Tag Archives: beni

Worth it

This morning my alarm clock sounds different from normal. Instead of the beeping, I awake to a choir of tropical birds backed by clanging pots and a crowing rooster. The cries of a baby are the descant; the bass is sustained by a man’s deep voice singing along the path outside my window.

Sitting up in bed enveloped by a mosquito net, my soul smiles as it finally registers: I’m back in Congo.

Arriving late in the night and weary from the 42 hours en route, I must have been delusional, stumbling to bed in the darkness of a home without electricity.

Now in broad daylight using solar powered internet, I open my journal and share my heart.

Contemplating my return, I remember all the illness I suffered last time.
Is it worth it?
With increased danger due to Congo’s elections, I examine the risk.
Is it worth it?
Spending nearly equal time traveling as I will visiting, I wonder,
Is it even worth it?

But something in my gut told me to go.

So, 5 days in transit and a mere 7 days in Beni.

  • When the Mamas welcome me with smiles and songs, praising God for bringing me back, I know its worth it.
  • When I arrive at UCBC and see the look on students’ faces when they realize I have not forgotten about them, I know its worth it.
  • When Bethany and Chelsie (volunteer staff) need assistance with English courses and I can help instruct, I know its worth it.

Anselme replacing guitar strings and receiving drumsticks for the band

  • When the chapel band drummer is playing with literal sticks (as in, twigs from the forest) and I surprise him with several pairs of drum sticks, I know its worth it.
  • When Anselme shows me the worship band’s guitar with only 5 fraying strings and I’m able to exchange him for a brand new set, I know its worth it.

And even if I accomplish very little by American standards, my presence is accomplishing more than I ever imagined it could.



My opportunity and yours…

“All of us are living stories, and those stories teach other people to live stories. And what our stories are about matters, not just for us but for the world.” A Million Miles in a Thousand Days, Donald Miller

Today I write to you wearing my heart on my sleeve. There is so much I want to tell you about, so much I long to share. I wish I could adequately describe to you what I see everyday. How can I begin to describe the complexities of life here in a country whose leadership sets the standard for absolute corruption?*

photo credit Anne Medley

Lately, I have felt discouraged by the depravity which surrounds me. The recent killings in Beni were committed by soldiers…government officials who should have been protecting local citizens. What will it take to change a culture so deeply rooted in corruption? Am I even making a difference? Can I trust that my work here is purposeful and beneficial even if I cannot see immediate results?

Though I find myself doubting, I have resolved to remain joyful. Many Congolese are bubbling with joy and hopeful beyond hope. Still, I find myself struggling. The brutality of this place threatens to rob me of joy. Destroy my hope. It is intense. What plagues me most is knowing what could be… Comparing life outside of Congo with the realization that this nation is unlikely to ever pull itself from the pit of poverty is disheartening, to say the least. How do I reconcile such extremes?

a recent glimpse of hope: women marching for peace photo credit Anne Medley

So as this reality tries to strangle my dream, I remind myself of why I am here. I cannot look left or right without recognizing that this place needs transformation. I recall why I am doing what I am doing. This vision carries me through the highs and lows. I am here to equip nationals to transform their communities. I am here to restore hope, training women with practical skills, producing products which can be sold to earn a fair wage. I am here to redefine the Congolese perception of Americans. I am here to serve. I am doing something small, but I’m a part of something big. To know that today my life has been used to impact and improve the life of another. God has given me an opportunity to make a difference.

You have the same opportunity. No matter where you live or what the conditions are like, you have the ability to make someone’s life better. It doesn’t require any money. Bless someone today with a smile and a kind word. Visit a friend and turn off your cell phone so that you are fully present. Bring a meal to someone who is ill. The possibilities are endless…

*quoted from The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

You have to see it to believe it…

Sunrise over the Rwenzori Mountain Range (view from my house)


Shout for joy, O heavens;

Rejoice, O earth;

Burst into song, O mountains!

For the LORD comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.

Isaiah 49:13


Despite my top-of-the-line mosquito net, DEET repellant, and my daily dosage of anit-malarial drugs, I have somehow contracted malaria.  The leading killer in Eastern Congo has now taken over my body. After a week of intense headaches rivaling migraines topped off by a sour stomach which prevented eating, I reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital. Reluctant because I had previously visited this primitive compound and was well aware of conditions there. Without going into detail, I’ll say that it leaves much to be desired regarding safety, sanitation, cleanliness, and comfort.

Nonetheless, my housemates insisted that I get tested and the results revealed not only Malaria, but also, a worm in my stomach. Actually, the doctor referred to it as a “Nyota”…swahili translation: snake. Ah, yes. I have a snake in my body. Very comforting.
So how am I feeling? In all truthfulness, I cannot remember a time when I have felt so miserable. My bones and muscles ache to the point where it is impossible to find a comfortable position in which to rest. Although the headaches have subsided, the fever continues as does the vomiting and diarrhea, no doubt my body trying to rid itself of this parasite in my blood. Yet, I have begun the typical five-day course of treatment and as of day four, I am finally beginning to feel a bit of relief.
Somehow throughout all this, God is graciously allowing me to recognize how blessed I am. I know that sounds bizarre, so allow me to explain:

  • I am blessed to have the resources to get adequate treatment and medication.
  • I am blessed because unlike the Congolese, my absence from work does not put my job in jeopardy nor does it threaten my financial stability.
  • I am blessed to have a houseful of other wuzungu (white people) who have walked this path before and are able to encourage me on my road to health.
  • I am blessed because in addition to her prayers, Mama Furaha has been making me a special passionfruit elixir, which is promised to fight the fatigue and restore energy to my body.
  • I am blessed to have several students drop by to extend their sympathies for my suffering and bid me “Courageaux”… translation: have courage.
  • I am blessed because the illness has allowed me a small glimpse of what the Congolese suffer on a daily basis.

Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement as well. I hope to have my strength back soon and share about some of the other things that are happening here in Beni.

Families are like Fudge

Sometimes I feel like the inhabitants of  Nyumba ya Amani (our house) are really just contestants on the reality television show, Survivor. In light of that, allow me to introduce to you my family, my comrades, my competition…stay tuned to find out who gets voted off the island first.

The Guys:

JUSTIN is the original muzungu (white person). Three years ago he came to Congo to live with the Kasali family and dig rootsfor Congo Initiative. Justin and I went to middle school together and more than one of my friends had a more-than-innocent crush on him. Fast-forward several years and I now consider Justin my likable, agreeable, sometimes spacey, yet affectionate big brother. In fact, he loves me so much that when he learned my back was hurting on account of my bed, he sacrificed his plush mattresses for me and now sleeps on my thin mat. Justin loves Beni–more-so than Milwaukee–but not nearly as much as he loves his family.

BRANDON is the easygoing, quirky newbie. Having studied finance in college, he now teaches Entrepreneurship at the university and has quickly become a favorite of the students. Brandon explores, journals, crosswords, and reads–dare I say–more voraciously than anyone I’ve ever met. With his carefree and jovial spirit, he seems to brighten situations which are stressful, burdensome, or mundane.  On any given day, you may find him donning suspenders, a bandanna, a pair of African culottes, a camoflauge cap or perhaps a mustache.

GRANT is like a jolly green giant. At 6’5″, 230 lbs he towers over everyone and everything. I doubt that his family will recognize him when he returns home, considering he’s lost 75 lbs over the past 8 months. Our resident media junkie, his computer contains more movies than a Blockbuster store (do those still exist?). Frequently, he hosts cinema night where we all crowd around his laptop for our weekly dosage of American entertainment. There isn’t a movie quote that he doesn’t have memorized nor a song for which he cannot identify the correlating film. Grant is using his media prowess to create a short production with UCBC students.

NOE (the French version of Noah, pronounced “no-way”) is the youngest brother of Dr. David Kasali (Director of Congo Initiative). Noe is gentle, reserved, and brilliant. He speaks, fluently, five different languages: Lingala, Kinande, Swahili, French, English. Without ever having a music lesson and despite an inability to read music, Noe plays guitar, bass, piano, and sings. He teaches psychology at UCBC and lives with the Kasali family…but mostly, he hangs out at Nyumba ya Amani.

The Girls:

MEREDITH, my roommate, is the definition of a gentle and quiet spirit. Trained as a nurse, she assists local doctors at Nyankunde (the main hospital). Her loving touch and caring eyes are well known throughout all of Beni (referred to by the locals as “Meri”).  I cannot ride a moto taxi without hearing shouts of “Meriule” (Mary-oo-le) which literally means “is that Meri!?”. Although we look nothing alike, they identify my pale skin from a distance and assume I am Meredith. In addition to her work at the hospital, she teaches and leads Bible studies at UCBC as well as the Women’s Center.

BETHANY may not be as widely known among locals as Meredith, but she is certainly well-known and well-loved among the multitude of Kasali family relatives. (Dr. David Kasali has 11 siblings and thus there are hundreds, if not a thousand, members of this extended family.) The uncles like to banter back and forth with Bethany nearly as much as the aunts love to engage her in prattle as they cook. Her nurturing spirit has earned her the title of Mama Bethany around UCBC. When she is with you, she is really with you. Mama Bethany has an uncanny ability to remove all other distractions so that she can focus on you. No doubt this is an asset to her role of personal assistant to Dr. Kasali.

CHELSIE is our Swahili expert and burgeoning clothing designer. Having previously worked with Healing Arts at Heal Africa, she has both experience and passion for reconciliation and restoration ministry. I’d be misleading you if I failed to mention that she is equally passionate about animals. You’d never suspect that a blond-haired, blue-eyed whimsy would be eager to care for filthy Congolese creatures, but like any true animal lover, Chelsie dotes on animals of every species. Soon, I promise to introduce to you our ever-expanding tutelage of animals…

A Picture Paints 1000 Words:

Many of you have requested photos, so here’s a snapshot of the journey thus far.

Boat ride at sunset on Lake Victoria (spent 2 days in Kampala, Uganda en route to Congo)

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Worshipping Without

My first exposure to life in Beni, DR Congo was at the Congo Initiative/UCBC church service on Sunday. As I observed the worship team leading the congregation in song, I noticed a lack of instruments. My initial reaction was pity because they had such limited resources, however, I quickly experienced the most joyous worship time I have ever known: voices raised in glorious harmonies singing songs without words, clapping hands with various rhythms, and dancing feet to keep tempo. My heart leaped with joy as I was keenly aware of God’s presence.

How contrary to our American notion that musical worship requires a myriad of instruments played with the highest level of technical skill, perfect intonation, and flawless rhythm. I am caused to question whether it is DR Congo or America which is truly lacking. Do we know how to worship the LORD in America without our man-made instruments, sheet music, and technology?

Thanks to the generosity of my friends and family in America, I have brought with me a guitar and new drum heads for Congo Initiative. Oddly enough, I now feel reluctant to share these resources for fear that it will somehow taint the Congolese style of worship…