International Ministries

We’re back from Congo !

January 28, 2009 Journal
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Here's a letter written by Mimi Chen to her friends about her recent experiences on our December 2008 Missions trip in Congo. She agreed to let us share it on this web site. Please Enjoy !

Dear Friends and Family,

Ah, the jet lag has finally started to stabilize and my sleep schedule has become a little more regular! Thank God!

Yes! The Congo team is back! We've been back since last Wednesday actually, to a "frightfully cold" Los Angeles weather! What happened?! lol.

It's difficult to summarize everything that's happened in a single letter, or card or blog entry or even a single conversation. Hopefully, by providing a few ways of presenting information, you'll get a better idea of my experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (hehe. I'm reminded of the 7 ways to communicate information strategy that's been taught at work).

Here's the link to our web gallery - you may want to sort the gallery by date to get a better organization of the gallery. Be forewarned that some of the pictures may be graphic (I labelled those albums with discretion advised):

Overall, the trip went very smoothly from my point of view! Sure, there were a few uncomfortable moments, but nothing major that endangered the team nor deviated us from the plans we had laid out. Thank you for all your prayers (and I've heard some have fasted), the team really did feel them. Hopefully, my summary below does some justice to your support and our time spent in the DRC.

As most of you already know, the team EBCLA sent had two distinct goals - to install solar panels in the chapel and library in the village of Kikongo and to perform surgeries on Buruli infected victims in the the Bas-Congo province. We went under the guidance of Michael and Jill Lowery, two long time American Baptist missionaries serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Our solar panel team consisted of: Pastor Sharon Koh, Pastor Jason Ashimoto, Darren McKinsey (electrician), Dr. Jennifer Sun (primary care doctor), Timothy O' Keefe (engineer), Gregg Kawamura (realtor) and myself (engineer).

Our medical team consisted of: Dr. Henry Tseng (podiatrist) and Dr. Greg Song (anesthesiologist).

Solar Panels
Apparently, solar panels are THE THING in the DRC (and why not given the amount of sun it receives!). We successfully installed solar panels at Kikongo for the Pastoral Institute's chapel and library. In addition, because we were able to finish the installation early, part of the team was flew out to another village of Vanga to - you guessed it - install solar panels. When we arrived at the local airport to transfer the team from Kikongo to Kinshasa (capitol of DRC), Mike Lowery and Darren McKinsey was installing yet another set of solar panels on the airport hanger!

Regarding the solar panel installation in Kikongo - it's amazing how much the students "get by" with just one single light. We were able to add in two more lights, which lit the whole room instead of part of the room. We ran into a bit of a snag, with the lights running for 20 minutes after turning them on, but in working with Glen Chapman, a long time missionary in Kikongo, and the villagers, we are sure that the solar (lighting) system will maintain much longer with some setting changes.

While it may seem that this is a great success story to tell people about, it doesn't escape me that the Congolese (in Kikongo), had a very different idea of what success was/is. For them, our arrival and our desire to travel from the States to visit them was worth more to them than the installation of solar panels. If you come to think of it, we could've easily gave away the money we raised to the missionaries and villagers living there. But, to be there, to be present, to live among them for a short while, showed them that the outside world still cared enough to be with them. It's an appropriate reminder of God showing His love for us by becoming one of us and living among us. It's funny how, for me, it took a trip to somewhere so remote to understand, in part, a concept so simple in the Christian faith.

Buruli Surgeries
I was not directly involved in the surgeries, but from what I hear from my team mates who went, this was a life changing experience. The team performed 22 surgeries and taught much of the staff in the hospital, post care treatment.

I was "privy" to some of the pictures the doctors took for their surgeries, and at many times I forced myself to look at those pictures because that's the reality of the Congolese health care system. Some people (some of them are small children) have left their ulcers untreated for months and has worsened to such an extreme degree that large areas of skin, muscle and even tendon had been eaten away by the bacteria. From the tone of the voices in our medical team mates' voices, I know they've been deeply changed or are continually being changed by this experience. Basic health care needs, sanitary equipment, climate control, the number of surgeries, post op care... these are only a handful of things that were lacking.

What's amazing is the reception that the doctors received. Much like our experience in Kikongo, the medical team's presence validated and affirmed that the outside world still does care. Dr.Kabadi, the man who organized and coordinated the trip for our medical team, spread the word to the villages that our doctors would be coming way in advance. It was a huge affirmation for him (who's been working tirelessly in the DRC) to communicate to the villagers that YES, the outside world cares still. That they are not forgotten.

The team had an opportunity to visit the city (Kinshasa) and the villages. It was very obvious, really quickly, that there was a distinct difference in the people's lives. Kinshasa, I'm told, has greatly improved since the last Congo team mission trip. Yet, when I looked around, I couldn't readily grasp that idea.

There was trash everywhere, left anywhere, just piles and piles in the surrounding lands, homes, paths, rivers. People would wash or utilize that water to drink. It was a sad sight.

There was also a lack of traffic control infrastructure - no traffic control (no traffic lights) so cars would go anywhere they liked and getting from point A to point B took at least a few hours, no crosswalks so pedestrians walked anywhere as long as they didn't feel they would get hit.

I've been told that jealousy ruins a lot of their progress. A friend described this the "crab" idea, where if a crab were lifted higher than his other crabby friends, those crabs would would quickly try to pull him back in. Nothing really gets done. Progress is lacking. Some people don't care, and they perpetuate it. There was a strong sense of distrust in the air. It's sad to see that it's become almost somewhat of a way of life.

But there is change, and if change can occur in 3 years, I wonder how much more so in 6!

Village life is much more different, people seem genuinely joyful and receptive. I felt that even though to us, they didn't have as much "stuff" as we do - I definitely feel they "win out" on the riches in life. I look at myself, with all my...Internet, email, cell phone... and what does that cause...distraction and frustrations at times. In the time that I got to spend there, we didn't have access to the above communications...and I was wonderfully surprised how great I felt. No motor sounds going off (just the rooster) real pollution to speak of... It was good, and many many times I thought - I can be content with my lot. It's taught me to slow down and that some things are not worth stressing over.

The team met to debriefed a few days ago, and we're excited about what our next trip could be and what kind of people could be involved. There are various project ideas that we're bandying about - perhaps educating the women's school, more medical missions, recycling, water power, to name a few. So, perhaps YOU may consider to the Congo to help out. . . or any other missions trip. The thing is to...just go, go for the chance for your eyes to open a little wider, go to be uncomfortable, go to change. And you may want to remember that it's the relationship that matters most. With my last missions trip, the most meaningful event I had was making a new friend on the East coast.

Well...that about summarizes, in part, the major highlights of the trip. In case you wanted to know, the least favorite parts of the trip were the bug bites (at least 20) and the mosquito larva that came out of our bath water o.o. hehe, but it all turned out well. Thank you for your support and demonstrating your care for those in the DRC by allowing us to visit them. If you have questions or just or anything of the sort, let me know! : )

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Mimi Chen


The 2008 Congo Team


A cow I named "Cowy".