side of the road, behind a concrete fence, are the train tracks. Once a day a commuter train serves a suburb. The Thomas's, who can see the train station from their apartment, say that as the train starts to leave the station, it is relatively uncrowded. But in about 30 seconds, as it starts to inch out of the station, hundreds of people emerge from who knows where and crush into the train. The freeloaders ride up on top of the train, because they know the conductor won't come up there to check if they have a ticket. The smart ones sit down on top for the ride. But the intrepid ones -- check out the next picture.
I wish that I could get a picture that does justice to the train. If the fence didn't block the view, you would see people are hanging out the windows and the doors and crowded beyond belief. That's why maybe the best place is up on top of the train, in the 25 mph or so breeze as it rumbles down the tracks. The tracks at best are uneven and pretty scary. So the roof riders get to practise their surfing as they ride home.

And that's 15 minutes on "Rue Poids Lourds". Every trip is like this. That's what makes it fun!!

Hope you can get a little flavor of what life here is like. And yet the people are relatively happy and content with what they have. One of our bishops rides the VW transports for 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to his position with the "Department des Affaires Etrangers" -- the Foreign Affairs Department in English -- in his three piece suit. I can't imagine how much I would sweat. And he is grateful for his job, for the church and for his family.

Count our blessings -- Love -- Don and Marsha

Saturday, February 2, 2008


One of the great blessings of serving as we do is to work with wonderful young missionaries. Most of our missionaries here in the DR Congo and the Republic of Congo are native Congolese, while in Cameroon, we have 9 missionaries from the U.S. and one from Vanuatu.

For all of these missionaries, we hope that besides helping them find and teach people that become members of the church, they can learn principles that will help them for the rest of their lives. We hope that they will learn Gospel principles and doctrine that will strengthen their testimonies; principles of leadership that will prepare them to be the future leaders of the Church in their countries; and principles of working and learning that can help them find good jobs and careers so they can provide for their families. Thanks for praying for all the missionaries in the world that they can receive similar blessings.

Time to meet some of the wonderful young missionaries that we serve with. The missionary second from the right -- you already know. She has been on her mission for seven months and her French is improving daily. She really did well in our last zone conference, when we took all the missionaries out on the street, meeting people and asking if we could come teach them in their homes. She is loved by her companion (me).

On the left is Sister Rita Lukonga from the west side of Kinshasa. She has served for about 9 months and is a wonderful hard working missionary. For a month, she was really sick -- and the blood tests showed that she had both malaria and typhoid fever. But after a week of medication, she was back up on her feet and serving with such dedication.

Next to Sister Lukonga is Sister Lengelo, a new missionary who arrived last week. You can read more about her in a couple of paragraphs.

On Sister Livingstone's right is Sister Mukaz, who is 23 and comes from Lubumbashi in the southern end of the Congo. She comes from a family of 15 children, 8 of whom are members of the church. She is the first person in her family to serve a fulltime mission. She was baptized in 2000. Her parents are not members of the church and unfortunately there is no mail system here, so she doesn't hear from her family that often. She served as a volunteer missionary in her home ward and learned much about the book we use, "Preach My Gospel" before she came. Next week, I am going to send her and another wonderful young sister missionary from Lubumbashi, Sister Kayembe, across the river to open a new apartment in Brazzaville. It will be a little difficult for them -- Brazzaville is isolated from Kinshasa by the Congo River, and we will only be able to visit them once every four to six weeks. They will need to be strong -- and they will be.

One of the great joys is to welcome new missionaries, with their enthusiasm and desire to serve. On January 30th we welcomed four new missionaries. The two on the left are the Assistants that work with me -- Elder Mputu and Elder Oubassissa, and make wonderful presentations in our new missionary orientation meeting. The new missionaries are Elder Ngandu (3rd from the left), Sisters Lengelo and Mujinga and Elder Kalulambi. Elder Ngandu and Sister Mujinga come from Kananga -- a city about 500 miles southeast of Kinshasa. Each of these new missionaries has an interesting story.

Elder Ngandu is about 22 and has all the earmarks of a great leader. He is humble and yet confident, and studied English for the last 6 months, about 3 to 4 hours a day. He read from the Book of Mormon with Sister Livingstone for an hour or so on Friday, and he did very well. When I interviewed him in Kananga last fall, Marsha said, "That young man has all that he needs to be a real leader in the mission before he is through." She's right.

Sister Lengelo is 24 and received her university degree in Chemistry and taught in high school for a couple of years before she felt the desire to become a missionary. She is a quiet but confident young lady. The next day after this picture, she was helping us at the Center for the Handicapped ceremony and she and her companion sang hymns quietly, in a beautiful harmony.

Sister Mujinga is 23 and from Kananga. She worked hard as a secretary to earn the money for her passport. She has a wonderful smile, a joy for life, and when she bore her testimony in our orientation meeting, she just radiated the spirit of the Gospel.

Elder Kalulambi is from Masina, a suburb on the east side of Kinshasa. Marsha met him at the stake center about three weeks ago, just before he left for his missionary training at the Center in Ghana. When missionaries send in their application, they could be assigned to anyone of the 360 missions in the world, but he prayed that he would be assigned here to the mission in the DR Congo, so he could teach people in his own country and help strengthen the church here. He is a humble but powerful missionary.

One of the most important things we do is to select the companions for these new missionaries. I felt a wonderful powerful spiritual confirmation of where all four of these new missionaries should serve. What a "tender mercy of the Lord" to deliver them to their apartments and see the joys and welcome that they received from the missionaries who will be their trainers.

Here are most of the leaders of the mission, at a Zone Leader Council meeting at the end of January. From the left -- Elder Mputu, Elder Nsuka, Elder Oubassissa, Elder Kamba, Elder Kayumba, Elder Tshimbundu, Elder Lubangakene, Elder Mampouya and Elder Mukamba. (We've gotten to where we can pronounce these names with relative ease -- Smith, Jones, Collins, etc. will seem pretty staid once we get home.)

One thing that I didn't realize when I got here -- while French may be the colonial language and the official language of the country and the Church, there are many tribal dialects that the missionaries must learn. Here in Kinshasa, the dominant tribal language is Lingala. In Lubumbashi at the southern end of the mission, they speak Swahili. And in the middle of the country, they speak Tshiluba.

So when elders are transferred, sometimes they have to learn a new language that can be radically different from the tribal language they know. While we hope that the next generation of the church will be much more fluent in French, often I have to conduct interviews with someone who can only speak the tribal language, and have to rely on one of these young men to be a translator. You rely a lot on the spirit that you feel in interviews such as these.

I am amazed at their resiliency. In other missions, elders have cars or bicycles. Here they ride the VW combi transports, 20 to 25 packed into a VW bus. We finally got each companionship a cell phone with tightly controlled usage, so they can call their investigators and confirm appointments, etc. I am grateful for their diligence. What great young men and women.

After our zone conference in Cameroon, we treated the elders to a meal at a local Chinese restaurant. Elder Snow from Springville, UT is at the far left. He came out last spring, but got quite sick and had to go to Johannesburg to get healthy again. Since coming back, he has been a wonderful missionary. In the middle is a future elder, Michel Olinga, from Yaounde, Cameroon who has received his call and will begin his missionary service at the end of February. We were glad to have him join us -- he is a wonderful young man about 24 who has finished his schooling and worked for several years to earn the money for his passport. As a minimum, we ask potential missionaries to earn the $ 150 or so for their passport. That doesn't sound like much, but in the African nations, a young person probably has to work for 1 to 1 1/2 years to earn this much money.

In an earlier blog, you met Elder Freddie Mol from the South Pacific island of Vanuatu. He's been serving for about 18 months, and I am trying to figure out what I can do to help him in the rest of his life when he is released in August 2008. He is always such a happy person -- big smile and a joy for life. Two weeks ago, he and his companion, Elder Ngenga (a native Cameroonian) had 14 visitors attend Church services on Sunday. That's how hard and well they are working.

Happy Birthday, Elder Nielson!! Birthdays are always fun -- after the Zone Conference we sing "Bonne Anniversaire" in French and then "Happy Birthday" in English, and they get a bag with a loaf of banana bread from Sister Livingstone, a pair of "Gold Toe" black socks (we brought 100 pair with us -- thanks for the sales price, Costco), a picture of the Savior, a pen and red/blue scripture marking pencil, and whatever else we can find. Elder Nielson is such a great young man. He's from Salt Lake, played football for a small college in Indiana his freshman year while he studied engineering, and then came on his mission. I asked him if he missed playing football (he was a receiver) and he said, "A little. I sent an email to the coach and the team and wished them a good season." And here he is in Cameroon, working his heart out for the Lord.

Counting the couples, there are 95 missionaries in the mission, and 95 stories that you would enjoy. It is such a blessing to love them, teach them, celebrate their successes and help them on those rare days when they need a little lift. How we love them and are grateful for them.

Thanks to those of you who have sent sons and daughters into the mission field, or for those of you who aren't members, have helped brighten their day when you've seen them. They are the best of the young people in this world today. And thanks for praying for them each day.
Love - Don and Marsha

Love to you -- Don and Marsha Livingstone


This posting is about a ceremony/celebration at the Center for the Handicapped, on February 1st. This was a celebration of the ability to bring joy into the life of others, and we hope that it will bring joy into yours as well.
Here's 25 wheelchairs for the handicapped which will be awarded to people -- you'll meet some of them in a minute. The Church has provided funding for 50 of these chairs. While a few of them will be awarded to Church members who are handicapped, the rest will be given to people who have been qualified by the Center for the Handicapped, a Catholic church sponsored project. Last July, the Barlows, who direct the Church's Humanitarian efforts in the country, had prayed very specifically that Heavenly Father would help them find a project to help the handicapped. Later that day, Pres. Muliele of the Mission Presidency came into the office, and talked with the Barlows. He told them of this center and Brother Jean Baptiste of the Catholic Brothers of Charity, who sponsor the Center. The Barlows made contact with the Center and found an answer to their prayers.
Here's a good look at the brand new wheelchair for the handicapped. They sit in a nicely cushioned seat, and by using their hands and arms to turn the crank, they can propel the front wheel and the chair as a whole. The chairs are made in the shop at the handicapped center. The church contributes $ 300 for each chair, which probably allows them to make a reasonable profit to support the other activities at the center. The frame is solidly made, and the wheels come from China and look to be of good quality. The wood is solid hardwood which should stand up to years of wear.
Sister Lengelo, one of our new missionaries who just arrived this week, shows one of the better wheelchairs that these people have been using. Just a white PVC chair mounted to a metal frame. You can imagine how difficult it is to try to propel the chair when the wheels are well behind your shoulders, and your hands are under the arms of the chair.
The wheelchairs have been paid for by the Church, through its Humanitarian outreach project. (This plaque on the back of the chair says "Gift of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", in French.) This year, under the leadership of Bro. and Sister Barlow who head the Humanitarian Services here in the Congo, the Church will provide funds for many projects -- more wheelchairs, healthcare education, food production projects, etc. The biggest project for this year is the start of a water project that will bring water to a city of 100,000 plus several other smaller villages. The project will tap a spring about 35 miles from the city of Luputa, store water in a large reservoir, and bring it to Luputa which now can only get untreated dirty water from several other sources. It will take 3 years, and the Church will provide well over $ 2 million of funding for the project. This was the first recipient among the 20 or so who would receive their wheelchairs in this ceremony. As his name was called, he struggled out of his chair, and wrenched his body into position to move forward. After a moment of steadying from this helper, he demonstrated his desire for dignity by walking the last 20 feet on his own.

He's approaching the table to sign for his wheelchair and then to begin a completely new life in his new wheelchair. It was painful and yet inspiring to see them be able to twist their bodies with a determination that few of us can match.

He really got his new chair rolling -- and knew how to use it, leaving the helper in his dust. What a wonderful thing freedom is. And can you imagine how he will love the day of the resurrection, when he will come forth from the grave with a perfect and glorified immortal body.

Surely, he was grateful and offered his thanks. But how we ought to thank him for our limited ability to help another of Heavenly Father's children. You should see his smile, although his left eye was so occluded that I wondered if he could clearly see us.

This lady's feet were so deformed -- you can see how misshapped they are.

One of the last people to receive their wheelchair was this man. We have seen many of these -- so crippled that they scoot along on their feet in flipflops, using another pair of flipflops to protect their hands. Can you imagine what the gift of a wheelchair will be to this man?

Here he is approaching his freedom to move in the world. Brother Barlow, who organized this project along with his wife Marilyn, watches this with somewhat damp eyes.

There were many more similar recipients -- all so moving. If we enjoy good health, how grateful we should be for this marvelous gift, and how willing to share our good fortune and resources with those who are not so fortunate. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me..." Matthew 25:40.
Love to all of you -- Don and Marsha