Last week, I joined veteran missionaries Randy and Alice Matthewson (and Dr. Dave and Carol Crandall) on my first Congo adventure. Even the word “Congo” invokes images of mystery and danger in our culture. We think of Crichton novels and rebel militia running wild amongst gorillas and gold mines. Growing up Free Methodist means that we also think of Nundu Hospital, the third of three mission hospitals in this Great Lakes region of Africa.
While I did not see gorillas or gold mines, I did get to visit Nundu Deaconess Hospital. I assisted Dr. Dave in his efforts to evaluate the ongoing medical work for interested friends in the U.S. Although my French is not great, I was the closest thing to a French/English/medical translator at the time. We were able to tour the hospital and listen to the stories that the doctors and nurses and community members had to tell.
Among their stories, a few themes stood out. First, Nundu is a difficult place to live and work. There is no running water, no grid electricity, and until recently, no public transportation. Much of life in eastern DRC is about finding the means to make it another day. Operating a hospital in this milieu is difficult if not impossible. Hand-washing, post-operative cleaning, working in the night, oxygen generators- all of these require reliable water and/or power.
The hospital does have a generator for emergency surgeries but cannot afford the diesel for it very often. Investing in these infrastructure issues occupies a lot of the Matthewsons’ time. The political instability makes it difficult to advocate for large expenditures of capital.
Interestingly, the majority of the hospital staff are from the Nundu area. Many of the professionals went away to get their education but they have now returned to live and serve in Nundu. This is a testament to their loyalty to “home” but also speaks to the lack of other opportunities in Eastern Congo. Local staff are able to speak the several dialects with the patients- most of the providers speak at least French, Swahili, and Kibemba with some having the other less common dialects and English. DRC has many more tribes and languages than neighboring Burundi and Rwanda.
The other important observation is the compassionate and competent service being offered by our Congolese brothers and sisters. Despite discouraging realities and a lack of the basic infrastructure required for healthcare to thrive, doctors continue to see patients and perform surgeries and deliver babies. They are poorly paid and struggle to remain hopeful about the future.
Even though Dr. Crandall and I did not consult a single patient or teach a single class, our presence was an encouragement. I confess that I tend to focus on the obstacles and historical mistakes made in a place like Nundu. These cause me to lose hope and at times to despair of any improvement. The doctors and nurses with whom we talked, however, expressed how encouraged they were by our visit. (This was culturally communicated via speeches and the gifts of fanta, eggs, rice, and a live rooster.) They are planning for the equipment and upgrades at Nundu Hospital which will allow them to continue to offer compassionate healthcare. They are asking for help but are not basing their continued service on an infusion of money or resources from the developed world.
There are often days when I feel we are not making a difference. This trip reminded me of the power of coming alongside, of truly seeing and listening to another, of saying, “You are not alone. We are in this together.” I may not be able to point to a number of patients seen or classes taught, but with God’s leading we are able to respond to these challenges with a hopefulness that flows from our belief that God’s Kingdom is coming to Burundi and Congo. And it is coming to your neighborhood too. Who do you need to come alongside today? Where are your circumstances in need of encouragement? Let’s pray for each other and for the continued working of God’s Spirit in our lives and in the challenges we face.