This morning left us emotionally drained as we experienced the love and grace of God and the Disciples of Christ in the DRC. We got a rare opportunity this morning to worship with our brothers and sisters in Africa and were blessed as they warmed up to us.
What started out (from our perspective) as a church service with visitors on the front row turned into warm interactions and welcoming acts by the Congolese. We are truly blessed to be on this journey. After the congregation found their groove with us, they began videoing and taking pictures of us; just as we were videoing and shooting pictures of them. We knew we were a part of the service when one soloist looked and sang his heart out right into our camera. This was followed by the praise band leader singing and videoing me at the same time while I was videoing him videoing me and singing. Did you follow all of that?
We talked about these things over lunch and realized how lucky we are to have shared the experience of this powerful church service. And as the day went on we began to see more and more of the both the Congolese spirit and the abject poverty that many of them are trapped in.
Our first stop of the afternoon was at a Red Cross well dug many years ago. Carmen and Jacques wanted to see how the well was constructed. Immediately upon us getting out of our vehicles we were met with both open arms and skepticism. While some of the adults kept their distance or kept their guard up in conversations with Rev. Bonanga, his staff, Jacques and Carmen, the children wanted nothing more than to see us, touch us, talk to us.
I truly do understand the way some adults might feel. As David Owen said, “What would you think if a tour bus of foreign visitors stopped in front of your house and walked into your yard critiquing your landscaping?” In a country where the Europeans took advantage of the natural resources and the people for centuries and then just left. I get it.
But the next generation doesn’t see it that way. Maybe they are too young to understand; maybe they just don’t care about the past. It really doesn’t matter though. When your entire team is surrounded by 40 or 50 people in a matter of minutes, and all the children want is to see you and touch you, you MUST respond.
And boy did we! Gwen, Lisa and Janet were holding babies or holding children hands. Pictures were taken of the children and then shown to them getting laughter and excitement in return. Steve Hanson pulled laminated pictures of Oklahoma out of his backpack and began showing them to the children and a few curious adults. He would probably still be there tomorrow with our female teams talking to the locals, hugging them or just holding hands; anything to show love and hope to the Congolese.
This well was clearly contaminated when we looked into the well from above. There were flip-flops floating on the surface of the water. We also found a latrine located within 65 feet of the well. Seems pretty hopeless; yet Carmen saw potential if it could be sanitized and retrofitted to stop the contaminates from being introduced from above.
Our second stop was at Disciples of Christ church further down the road from the Red Cross well. This is to be the site of our second well drilling we will use to train the local drill team. The church itself is a thatched roof building with wooden poles cut from the surrounding forest and smaller sticks standing vertically and connected loosely together to form the back wall of the church and the floor is dirt. Three sides were wide open to the elements.
Along with the church was an elementary school that currently has over 300 students. The school buildings are constructed much as the church is but with four walls made of sticks. There actually were similar walls inside separating classrooms. Two outdoor latrines constructed with stick and grass panels, but no roof, sat just behind the building for the students and teachers to use.
Think about this for a minute. Dirt floors, walls made of sticks and a thatch roof made of palm leaves. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for these children and they ARE taking advantage of it. The DOC church is building another building similar to the first to ease the overcrowding. Think of how much more these kids can learn, and what the future holds for this country, if they aren’t thirsty anymore or aren’t missing class anymore from water-borne illnesses.
Third stop: A well further out than both of the first two. As we were approaching this site we passed 20 or so termite mounds; some more than 20 feet high. Just another amazing site on our adventure. When we turned into the driveway (yes I said driveway) of the home where this well is located, we were awestruck with how nicely maintained everything was. The driveway was actually a patch of dirt trimmed into a neat rectangle approximately 20 feet wide by 60 feet long. The small house just beyond the drive was made of clay bricks with a corrugated tin roof. The grass (actually it looked like crabgrass) was short and a vegetable garden surrounded by a stick fence was beside the house.
The well itself was nicely maintained and it was obvious that if there was a well in this area that was not contaminated we had found it. The value of seeing this site was that we were able to look inside the nearly four foot well and see the geologic formations of the area. The well was not lined (encased) in any way, so we could see the various rock formations, giving us high hopes for where we would be drilling well number two.
Next up was the site for well number one which will be at the church we attended this morning; Mbandaka Three. The people (including the minister of the church’s family) that live next to the church must walk nearly one quarter mile to get water each day. The well is located in a neighborhood called Bocatola which is the site of Habitat For Humanity’s first project.
We learned quite a bit about ground conditions at this well also. The top 12 feet or so is sand which presents a unique set of problems when drilling. This is a completely different scenario than well site two which will be a great learning experience for the drill team.
As we walked both to and from this well a group of children shouted at Steve and he very quickly went to the compassionate mode. Several of the kids were counting in English “One, two, three, four, five.” Steve would then give them a high-five and everyone would cheer. On the way back from the well, these same kids all counted from six to ten for Steve and the response as you might expect was the same.
I’ll save the last stop on our tour today for another blog. This stop was six miles from the church in a town called Bolenge where we saw a spring and a well. It deserves a blog of its own since there is tremendous significance for Disciples 4 Water.