Thursday, November 20, 2014

Soldiers were headed in our direction and then it started to rain



You’ve read about Leanna several times here 
and today I’m eager to share her account 
paralleling that of Paul and Barbara Thomas
during that dangerous time in Zaire—
events that occurred during this very same week in 1996: 
the days leading up to Thanksgiving.


Here’s Leanna’s story:

Paul, Barbara, and I had been attending the same conference in Kenya. Our return flight into Zaire (now called Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC) was the last scheduled mission flight for a long time.

We arrived at Rethy Academy, where I was a teacher, to find that everyone was on a state of alert. Each person had a five kilo bag packed in order to leave at a moment’s notice. We weren’t sure if there were enough planes to fly everyone out. We even talked about the possible need to walk to the border with Uganda. That made a difference in what we packed.

I remember reading Daily Light for the Daily Path during this time and coming to Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” I was comforted by this reminder that though we couldn’t trust in airplanes or cars (cars were not allowed to cross the border with Uganda at this time), we could trust in the Lord.

A number of weeks before we had any concerns about war, the principal of Rethy had shared a sermon with our mission community based on the song “God is Good All the Time.” He said the song wasn’t his musical style but he felt the message was important. Little did he know it would become our theme through this difficult time.

Eventually, the alert level was raised and we needed to have 20 kilos packed and ready to go. This alert remained in effect for a few weeks and sometimes I got frustrated wanting to use something packed away. I would ask my roommate if I could just unpack and she, a nurse who had been through an evacuation in the past, would always advise against it.

In the meantime, we listened to BBC and VOA reports about activity farther south and at least once a day we listened to high-frequency radio reports from Africa Inland Mission leaders.  

We felt like we were on a roller coasterSoldiers would arrive in Bunia, the city through which we would travel in order to leave. We always wondered what their arrival meant, but then they would move on and things would settle down for a while.

Through all of this, we continued to hold classes for Rethy students. Some missionaries from areas already affected by the fighting sought refuge at Rethy because it was relatively safe. If they had school-aged children, we incorporated them into our classes. Still other families opted to leave before the term ended, taking their children with them.

As we rode this roller coaster, our school principal began experiencing symptoms of  heart problems and needed to leave for medical evaluation. Before he left, I had my students write him notes and draw pictures. You could have heard a pin drop as they worked. They were pouring much of the stress they had been experiencing into their drawings for the principal.

As the end of the school term neared, just before Thanksgiving, we learned that truckloads of soldiers were headed in our direction. We were quite concerned. If they arrived in Bunia, it could make evacuation by air impossible. If they came to Rethy, we didn’t know what might happen—but we were praying, colleagues in Nairobi were praying, people back home in the States were praying.

And then, it started to rain.…

Come back next week for the rest of this nail-biter.


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Thursday, November 13, 2014

“This time we might not get out alive”



Evacuations had begun for missionaries in Zaire including teachers and students at Rethy Academy…. (from Chapter 20, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

Extreme violence in Zaire had broken out in October, 1996, while Paul and Barbara Thomas were out of the country. They were attending their group’s annual conference in Kenya—so they were safe—but their two young sons, Robert and Joel, were at Rethy Academy back in war-torn Zaire.

Evacuation from violence was not new to Paul and Barbara. They'd been evacuated before. From Kenya, they listened to reports of kidnapping, rape, theft, and murder back in Zaire. They did what you and I would have done: They flew to Rethy, right into that brutality, to be with their boys.

Continuing from last week: In her memoir, Through the Outhouse Floor, Barbara writes about arriving at Rethy to be with Robert and Joel:


The retreating Zairean army that had been going toward Kisangani split and a second party was heading our way. In Beni, Zairean solders were taking vehicles from missionaries by force. They attacked the mission station in Nyankunda. News reached us of soldiers raping women, and killing people in Bunia with machetes.…

The church informed us that they had broken the locks on our house [in Lubutu] in order to hide goods from the looting soldiers. Now remembering my lesson from the first evacuation, I prayed with open palms that everything in our house would be distributed to where it would serve the most good.

MAF began evacuating missionaries from both Nyankunde and Bunia. There were now 100 extra people at Rethy Academy. A businessman from the nearby town was kidnapped. Word got to us that the Zairean soldiers were now asking directions to Rethy with plans to loot the hospital and school.

It was standard for every mission station to have contingency plans. Rethy’s back-up plan had always been to walk across the border to Uganda.  But Uganda had recently closed her borders due to Sudanese rebels cutting through Zaire to attack Ugandan towns.  The MAF planes had all been moved to Rethy and to the Diguna mission station nearby. But the only legal way out of the country was through Bunia airport, how occupied by many angry Zairean troops. We were sitting ducks. I thought, This time we might not get out alive.

I was not OK with this. It seemed such a stupid reason to die—because the color of my skin marked me as a westerner who had somehow contributed to the defeat of the Zairean troops? We had gone through so much, and this was how it was going to end? Being hacked into pieces by a machete? Our task, as we saw it, wasn’t finished. We had two more books [of the Bible] to translate.…

The missionary community at Rethy met regularly for prayer, new updates, and planning. A proposed order had been drawn up of whom to fly out first as flights became available. Single women were evacuated first, then a man with a heart condition. Our family was listed as borderline non-essential personnel as far as the running of Rethy…but now the airport was unsafe for further flights.

After several days, an agreement was reached in Bunia to fly a large plane of soldiers to their homes in Kinshasa. This opened the airport.

Paul radioed the church in Lubutu and told them, “Our hearts are full for you. Have strength.”

Katinga and Pastor Unabwako radioed back, “Go well.”

“Stay well.”

“Koko!”

“Oye!”

We were given seats on the next Cesna out of Rethy.…

(from Through the Outhouse Floor by Barbara Thomas; emphasis mine)


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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Evacuating missionaries and kids



In late 1996, unspeakable brutality raged throughout Zaire and Rwanda. For several months, people around the world watched television reports of the violence. I’ll never forget some of the scenes, especially pictures of children.

The International Red Cross reported that terror spread like wildfire and that in the midst of panic, violence, and bloodshed, people by the hundreds of thousands fled to the hills for safety.

Evacuations began for the few remaining missionaries in Zaire including teachers and students at Rethy Academy. (from Chapter 20, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

Paul and Barbara Thomas, after working for years among Zaire’s Komo people, were almost finished with the first draft of the Komo New Testament.

In October, 1996, while Paul and Barbara attended their annual conference in Kenya, violence broke out in Bukavu, Zaire.

In her memoir, Through the Outhouse Floor, Barbara writes:


“Defeated Zairean soldiers were retreating toward Kisingani, demanding food and money from every village they passed. Lubutu [Paul and Barbara’s home in Zaire] was in their path. 

“The Komo church radioed us a message to be relayed to us in Kenya. We were a couple of days from our return flight to Zaire and received the message, ‘Don’t come to Lubutu or Mulita. Too many soldiers in the area.’
 

“The Zairean soldiers were angry. They believed that the church had somehow by the power of the Bible, acted against the soldiers’ fetish and had led to their defeat. When they met a group of four Komo pastors on the road, they forced them to burn their Swahili Bibles and to eat the ashes. The Zairean soldiers burned the old church office that held the stock of Komo [Gospel of] Matthew as well as other Komo literature for sale.
 

“We could understand why our presence in Lubutu could be dangerous for us and make matters worse for the church leaders. But [sons] Robert and Joel were still in Zaire at Rethy Academy.”

Imagine that! They weren’t even in the same country as their boys—and the boys were in danger!

Paul and Barbara did return to Zaire, but not to Lubutu or Mulita, as they’d been advised. Barbara writes:


“We returned to Zaire immediately after conference, as scheduled, going to Rethy Academy instead of Lubutu, to stay with the boys until we knew how the situation was developing. 

“The church again radioed us, frantic to know if we had received their first message to not return to Lubutu. We assured them that we had, that we were with the boys until we saw how everything developed. We didn’t have to wait long.” (from Chapter 34, Through the Outhouse Floor; emphasis mine)

Come back next week for the rest of Barbara’s story.

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An excerpt from Barbara's book, "Through the Outhouse Floor





Thursday, October 30, 2014

New supplies arrived the very day previous supplies ran out



Continuing from last week:

The UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has not been allowed to cross, the Red Cross has not been allowed to cross, Doctors Without Borders has not been allowed to cross, and you won’t be allowed to either.”
           
Jim replied, “We’ll pray about it.”
           
I know about you Christian types.” The journalist turned and walked away in a huff.

But before long, correspondents from CNN, NBC, Time magazine, and other news agencies had to wait behind the barricade. They could only watch—and film for the world to see—the two vans drive across the border and reload supplies into Dr. Lusi's ambulances.


Dr. Lusi, a Zairian Christian and orthopedic specialist, had stayed in Goma, Zaire, when relief agencies and almost everyone else evacuated across the border to safety. He was the only surgeon in the one functioning hospital in the entire vicinity. He was desperate for supplies.

I wrote this in a letter to my granddaughters:

Dear Maggie and Emma,

My friend Nancy belongs to a book club here in Nairobi along with Dr. Lusi’s wife, Lyn, a British lady. Mrs. Lusi recently flew to see her husband in Zaire and when she returned, she told Nancy that soldiers wouldn’t let her through the gate at the hospital.

When Dr. Lusi came to talk to her from the other side, she heard a voice, “Mrs. Lusi, we’d like to talk to you.” She turned and saw a familiar face—Christiane Amanpour, the CNN reporter.

Nancy didn’t tell me details of the interview, but this story made me realize that some of our colleagues live in the midst of, or on the fringes of, news headlines around the world.

I received this letter from Denny, one of the two pilots who flew supplies to Dr. Lusi:

“Dr. Lusi shared how these necessary supplies had arrived the very day his previous supplies ran out. God’s timing is never too late.

“I am not aware that any of the major news agencies reported what had happened that day. But I am confident that many of them had to do some thinking to understand why the U.N. and the Red Cross were not able to accomplish what these silly missionaries had just done…. God is the one who did it.

The Red Cross, MSF [Doctors Without Borders], and the U.N. were there watching as we crossed the border. All they could do was watch. God opened the door for us to cross.

A few days later when the border was finally opened under international pressure, the press reported that ‘the first supplies to reach Goma had crossed the border.’ This was not true. A week before that God had opened the door (the border) for [our] supplies for the Christian hospital to cross.” (from Chapter 20, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

What an honor—what a privilege, what a gift: God let us work alongside such people!

And God let us watch Him work among people who stepped out in faith to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:7).

God let us watch Him work among people who stepped out in faith to help feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and care for the sick.

“I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, 
my brothers, you did for me” 
(Matthew 25:40).





Thursday, October 23, 2014

More reasons to pray without ceasing



Continuing with unthinkable violence in Zaire and new reasons to pray without ceasingI wrote this in a letter to my granddaughters from Nairobi, Kenya, in November, 1996:


Dear Maggie and Emma,

We have heard amazing stories surrounding the recent crises in Zaire.

For example, Dr. Jo Lusi, a Zairian Christian and orthopedic specialist, stayed in Goma, Zaire, when relief agencies and almost everyone else evacuated across the border to safety. He has gained notoriety as the only surgeon in the Baptist hospital, the one functioning hospital in the entire vicinity. Perhaps your parents saw a CNN report about Dr. Lusi who works eighteen-hour days in the operating room.
           
Dr. Lusi and the hospital staff had an urgent need for medicine and food so on November 8, one of our pilots, Dennis, and an AIM-AIR pilot, Jim, flew some two tons of medicine to Kigali, Rwanda, the airport nearest Goma. Both Denny’s children and Jim’s are West Nairobi School students—Jim’s daughter, Kristi, is one of your Aunt Karen’s students. During the men’s trip, all the students and teachers prayed for them.
           
In Kigali, Denny and Jim hired two vans and loaded them with the medicine, over four hundred pounds of food, and two drums of diesel. Then they drove four hours to Gisenyi, Rwanda, separated from Goma by two steel barriers and fifty yards of no-man’s land.
           
Dr. Lusi planned to meet Denny and Jim at the border to help get their supplies across but an early curfew kept them from doing so. Instead, they spent the night in a hotel in Gisenyi. By the time they arrived, however, the press corps had already packed the hotel to overflowing (no doubt people in the States were watching many of them on television), so Denny and Jim slept on the floor.
           
At the hotel that night, journalists learned of the pilots’ association with the famous Dr. Lusi and asked many questions. One European journalist, skeptical that Zairian rebels would let them cross the border, said, “The UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has not been allowed to cross, the Red Cross has not been allowed to cross, Doctors Without Borders has not been allowed to cross, and you won’t be allowed to either.”
           
Jim replied, “We’ll pray about it.”
           
I know about you Christian types.” The journalist turned and walked away in a huff.
           
The next morning Denny and Jim were among the first to arrive at the heavily guarded border. The rebels didn’t let them cross so, with those curious, skeptical journalists watching, Denny and Jim waited. They talked with officials. They prayed. They watched for Dr. Lusi on the other side.
           
Mid-day they spotted him. He had brought two ambulances to transport their supplies to the hospital. Dr. Lusi spoke to rebels on one side and Rwandan soldiers on the other, but they wouldn’t let the men proceed.
           
Just then, a soldier showed up on the rebel side. He recognized Dr. Lusi—the doctor who had treated his wounded daughter that morning. Within minutes, the soldier arranged for Denny and Jim to cross.

Correspondents from CNN, NBC, Time magazine, and other news agencies had to wait behind the barricade. They could only watch—and film for the world to see—the two vans drive across the border and reload supplies into Dr. Lusi’s ambulances. (from Chapter 20, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)


P.S.  All these years later, each morning I pray for Dr. Lusi and HEAL Africa. Their medical expertise is still very much needed in Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) because horrific violence has continued; you've no doubt heard about it in the news. Click here to read more about Dr. Lusi, and here for information about HEAL Africa.







Thursday, October 16, 2014

New reasons to pray without ceasing



Looking back now, I’m so happy to see that God helped me change. Before I went to Africa, I was heartsick over dying to my plans and dreams for living in the States but, once I got to Africa and settled in, God helped me gradually focus less on myself and more on those around me, Africans as well as my colleagues involved in Bible translation.

During year number four in Nairobi, Kenya, big changes were heading our way, handing Dave and me opportunities to offer hospitality to others and pray without ceasing (1 Peter 4:9,1 Thessalonians 5:17).

I wrote this in a letter to my granddaughters in November, 1996, from Nairobi, Kenya:

Dear Maggie and Emma,

Unspeakable brutality rages again in Zaire and Rwanda. For the past few months, people around the world have watched television reports of the violence. I’ll never forget some of the scenes, especially pictures of children. They’re so horrific I will not—cannot—write words to describe them.

The International Red Cross reported that terror spread like wildfire and that in the midst of panic, violence, and bloodshed, people by the hundreds of thousands fled to the hills for safety.

All of our personnel assigned to Zaire happened to be here in Nairobi for their annual conference so they remain here and for now, at least, they’re not in danger.

Your grandpa’s cousin Paul and his wife Barbara are among those stranded in Nairobi. They received word that looters broke into their house in Lubutu, Zaire. Church leaders heard ahead of time about the planned break-in, so they broke in first to carry out and store everything valuable. Paul and Barbara hope that includes their [Bible] translation materials and computer equipment. Paul suspects that after their church friends left, rebels stole the rest of their possessions.

This unthinkable violence and its ramifications have shaken all of us. Since our colleagues can’t return to Zaire, many of us have offered to house them. A woman named Jan lives with us now. She recently arrived in Kenya and planned to travel on to Zaire and teach at Rethy Academy, a school for missionary kids, but the turmoil has kept her in Nairobi. 

She needed a place to live so we invited her here, and now she teaches at West Nairobi School [the new school for missionary kids that my husband, Dave, opened a few months earlier].  (from Chapter 20, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)

C’mon back next week for some amazing stories!





Thursday, October 9, 2014

My search for answers has led me to myself


Continuing with so many questions!

Why has God blessed me 
with abundant material possessions 
and the benefits of the modern world 
but withheld such things 
from vast numbers of Africans?

Why do I have so many blessings and so little heartache?

Here’s the rest of a letter I wrote to my granddaughters….

When my heart breaks over the plight of our needy friends, I take comfort in Bible verses such as Psalm 10:17–18, “You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.”

Those words assure me that ultimately God will make all things right. Until then, my friends trust Him, and God asks me to entrust them to Him. Someone once said that God’s purpose might not be for us to understand, but His purpose is for us to trust Him.

My search for answers has led me to other Bible verses. Jesus, reiterating Old Testament teaching, said the poor will always be with us (Matthew 26:11, Deuteronomy 15:7–11). God wants us to share food with the hungry, provide shelter for those who need it, and clothe those who need clothing (Isaiah 58:7).

And with those verses, my search for answers has led me to myself.

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus said we each have a responsibility to help those in need:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory …
he will separate good people from bad people,
the way a shepherd separates sheep from goats,
with sheep on his right and goats on his left.
He will say to those on his right,
“Come, take your inheritance.…
When I was hungry you fed me,
When I was thirsty you gave me a drink,
When I was a stranger you invited me in,
When I needed clothes you clothed me,
When I was sick you looked after me,
When I was in prison you visited me.”

Then the good people on his right will ask,
“Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you a drink?
When did we ever see you a lonely stranger and invite you in?
When did we see you in need of clothes and clothe you?
Or sick or in prison and go visit you?”

The King will answer, “This is true:
Whatever you did for one of the least of these
brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.”

Then he will turn to those on his left and say,
“Get away from me, you useless goats,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
I was hungry but you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty but you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger but you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes but you gave me nothing to wear,
I was sick and in prison but you did not look after me.”

Those people will answer,
“Lord, what do you mean?
When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or in need of clothes or sick or in prison,
and did nothing to help?”

He will answer, “I’m telling you the truth:
Whenever you failed, or refused,
to help one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters,
you failed, or refused, to do for me.”
(Matthew 25:31–45)

Sobering words. A sobering message.

Maggie and Emma, God has allowed your grandpa and me to come into these Africans’ lives, and our response to their needs reveals to God—and to us, if we’ll pay attention—the state of our hearts. God wants us to help them, but He gives us a choice. Will we be part of His answer to their prayers? Or not?

It occurs to me that coming to Africa isn’t all about Bible translation. It is about Bible translation, yes, but it is about more than that.

In my mind, I hear the words of Esther 4:14. Maybe God brought your grandpa and me to this place for just such a time as this, to help Him fulfill His purposes for this handful of Kenyans— Bernard, Japheth, Enoch, Salome, Elizabeth, Wycliffe, Hellen—and fulfill His purposes for us, too. My heart overflows. Thank you, God, for letting us play a small role in Your work in their lives.

I take comfort in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” I try to picture the stunning glory God will reveal in them someday. I hope He encourages them by keeping the glorious end in view.

However, it occurs to me that, even now, I see God’s glory in themthey are bright examples of how to know and love God. I feel honored to know them, and I look forward to spending eternity with them.

I’ll never know all the reasons I have so many blessings and too many Africans have too many sorrows. I do know that God wants me to trust Him and to help my African friends.

To whom much is given, much is required.

Somehow, God turns that around and puts it into our hearts, and it wells up in the form of joy.  (from Chapter 18, Grandma’s Letters from Africa)


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