International Ministries

Servants, friends and comforting strangers during the summer in Congo

September 3, 2007 Journal

Dear Friends and Family,

The kids' school has only been in session a few days and already it feels as if summer vacation was months ago. Before it gets too far behind me, I want to tell you about some of the exciting things that happened during that time.

One thing that made our summer so exciting was having a group come out from our home church. Now this wasn't just any group. The two families that came are dear friends of ours we have known since we were all kids. It's such a blessing that over the years, despite the distances, we've been able to remain close. Not only are we close, but now our children are very close friends, too. The more people I meet, the more I realize how rare that kind of unconditional friendship really is. We are so blessed.

Since we've all known each other, we've done a lot of ministry together: youth ministry, young adult ministry, young couples ministry, and music ministry. But I can't tell you how awesome it was to get to share ministry with our friends -- but in Congo. Their time here was very limited, only three weeks, so most of our projects were hands on, but it was amazing to watch these two families go way outside their comfort zones to struggle through language barriers and all sorts of other obstacles to reach out to people here.

The struggle wasn't one sided, though. I was equally blessed to see so many of our Congolese brothers and sisters also reaching out to our friends. Visitors from outside of Congo are so rare. It truly is a huge encouragement to the people here when folks make the effort to come visit. It's not only a blessing to the local community, but to our family as well.

We packed in a lot of activity during the three weeks that our friends were here. When we got to Kikongo we focused mainly on two projects: putting a new coat of paint on the Pastors' Institute, and putting new screens on the entire hospital. Both of these were big projects and we were so blessed to be able to complete them. It was nice to get the Pastors' Institute all cleaned up so that the students have a good environment to work in, but it was easy to see the difference that was made by re-screening the hospital.Screens

Not only did it make the hospital look brand new, but no longer do the patients have to lie in their beds with flies and mosquitoes buzzing all around them contributing to their illnesses. I was really touched by the reaction of the community.

I know our friends weren't looking for any kind of response, but whenever they were out walking in Kikongo, people would stop them and use what little English they knew to thank them for what they'd done at the hospital. The day we flew out of Kikongo there was a huge crowd of people at the airstrip to wish us well, many of who were hospital staff members. Even I, after all these years, was overwhelmed by the gracious hospitality shown to us by the Kikongo community.

Returning to Kinshasa meant it was time to say good-bye to our friends and I was really dreading it. All the way to the airport I was trying to come up with a strategy for not crying.

It didn't work.

I was also dreading the potential hassles we would have with the airport officials. As anyone who's traveled to Kinshasa can tell you, you never know how things are going to work out until you get there, which adds a lot of stress to the situation.

I don't know why I ever worry, though. God always comes through. As we all stood there crying and saying our good-byes, a large group of immigration officials began to gather and were observing us closely. I started to worry that our group would have trouble passing through security. Then one official from the Kikongo area recognized "Pastor Mike" and called him over. Using Kituba, Michael explained that these were our close friends who'd come all the way to Congo to see us and how hard it was to let them go.

I don't know what happened, but as our family stood there and cried (and watched our friends go through security without a hitch), the immigration officials started trying to comfort us. One of the guys said something to me that I'll never forget. He said, "Madame, we know that you could go and be with your friends, but instead you choose to live here and suffer with us. God won't forget your sacrifice. He will bring you comfort." I was blown away. Who would have thought that these very same guys who've made things so difficult for us in the past could turn around and be such a blessing to us? Only God can arrange that.

What a blessing this summer was for us, not only because our friends came, but also because we got to see the Lord work in so many surprising ways. May the Lord bless and surprise you, too!

Yours In Christ,

Jill Lowery