Congo is a big country! By vehicle, motorcycle, airplane, and ferry boat, we have recently traveled from end to end of the Baptist areas of Congo, visiting hospitals in the mission network. One trip we took to the hospital at Sala, one of the most difficult to reach because you have to cross the Kwilu river by one of several ferries, and it’s sometimes a gamble to know which ferry is working!
We’d heard that lightning struck the solar light system at the hospital in Sala, we decided to make fixing that our project. Sala is the eastern most hospital in the Baptist area of Congo, a distance similar to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh only via challenging paved and sandy roads, no gas stations, and 17 rivers to cross; a long “explore” at best, into remote Congo.
Once our trip plans became known, others pitched-in to help out. Dr. Bill Clemmer (then still in Congo) had funds to purchase two replacement solar system batteries. Dr. Friedhelm, at Vanga, offered two solar controllers, one 15 amp, the other 30 amp to replace the failed 45 amp unit until a replacement from the US could be found, along with 10 new “LED” fluorescent-type lights he had on hand.
Preparations took a week. We organized buying batteries, cables, and kerosene (for refrigeration), and packed tools, water and other necessities for the trip. Tuesday, here in Kinshasa, the staff at our mission purchasing service loaded every free inch of space in the Landcruiser with freight for the work at Sala, the Vanga hospital, and the missionaries there because you get to Sala by way of Vanga. Wednesday we made the 350 mile trek to Vanga in 11 hours, the last 90 miles on dirt roads.
The next morning we headed 30 miles down the Kwilu river to Mikwi, where we hoped to find the ferry working. Sala should have only been another 3 hour drive from there, but we were delayed by a sand pit that even our 4 wheel drive could not manage.
Wayne and John, our driver, tried every tactic they knew, but the Landcruiser just dug deeper into the sand. We began to wonder if we would spend the night there. Out of what looked like nowhere, another jeep suddenly appeared, coming towards us. It turned out to be Mrs. Lala, former president of the Congo Baptist women, visiting churches in her native area around Sala. She was as surprised to see us as we were to see her. Her traveling companions wasted no time pitching in to help. In a few short minutes, using copper ground wire as an improvised rope, they pull us out . God works in awesome ways when you are doing God’s work. We do everything we know to prepare adequately, yet in the end, trust God’s providence and rejoice when God provides. That remote stretch of road probably has a vehicle pass once a week.
We received a royal welcome when we finally arrived. A huge crowd appeared singing and dancing to the music of a bamboo flute and elephant tusk horn band, traditional instruments in that area. Later that evening, while enjoying delicious food and the gracious hospitality of Dr. Miche’s and his wife Jeanty, we learned that the Sala hospital had received the gift of a new generator, but it leaked oil and would not run. That perked John’s curiosity. He does mechanics at Vanga, and only one month before received special training in Kinshasa for maintenance of this type of generator.
The next day, with different members of the hospital staff, we divided into work teams. Katherine did “medical supervision” (discussing problems, looking at records, giving encouragement), Wayne worked on the solar system and John eagerly put his knowledge and skills to work on the diesel generator. By noon Wayne had the solar system repaired with lights shining, John had the generator running, and Katherine had a good visit with the hospital team. Complete success!
The Mikwi ferry does not run after dark, giving us a 2 pm departure deadline. After a hearty but hasty meal and a final debriefing with community leaders, we headed back to Vanga, recognizing how much had been accomplished because God provided. But the story doesn’t end there. Three weeks later, a visiting pastor (Raymond Bunn) brought a new 45 amp controller. So Wayne and John made a follow up visit, this time by motorcycle, crossing the river at Vanga in canoes. The 6 hour trip by vehicle takes just two by motorcycle because you follow more direct foot paths. Upon arrival, while Wayne installed the replacement controller, John, pleased to see they’d kept the generator running, gave the staff a second lesson in generator maintenance,. By three pm, and another successful trip, they started back to Vanga. Canoes also stop crossing the river at dark.
Without prayers and support, we could not be in Congo to travel, encourage, come beside, and problem solve for the sake of the God’s Kingdom. You could be a partner for the next trip!
Written by Katherine Niles, American Baptist Missionary in the D.R. Congo