We arrived in the Republic of Congo on the 25th of October in the evening to warm, sticky and humid Pointe Noire. After a few hours in Germany and just a few minutes in the Congo we were already stacking up some cultural stories and could empathise with some of the teaching we received in Texas before we even had a stamp in our passport. We arrived at customs to a Congolese queue director who was not particularly interested in our attempt at French and simply pointed and clicked at us until we moved in to the desirable lines with our entry letter from the President. There was no
“Hi ya’ll, have a nice day” or “welcome to Congo,”
In fact there was no greeting at all. And so instantly we were learning.
Our journey was seamless. We were only delayed for one hour, which seems like a miracle considering we took three planes and travelled for a total of 29hrs. As well as our own luggage we also carried five extra bags of medical supplies for the hospital and were relieved and surprised to see every single bag arrive safely on the baggage carrousel. Out of the packed flight that left Frankfurt only 16 people were left when we touched down in Pointe Noire. The rest of the people on the plane were not raptured but got off at Liberville, Gabon during our fuel stop. Turns out Pointe Noire is not a popular place to visit unless you fit one of these 4 categories; you work for an oil company, a shipping company, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or the last category was a petite grey haired Nun. The Air Hostesses were questioning us and the look on their faces told me that 16 is an unusually large number to be going to this part of the world. It did mean that we had a spacious and comfortable last hour of our journey.
We picked up all our miracle bags and walked out of the airport. I stood and took in the smell of Congo for the first time, I listened to Lingala and Ki Kongo as it was shouted over my head for the first time. It felt good to arrive and better still to see the Mercy Ships Land Rovers draw up right in front of us. It was such a beautiful sight and sound. I didn’t even know the people inside but seeing the white Land Rovers with Mercy Ships written on the side felt like someone or something familiar was here to rescue us from the airport. Our Field Service leader met us with several boxes of pizza which was also a beautiful sight. So the convoy set off through the busyness of the city to our temporary home on the outskirts of town The Mini Hotel, Ngoyo. I later found out that the Mini Hotel in reality was a mini brothel, but that is another story for another time.
After a long journey there were some slightly disappointed faces when we realised that there was no running water and the electricity was not working. After the first couple of days of bucket showers and intermittent torch hugging one of our team members who is an engineer for the Africa Mercy gained the hotel owners trust and managed to fix the pump, making some new friends in the process. He also made his team very happy as that evening nearly all of us had some kind of shower. Later he fixed the dodgy generator too and so we went from no electricity at all to electricity supply that worked most of the time.
After a day or two to relax, recover and see some local sites we got down to business. The field Service is the part of training where we put what we have learnt in to practice. Its a two week period where we give to the community and learn from the community before living on the ship. Mercy Ships have done countless Field Services and each one is different. Our Field Service was based in an Orphanage and the projects were all practical as our team consisted of carpenters, engineers and other skilled ladder holders and drill passers. Madame Francois is the woman that runs the orphanage and she has an amazing story. God spoke to her in a dream and told her to look after the poor and forsaken children. He gave her this message a few times and although she did not have the means, God provided the way for her to extend her house and accommodate the children that came. People heard about her and would leave children at her doorstep and police would also bring abandoned children. She now has many children in her care and all who are able go to school and – according to Madame Francois – have a good education.
Madame Francois is in the process of finishing a new property that has taken eight months to build. It is on a beautiful site with two buildings, an office and home for someone to stay in all the time and look after the children. There is a larger building with eight bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, shower and two toilettes and this is where the children will live. The site is slightly outside of the city and is surrounded by fish ponds and forest. She hopes for the fishponds to be a means of making money for the orphanage.
Shortly after arriving in the Congo we found out that the work we were planning to do was on the new site and so we would have no direct contact with the children, which was disappointing. We had spent time in Texas planning games and buying equipment like footballs, volleyballs, face paints, sacks for sack races etc to entertain the kids and so we quickly realised that none of the things we brought would be necessary. Madame Francois had also said that she did not want people visiting the children so we have had no contact with them apart from the few that visited the site while we were working.
And so our focus changed from entertaining the children to the orphanage as a building and what we could do to bless the site. What unfolded with this group has been incredible to watch; the talent mixed with a willingness to serve has resulted in a fruitful and exciting field service. Although slightly disappointed at first I believe the outcome has been more beneficial than a few hours playing with kids would have been.
The plan discussed with Madame Francois was to make bunk beds, paint some murals on the walls and to install guttering around the roof of the buildings so that the orphanage could successfully collect rainwater. The Congo has quite a high annual rainfall (same as the UK) and so this water would be collected and used for all sorts of things around the site. I know guttering doesn’t sound glamorous or anything but If you could see the water that is currently being used you too would be very excited about guttering. She requested seven bunk beds which seemed like a steep order alongside the guttering project. Both of these needed power tools, manpower and careful planning and we only had two weeks and 14 people to complete the projects. We had a meeting before starting the work and all agreed that we wanted to be able to produce top quality in everything we did and ensure all projects were finished in time.
“We want to achieve what we said we would do, do it in time and do it well.”
That was our motto.
The first few days were slow, It took time to acquire all the supplies we needed. The Congo has proven to be very expensive. Many times this is dependant on skin colour but oddly somethings are extortionate irrespective of skin colour. So it took a lot of negotiating, bartering and research to get what we needed. This slow start meant that some of the team were without a job. I was amazed to see that even though half of the group had no specific job to do, everyone looked and found something. A group started walking around the site praying. At one point I was sawing some wood and heard Serenity praying in Chinese. This was such an encouragement. It was incredible for me to know that at every moment God was in the midst of what we were doing and he was being consistently invited in by the team. As one team prayed another group swept and others got started on the painting the murals. At times it didn’t feel particularly fulfilling; we came fired up and ready to go, we were ready to give everything but it soon became apparent that at certain points we had to get back to basics, sit at God’s feet and pray. This field service would not be dependent on what we could get from it or how it could fulfil us but purely about what God was saying to us and what he was leading us to do. It was not about what we could achieve or how talented or great or proactive we are, but how good God is and how we can do all things through him. Watching the team that were jobless go to God in prayer and cover the site in that prayer was both humbling and inspiring. By the end of the second day we had one complete bed made, the guttering was finished on one side of the building and a lot of the painting had been started. The generator broke at one point but we managed to get another one from the ship and so we could continue to work. Without the tools and vehicle from the ship we would not have been able to achieve any of the projects and so we have been continually grateful for those blessings.
We continued to work well together and on the third day we had a meeting with Madame Francois. The meeting did not go as we had hoped. She was not impressed with some of the painting and she wanted the beds to be sanded. She was not outwardly or verbally grateful for any of the projects we had started. This set us back a little and once she left we entered in to a time of prayer. There were some very wise words spoken and we continued to work with a good attitude. We worked to please God and not men and so we worked harder than before.
The 7 bunk beds were finished by the 7th day and Madame was very happy with them she had her thumbs up & called them “beautiful”. The guttering was also finished one day early. We installed 70 meters of guttering with 10 barrels for water collection. We also painted 50 flags, a World map, and an African map, under-the-sea murals, the alphabet and a lot of bible verses. We also prayed over each bed and each room and for the children that would come to the Orphanage. We worked hard physically but we also worked hard spiritually and as one wise gateway buddy said the wood may rot, the murals may fade, and the guttering may break but the prayers of the righteous will be heard and will stand forever.
This field service also included a lot of fun and laughter and there were times when I was blown away by joy and willingness to help each other and by the teamwork that was exhibited. On our last day we found a few homes for all the things we brought for the children we didn’t see. Each day as we walked to the work site we walked down a lively dirt street that has maybe 6 families and a lot of children. Each day we would say hello and over the time we were there we made a few friends. The children would wait with anticipation waving and shouting hello as we walked towards them. So some of the team went and did some face painting one day which the kids loved and before leaving we gave these children some footballs and bubbles and there were smiles all around. Our field service didn’t turn out exactly how we planned but God definitely showed up and had a better plan and we were all pleased to serve him, the orphanage and the local community.
So we left the brothel / hotel that in a funny sort of way I had come to love (apart from the lack of tea.) And we are now on the Africa Mercy. Our cabin is beautiful much more spacious than I anticipated and we have a porthole so now there is some truth in the name of this blog. For the first time I am actually typing whilst looking through a porthole and as you are reading this you are taking a sneaky look too, in through the porthole that is my travelling thoughts.
Thanks for reading I know it was a bit of a long one.