This is my third trip back to Africa during our year of home assignment. For the next seven weeks I will be in the interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo; evaluating health conditions in an isolated part of the country. Aside from encouraging community health care workers we hope to interest international donors to help rebuild a fragile medical system in a seemingly forgotten corner of the world.
My good friend, Dr Mpoo and I, had just driven for six days in the peak of Congoâ€™s rainy season over terrain and roads that I could never aptly describe in this letter; sleeping wherever we ended up at dusk: mission stations, in the jeep, or by the side of the road. Our diet has consisted largely of bananas, peanuts and water and an occasional bowl of boiled and mashed cassava root or â€˜lukuâ€™ as the local people call it; with a consistency and taste not unlike glue. I started rationing peanuts on day three!
We came to a small hospital that our church established in the 1960s and subsequently turned over to local management. I wanted to see how it was functioning. While there, the nurses and solo doctor asked if I would visit a village chief who was hospitalized and recovering from a common ailment. â€œAsk him about his magic powersâ€ they told me, as they pointed out his room. â€œHe has a way of stopping the rain from falling on him during the most violent of thunder stormsâ€.
I found this â€˜village chiefâ€™ sitting outside in a chair next to the mud brick hospital building, dressed smartly in red; red cap, red shirt, red pants, and even red sneakers. He was thin from his illness but quite pleased to have â€˜a foreignerâ€™ call on him. We talked about his health; then I asked him about the various articles he had by his side. One was this infamous â€˜anti-rain wandâ€™. He showed me a wooden stick, covered with the skin and tail of an animal. It had a carved head of a man on one end and a brush of animal hair on the other. When a storm is approaching, he draws a cross in the sand with the one end of the stick calling upon the power of his ancestors. Then he reaches up and waves the hairy end of the stick towards the clouds, forbidding the descending rain to touch him. I was told by the nurses that they have seen him walking around, bone dry, in the midst of violent storms. I donâ€™t doubt it.
I asked him where this â€˜powerâ€™ came from and he told me from his â€˜ancestors in the ground.â€™ I asked him if he knew of the â€˜greater power of God aboveâ€™. He acknowledged he believed in God and that he himself was a Christian...but as a tribal chief he had to occasionally call upon the power of his ancestors. I told him what God thought about calling on â€˜other spiritsâ€™. The chief shrugged it off and wanted instead to engage me in a conversation about health needs in his village.
He was concerned about the lack of drinking water and the increasing episodes of dysentery in his village. He wanted help in building a well to avoid such illnesses and to help the women who had to walk several miles each day to find drinking water by a distant stream. He was concerned, about the children in his area who attended schools that had no books. He wondered if there were any schools in the United States that could send their discarded text books to such children. Lastly, he wanted my help in securing solar panels, batteries and lights so he could have a place in his village where children could read at night. He seemed like a kind and well-meaning man. Like many of us.
We come across people like this in the villages and towns of Congo; one foot in the Bible and another rooted in the mystique. I have no doubt this well-mannered and well-intentioned man; believes in God, but in a â€˜convenient Godâ€™ that he can call on when he needs him, and then call on other powers for other needs. How often do we do the same?
I told him that God wants â€˜all of our faithfulness all of the time.â€™ God doesnâ€™t want part-time allegiance or part of our lives, he wants â€˜all of itâ€™. I know that I want â€˜all of Godâ€™; during times of bright sun and joy... and times of rain and tribulation. Donâ€™t you?
From Congo, with hunger and thirst, for all things above!
â€œChoose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the river.......but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lordâ€ (Josh 24:15)