We began this link letter in early March in Aru, but we are finishing it in mid-April in the UK, after a tumultuous six weeks. The Covid pandemic’s arrival in DR Congo and the closing of the Ugandan border made us decide, after much internal struggle, to return to the UK for now, although we intend to return to DR Congo as soon as possible. It was an epic journey through DR Congo and Rwanda, but made easy through the collaboration of the Belgian and UK embassies (and some very helpful ex-paratroopers!). This made us really appreciate the blessing of a functioning government.
Before that our son Henry had already had to very prematurely leave Russia, where he was really enjoying his year abroad.
We had a number of setbacks in our work from December to March, but were just about getting back on track when the pandemic arrived in DR Congo. We were using the Church Mission Society resource Lament for Lent, which suddenly seemed even more appropriate than when Lent started.
Being in the UK without a home brings its own challenges; but again, we have been blessed with a show of extraordinary generosity by some people known and unknown to us.
It may be easy to underestimate our feeling of deserting our dear friends in Congo. For Peter and his Licence (between graduate and Masters) students there is a real sense of pain as he could not start the course they were really looking forward to and which he had spent a long time preparing.
We are acquiring new skills on our journey which we were not necessarily anticipating: being together while not being together through prayer, and confidence that Jesus really is Lord of all.
We thought we’d share a few examples with you about how we have witnessed a close relationship with God in our students and patients since our return to Congo.
We heard how one of Peter’s students had to make a very perilous journey from deep in the bush to the west of Kisangani on bike, narrowboat (on the dangerous Congo river) and bus with his family to be able to attend the course at the university in Aru. We were very touched by the whole family’s perseverance and trust that this theological training will be a life-changing experience for the whole family.
Another student told us how he actually became a Christian during a “deuil” (a wake which starts before the deceased is placed in the coffin and continues sometimes till well after the funeral). At these wakes people pray, some preach and others sing for hours on end. For us, with our Western time-efficient outlook, this sometimes seems overindulgent. To then hear that a student became a Christian and is now training as a pastor because of what he heard at this wake is a quite an eye-opener.
You may also remember Patricia’s patient mentioned in our last newsletter. While we were on home leave, he received Clementine’s Bible. He recently died and we went to visit his mother and surviving relatives in the village and sat around his tomb as is the custom here. His mother spoke about her faith very touchingly. She was grieving for her son but so calm and full of trust that she will see him again one day. What an example, and again we marvel and reflect that having faith in a great God is more important than having a great faith, as Corrie Ten Boom used to say.
We are paying for internet for the Licence students to use at our house while we are not there. Robert tells us that the internet is not working well because a mast was damaged by CODECO insurgents in Djugu, also in Ituri Province and part of our diocese. That also means the local people’s lives are at risk. Please consider the culprits and the victims in your prayers.
On a lighter note, while we were still blissfully unaware how coronavirus would affect our lives, we had our Africa manager, Steve Burgess, visiting us from the UK. Steve stayed for three nights in our house. It was good to share our daily life and for him to meet some of the people we call our friends. He got a bit more of a taste of African life than he or we bargained for. Those of you who know Steve are aware that he really does not make a fuss. At his first breakfast he calmly dropped into the conversation that he had to chase a rat in his bedroom during the night (the rat had been gnawing at the wiring and Steve was concerned it might get into our food). We had just got rid of two rats a couple of weeks earlier, and for Patricia the thought of another rat in the bedroom was enough to make her screech out loud. Sorry, sensitive souls, the story has a happy end for me but a sorry end for the rat: it was clobbered to death after a rat chase involving Peter, our Robert and Valentin, the night watchman.
We remind you here again of our blog where you learn more about our day-to-day life. Lament for Lent tells us that psalms of lament always end with an expression of confidence: a confession of trust in God’s help. We end this newsletter with our confession of trust, and hope you can say the same with us when you need it:
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.Psalm 43:5
Yours in the service of Christ,
Patricia and Peter