This is President Jameson, our Mission President, for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa Mission. He and Sister Jameson served a mission in DRC and Burundi before they were called to be the Mission President, and so they have lived in Africa for almost 4 years, with only about 3 months in between missions.
These are the other two senior Missionary Couples, who serve as we do, in outlying cities - they are the Gaileys who serve in Douala, Cameroon, and the Whitesides, who serve in Yaounde, Cameroon. They are seated in front of the all important pictures of the missionaries and where they are currently serving in our mission.
This is us, the Gaileys and the Whitesides, standing in front of the area where the Temple will be built.
A Temple in DRC will be such a blessing to the members who live in surrounding countries - they now have to travel to South Africa, Nigeria, or Ghana, to attend the Temple.
Trip to the Mission Home in Kinshasa Feb. 12 – 18 2013
We had barely returned from our vacation to Tanzania and we were leaving again. This time to attend a Couples Conference at the Mission Home in Kinshasa. The flight from Pointe Noire to Brazzaville is only about forty minutes. After we arrive at the airport we are met by Gaeton, who is over the Church Education System and also a Bishop. He seems very young and has a wife and 3 young children. Brazzaville is the capital city of the Republic of the Congo. As we drive from the airport, we pass the U.S. Embassy and other Congo government buildings. We are amazed at the nice streets we are on – there are even trees and shrubs and flowers in many places along the road and lots of people sweeping and cleaning the gutters and road. There are also lots of buildings that look nice, and stop lights and round points. We stop along the way and connect with the couples from Cameroon, Elder and Sister Whitesides and Elder and Sister Gailey, and President Kola, who is one of President Jameson’s Mission counselors and who had been in Yaounde for a District Conference while President and Sister Jameson were in South Africa. They had stayed overnight in Brazzaville. President Kola was a Seventy in Africa and was just recently released. He is an amazing man, who told us right now he is unemployed, as are so many Africans. When he was scheduled to arrive in Younde and the Whitesides were asked to pick him up from the airport, they asked one of their African elders how they would recognize him. He told them that it would be easy, because he is tall and distinguished looking, with white hair, and he looks like President Jameson…….he didn’t even think that those are important similarities, but the difference is that he is African! President Kola and the Whitesides and President Jameson all had a good laugh about that.
We soon see the mighty Congo River. I thought it would be much wider, but we can see Kinshasa on the other side. It seems like forever before they finish checking our passports, paying fees and arranging passage on a boat for our crossing. We are always protective of our passports but today we see
Gaeton hand them off to a man who disappears with them. It is very evident that many people make a living shepherding people like us across the river. We also see strangers leaving with our luggage. Once again Gaeton has put our precious belongings into the hands of those who know the system. They finally open a gate and we walk down an enclosed area to a loading dock. The boat we board holds about 15 people. Boarding has its own challenges especially for the women – step here and hold on to whomever is available so you don’t go into the river, as the boat moves and the dock stays put. It is a little slippery and scary. It has an awning and there are a few life jackets, but not enough for everyone. Most people tell us they don’t know how to swim, and President Kola grabs one quickly and says he can’t swim. We say goodbye to Gaeton and pray we will meet friends on the other side. We also hope we will see our passports again.
The Congo River is very swift and full of silt. We see lots of debris in the water, lots of tree limbs and other floating vegetation. This is probably because it is the rainy season and the storms are wrecking havoc with the vegetation upstream. Sister Wheatley tries to avoid the spray generated by the boat aswe cross the river. We see lots of other places along the river where it appears people can board ferrys and other types of boats. They all are really loaded with people and their belongings and other things – and they don’t look safe at all! We also see a few wooden canoes with fishermen in them, fishing with nets as they fight the swift current.
On the other side we are met by Thierry who works at the Mission Home. We have communicated with him almost weekly during our mission. He, too, is an extraordinary man and also a Stake President. He and the other two men who work in the Mission Home have their amazing stories that we hope to record and not forget. The Church is blessed continually by their faith and skills. Once again our luggage is in the hands of strangers. We soon learn that like Gaeton, Thierry knows how to work the system. We don’t know how much money is being spent but we sense that we are in good hands. We board a van and wait and eventually someone appears with our passports and we are on our way to the Mission Home.
We drive down a large paved highway through the center of town, four lanes on both sides. This
street is the pride of Kinshasa. We see large modern buildings on both sides of the street. When we look closely, they are much like buildings in many African cities – showing the dirt/mold, lots of missing windows, etc., but also some cleaner and more western or European looking. We see people sweeping the pavement. We learn that this road was recently widened and repaved because of a ‘Francaphone’ (African nations whose national language is French) Conference that was held here and they wanted to impress the people in attendance. Streetlights were added and many other improvements along the main streets in the city. We see lots of police and some seem to be as intimidating as we were told they would be. We are warned to never take pictures of the police or government buildings.
The Mission Office and Mission Home are in a large building complex. Guards open the gate. The office is on the ground floor. The Mission Home is on the fourth floor and reached through a different entrance, which has a guard. President and Sister Jameson are in Johannesburg, and we are greeted by the mission staff. We meet Elder and Sister Smith. Sister Smith is an administrative assistant and he handles the mission finances. We will stay with Elder and Sister Smith. We go up to the Mission Home and other couples arrive. Elder and Sister Moon, serving a Humanitarian Mission, Elder and Sister Billings who have started a building program for recently returned missionaries, and Elder and Sister Bybee, who are serving a public affairs mission.
Instead of giving a day to day account of our activities I will highlight the important things.
Elder and Sister Billings were called to Kinshasa to start a trade education program. He taught building
trades at Salt Lake Community College. The purpose of this program is to give young returned
missionaries from the Kinshasa area a chance to learn a trade in the construction area. The
nice buildings in the DR Congo are built by companies from the outside world, mainly from China.
The goal is to teach skills that will be superior to presently employed native Congolese.
Most of the homes and small businesses are crude and not well built. Hopefully the skills these young men demonstrate will be superior to their counterparts. The Church also plans to aggressively build
Chapels throughout the Kinshasa area. We visited an area where the students will eventually
produce 500 cinderblocks a day. These blocks are all individually made with a tool consisting of two pieces of formed pipe. The mix is put into a small metal box open on the bottom end. After shaking and compaction the mix in the box with the second part of the tool, it is lifted up and a cinder block sits on the pavement. If you touch it before it cures it will collapse. It is very important to have the right mix, which Elder Billings is teaching them and which is much better quality than cinder blocks are currently made of. Some of the mission couples tried to show their skill but all were unsuccessful. When they lifted the tool they had only a pile of mixture.
We then went to another site where students are actually constructing a building. It is part of a new chapel site. At this site they are building a combination chapel and cultural hall, and four other unattached buildings for classrooms. The students are building one of the classrooms. Their workmanship was superior to that of the other buildings. What we noticed most was the love between Elder Billings and his students. Before their mission ends they will start programs in two more cities. A couple who served here in Pointe Noire just before we came, Elder and Sister Gates, will take over the program in Kinshasa in May.
Elder and Sister Moon, the Humanitarian couple, took us to a well the church had constructed. This well is in the poorest part of the town. We drove down narrow dirt roads cluttered with garbage and lined with people. Children were everywhere. When we had driven as far as we could we walked the rest of the way. We were constantly shaking hands with children. I don’t know if it’s because they think we are bringing something, or it’s just a chance for them to be close to someone different. They started following our cars before we even parked. The well is comprised of a large reservoir on stilts. I didn’t have a change to ask many questions about it, but it was constructed by the Church in 2005 and it is still working, which is not always the case for such projects, if the local entities don’t maintain them. I didn’t see a generator, so I assume the pressure from the stream forces the water into the reservoir, then it feeds down into a series of taps. From here the people of the community fill their containers. Since the building of the well
a local clinic says that cases of intestinal medical problems has decreased by 65%. This water is not treated but is still better than the water people will draw from polluted streams. You might ask why are the people not trained to boil the water before using it. The answer is they have no money to buy fuel to boil it with.
At the well site we visit a rundown building that is the school. The head master says they educate
250 students. We question how they do this. It looks like four classrooms, with seating capacity for about 25 students in each one. They must attend in shifts. We notice that a cinderblock bathroom
facility has been constructed near the school. Its doors are padlocked shut. On the outside it says “The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” We are told that in addition to the well the Church built
this building, which has a sign indicating that on the wall. The building is locked when the students are not in school. We notice by the school some poles stuck in the ground. Some colored plastic, cardboard and pieces of tin are attached to the poles. Most likely this is the facility they use to relieve themselves when nature calls and school isn’t open .
On Sunday we attended Church at one of the local wards. The meetings started with only a handful of
members, but as Priesthood Meeting and Sunday School progressed the building began to fill. A special
treat for us, was to see Elder Muthie, an Elder from Kenya, who was serving here in Pointe Noire when we first arrived. He is serving as an assistant to President Jameson and will return home to Kenya
on Friday. When he left Pointe Noire we assumed we would never see him again. What a miracle to
see him one more time! After Sacrament Meeting we traveled across town to see one of our chapels that looks a little like the Nauvoo Temple. It seems very elaborate to have been built in one of the poorest areas of Kinshasa. From there we went to the chapel site where the Kinshasa Temple will be built. On this site there is also presently a building where they have an L.D.S. Youth Center and Seminary and Institute building. Some are projecting that eventually there will be a missionary training center as well. There are now 7 Stakes in Kinshasa, which is a city of about 12 million people, and about 14,000 members of the Church. Brazzaville has 1 Stake and has about 3 million people.
Other activities during the conference included a couple of trips to craft malls, a meal at a nice restaurant, and a visit to The Church Distribution Center. We had an inspiring meeting all together with President and Sister Jameson for instruction and gospel messages. During the week, some of the ladies went and got their hair cut. We had many meals together, and appreciated all the planning and preparation of the couples in Kinshasa and Sister Jameson. We also had some meals and some down time with our hosting couples. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner at the Mission Home with even chocolate marshmallow hearts wrapped in red foil and a beautiful centerpiece. We played some get to know you games and laughed and talked and got to know and love all the couples. All of us currently live in Utah, except President and Sister Jameson, who live in Mesa, Arizona.
We were blessed to be taught by President and Sister Jameson. He has a gift for opening up the hidden teachings in the Book of Mormon. He promised us that through our efforts our children will be blessed.
I believe that even though we will all continue to have challenges we are being blessed.
The trip home was another exciting experience, as we prepared for returning to Pointe Noire and traveled home. We woke up to see rain pounding the earth. The President warned us that they sometimes shut down the ‘beach’/river crossing when it rains. Thierry collected our Passports and said he was going to make the arrangements. He finally returned and we headed towards the port. Everywhere we went there seemed to be delays. We finally found ourselves on a small motorboat that had an enclosed area for us, heading across the mighty Congo. Same questions in our minds - who has our passports, who is that with our luggage? Gaeton meets us on the other side. Our flight leaves at 4:30, and it is about 4:05 when we finally leave the port on the Brazzaville side. We gradually make our way through Brazzaville. Gaeton drops us off at the airport and gives our luggage to a man and we are on our own. It is 4:30. The man he turns us over to doesn’t speak English. We just go from ticket booth to luggage inspection to the departure gate on faith. Fortunately, the plane is behind schedule and we even have to wait a few minutes before we can board. We arrive at Pointe Noire in a massive rain storm. We deplane down some metal steps to the tarmac and are ushered into a crowded van for a quick trip to the building. From the airport to home is an hour and a half taxi ride in stalled traffic, instead of about 10 minutes. The poor taxi driver, who Sister Wheatley argued with about the fare before she would let them load the luggage, couldn’t believe he had agreed to a fare of 2,000 cfa and was wasting so much time not going anywhere. He kept saying, “Tchimbamba taxi, no good!” When we finally made it to our house, we gave him 5,000 since it had taken so long and he couldn’t believe it, he just stood there by the car and stared at it for a few minutes. We hope that left him with a better feeling about giving the Missionaries a ride – maybe he will even read the brochure we gave him.
It is a little difficult to get back into the normal swing of things, but we have a lot to do, so it’s time to get things done. We have missionaries who need things and things that need fixed at home, like a broken internet tower.
Mom and Dad/Elder and Sister Wheatley