Sunday, November 14, 2010

You can't. But you must... UVIRA

Elder Holland with the Uvira Friends who yearn for the Gospel-We will find a way!
Monday, November 08, 2010  UVIRA VISIT 
Today started a little drier than yesterday. As we prepared to go to Uvira,  the rain had been constant since about 3:30am. We needed to cross a river because the bridge was out so we were concerned.  A call to Frere Malabi not only confirmed that we could go but that we needed to first get additional car insurance in order to leave the country. 

     That took an extra hour and then he wanted to go pickup the old books (Copies of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants with The Pearl of Great Price) that Frere Suguru had found in the old meeting hall.  

    The trip in the rain was soggy and uneventful until we arrived at the border crossing. The well crafted system of inefficiency is alive and well so we went from office to office getting signatures, passports checked, and fees paid…then the cruncher we needed a document giving us permission to drive the car out of the country – five dollars back in town. Frere Malabi stepped in and persuaded the woman that we would bring it tomorrow if we could just continue in order to make our meetings in Uvira. She consented with the comment, “We will see just how religious you are!”  (President Jameson made good on his word but she had taken the day off.)


After the barrier lifted allowing us to go through, we drove on a dirt road specializing in water-filled-potholes for a mile until we arrived at the entry into the Congo where we got to show passports again.

Once in the Congo the road got worse and was lined with people selling tomatoes... mostly, piles and piles as the adjoining fields were being harvested. I had received a phone call while picking up the books, from Jimmy, one of the Uvira leadership, who wanted to know if we had left-we hadn’t but he said he would be at the border. We assumed we would pick him up. As we passed the border without seeing him and had driven three minutes Frere Malabi’s phone rang. He asked that we pull over, Jimmy and others were behind us. As we did, a white 4x4 pulled ahead of us and stopped. 

 Five men in white shirts and ties piled out and came back to greet us. Methode and Vincent got in with us and we followed the 4x4. Once at the highway between Uvira and Bocuvu we had asphalt-old crumbling asphalt. 

A left turn put us on the road/bike path/sidewalk with hundreds of others. It was narrow and choked with users, some coming the other way at speeds that made us wonder how anyone stayed alive but that was normal for all except us. We drove forever past crumbling buildings, through eroding road hazards, past hundreds of shops, huts, homes, adobes, river bathers, vendors, shoppers, and families going about life in the aquarium of living on a highway. The sandy beaches of Tanganyika lay through the alternating sparse to choked neighborhoods to our left; the plush green hut and adobe pocked hills rose abruptly to our right just past the intermittent line of those crumbling buildings dating from the colonial period. We drove for about twenty minutes dodging bikes, cars, pedestrians, goats, pigs, carts, holes and eroding pavement edges.
 We finally came to the bridge that was closed and abruptly turned left steeply down into a neighborhood. As we emerged from the adobe and straw huts we faced the river. About fifteen yards of brown bubbling water rushing from the lofty mountains to our right towards the lake just a hundred yards to our left, lay before us. 
The 4x4 plunged into the foam as another small pickup approached from the other side. We hesitated for but a moment before it was our turn.  Slipping the truck into 4 wheel drive we bounced over river rocks beneath the twelve or so inches of water. The 4x4 ahead was slipping and sliding through the mud on the other side climbing toward the houses ahead. The slippery climb into the adjoining neighborhood took but a few moments.

Emerging back onto the “highway” we “sped” towards our unknown destination. We arrived at a tall green obelisk crowded with a small herd of goats. We passed it descending into the neighborhood towards the colonial headquarters of the provincial government to meet the head administrator. He was cordial and suggested others we needed to see. As we left I inquired of President Jameson why we hadn’t given him a Book of Mormon as a gift. He turned to Methode, who was carrying one and asked the same question. He returned to present it as we would do with each of the officials we would meet as we moved from police chief to immigration administration to mayor. We haggled a bit with the immigration official who seemed to think that we needed to repeat the whole visa and Church authorization process that had all been done with Kinshasa just for his little city.

At one office a staff member and pastor inquired about the Book of Mormon we had given him. Pastor Vincent was standing nearest to him. Without looking for help he explained the history, content and significance of the Book of Mormon. We marveled since both were investigators.

 After all this official business, we were off to find those that had been waiting for us for 15 years. They had rented a little adobe house up on the hill. We lunged off the road wove between buildings, 
ducks, goats, and back yards, up the hill, 

along a ravine drop-off

until we arrived at the little house.

 It had been well cleaned, as much as dirt and adobe can be. In front stood the white shirted gentlemen we saw earlier: Jimmy and others. 

All smiles as we entered the little house. They were singing translated songs…I only recognized one part of one as I counted the faces; there were 70 people including children.

They have translated their hymns into Swahili and sang wonderfully with harmony and all but the melodies seemed modified to meet their needs or musical reading ability. 

Pastor Vincent conducted with Pastor Methode translating. We had an opening hymn and then a prayer. Elder Jameson was called on first. I had told him as we entered that I would follow his direction. He spoke on the history of the Church in Bujumbura and the order with which it must be spread. He made it clear that our presence was not to bring the church to them or end their fifteen year wait as Vincent had said in his introduction, but rather to explore the security, the number of interested, the voice of the spirit, etc. That the day certainly would come, but when, we did not know. We will follow the authorizations that are given by the leaders we follow: the prophet and general authorities. He spoke for about ten minutes and then turned the time to me. 

I had been watching about six or seven children in front of me. They patiently and reverently sat and watched. I felt like I should tell about Joseph Smith as a boy. I mentally reviewed several stories and finally felt good about his leg operation because I could use one of them to tell it. I greeted them – they gave me a warm response. I then told them I would be speaking to the little ones so everyone else could listen in. Then I asked for a seven year old. I got a unanimously chosen little girl. I held her leg as I told about the surgery, his mother, his brother, and his bravery. That led to his limp, his crutch, the miracle woodsman, and his desires to know and please God. Which in-turn led to his first vision which I told them I was sure they must all have heard. I bore my witness and how I had come by it. 
Then, I was about to sit but out of my mouth came, are there any questions about Joseph, President Jameson then said, “Or anything else about the Church.” That surprised me but I sought his direction after each question and he bid me to keep going. One man wanted to know what about Joseph Smith seeing God and Christ. So I told the story. The spirit was very strong as I took them through James 1:5 and compared it to their own search to know. There were several other questions and then one man asked, “What kind of Christian man would forbid another from having a coke or cup of coffee?” As I was about to start, I turned to President Jameson for his direction. He turned to Frere Malabi and gave the question to him. He turned to science instead of an evidence of the need of a modern prophet. I was surprised as he cited studies and findings that supported the commandment.  President Jameson lean over and said, “I wonder if we shouldn’t be shutting down?” I agreed and had been feeling the same way for a couple of minutes. As soon as there was a pause he stood and ended the meeting. There was a song and a brother came forward and prayed. President Jameson led the way out, I stayed behind and shook hands with everyone. They were mostly very happy and personal. Some were emotionless.  As I followed the last person out they were waiting, all assembled for a picture. Pastor Vincent said, “Since you love the children perhaps you would like to sit with them.” I agreed and picked up two little ones and put them on my lap right in the middle of everyone. 

 After the picture small family groups asked if they could have a picture with Elder Jameson and I. That started a line-up as we posed with person or group after group. Finally Elder Jameson left to get the Books of Mormon and D&C to Vincent for later distribution. I finished with more groups. We all had a good laugh over it. Then we climbed into the truck and waved a warm good-bye.  We were shortly back to the river now filled with hundreds of little children, mostly naked boys playing in the water. 

As we drove to make the last very steep ascent onto the road a giant double load petroleum tanker came careening over the edge to go through the alleys to cross the river. We turned abruptly to avoid it then were stuck. We couldn’t back up so we went on down and turned around to try again. 

This time it was a giant dump truck followed by a bus then a van. It was a parade. Finally we lunged back up on the road letting people jump for safety. The ride back was again filled with marvel over the sense of having stepped back in time to some earlier colonial period invaded with motorized vehicles. We watched one pickup swerve to miss three pigs consequently hitting another. It squealed, rolled and kept going. The pig, that is, not the truck… oh it did keep going too, just not squealing. This time it only took thirty minutes to cross the border by parking, showing passports, getting signatures, etc. We dropped off Frere Malabi  at his home and headed gratefully but prayerfully home: what was the Lord going to do with such a situation? No inner city public transportation. Taxi ride for 3,000 FBu across the border but another three for a ride into the city. Do we put missionaries into such a environment?  If so their day would require two to two and a half hours just to get there over the border. Could they stay a night, so as to only travel once per week?  Could we use our newly authorized bicycles so they could get around the city? (a city of 120,000 in the immediate area but stretched out into a single line for miles-there are 1,000,000 listed in the Catholic regional diocese.) Or, arriving by taxis, could they stay in one location and let the investigators come to them?  Could the Church raise the level of physical facilities to at least a Congo minimum and maintain it?  Could we stand to go through all that red-tape again… what frequency would it require? Can we get Church establishment documents from Kinshasa? Last night I was ready to say that perhaps in later years we could go there, but they are ready now and there will be little change in the status-quo until the millennium. Then, today the call to return and establish a branch is beckoning more loudly. The truck had been initiated and would need a good cleaning but President Jameson had driven the adventure of our lives which, thanks to him, we still had. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for making your wonderful experience come alive for the rest of us. It brings thoughts of the early days of the Church when missionaries starting taking the word to every kindred, tongue and people until if filled the whole world.