International Ministries

Over Hill over Dale

March 27, 2013 Journal
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Dear Friends,
      It's a beautiful, clear moonlit night. Not a hint of all the unsettled weather we have been having for so many nights; perfect for Glen's projecting at far away Kinkosi tonight. The Kikongo youth who accompanied our Kikongo soccer team to another village for a game today, have also just returned on foot under the full moon. Judging from all the cheering, excitement and singing spreading from one end of Kikongo to another, we won.

This week, I began wearing a new additional hat, an agricultural one. One of the curious things about being a missionary in a place like Congo, is that you easily and frequently find yourself filling roles you've never been trained for, because there is a crying need... The crying need at the Pastoral School has recently taken the form of hunger due to poorly managed/supervised student gardens. A few of our students won't be able to harvest their first manioc, our main staple, until next February. The good news is that a young trained agriculturalist in the community has agreed to work with us for the next few months to try and help us get on track again. My job as I see it, is to brainstorm, encourage action and organization, and cheer him and the students along! (One of the agriculturalist's jobs is to tell me if what I'm thinking is possible, or even a good idea.)

We began this week by planting beds and beds of sweet potatoes in the low lands and banks around the school's fish ponds. In three or four months, we hope we will have not only have a helpful harvest, but a continual bank of sweet potato vines the students will be able to use in the future for their up coming dry season gardens and for later plantings behind their student houses. A good beginning.

In the next few months, crop diversity and the discipline of planting timely seasonal gardens appear to be challenges we will face together. Eight plantain tree "pups" arrived this morning for planting. Although they will take some time to grow, our hope is that starchy, vitamin rich plantains will also help augment the student's diets in the future. Although I'm not too knowlegeable about agriculture, I enjoy it a lot and look forward to the excuse of working with the students on their projects.

On Friday, I took a group of 6 Pastoral School wives out to the village of Kindundu for a women's meeting - our second one there. Our goal was to leave at noon. Armed with umbrellas to keep the hot sun off of us, or the later afternoon storms from dumping on us, we hiked up and down the hills and through the grassland for an hour and half before stopping to change out of our sweaty clothes in a cool section of the path before we reached the village.

When we arrived, we were greeted by children on the path, and a church full of chickens escaping the heat of the day. Chairs set out for us in the church reassured us that we were expected. A child brought us some water to drink sometime later. Perhaps a half an hour after that, the inner rim of a car tire hanging nearby was beaten with the back side of a machette to call the village women. It was another hour when the women began to trickle in, freshly washed and dressed. (Bathing is generally done at some distance from the village where a spring or stream supplies fresh water.) The worship service we shared was led entirely by the student wives, who were happy to practice the new leadership skills they have learned at the Women's School.

I was also happily practicing my photography skills, when a young man from Kikongo rode up on our bicycle from home and signaled for me. An MAF plane was weathered in at Kikongo with Katherine Niles and the pilot, so Glen had sent a "chauffeur" to Kindundu to get me. The young man was strong, so I hopped on the back side saddle, and away we went along the narrow winding foot path. We flew over bumps, and surprisingly, even through the sand, down slants with the liberal use of my driver's flip-flops providing traction on the ground, but there were enough inclines and hills, that I did a fair amount of walking, too. Hurrying up the last hill to Kikongo on foot, I was happy to once again slip onto the bicycle baggage rack for the final descent from the Kikongo market, through Kikongo, and to our house. I'm sure my young chauffeur was as aware as I was of all the young heads turning to stare as we rode the last stretch home. Although riding on the back of a bicycle is fairly common around here, I don't think anyone has ever seen me do it before. I think all the other young men we passed were jealous. It was a fun adventure.

Besides catching up with our women on various projects this vacation, I hope to do some tromping on Pastoral School field lands with a GPS to try to begin putting a map of our lands together. (Another thing I don't really know how to do, but plan to try and figure out.) With an ever increasing population of people at Kikongo, the future viability of the Pastoral School depends to a large degree on whether we can hold on to our lands, even when they are lying fallow.
 Love, Rita