We walked out of the Entebbe airport, past all the large jets, and in front of us were three little planes with red and white stripes on the side. A middle-aged man with balding ginger hair and kind eyes greeted us joyfully and pointed out which plane we would be taking. After packing our luggage underneath the plane, we walked up a rickety little ladder and stepped inside.
With not quite enough room to stand up straight, we filed in and filled the eleven-passenger plane. And as we buckled up, rolled out and took off into the hot, African sky, I had no idea what I was in for.
After some time of staring at miles and miles of deep green rainforest, we started to descend. I looked down to see two squiggly lines of dirt and a clearing chopped out from the palm trees. ‘Are we seriously going down here?’, I thought… yepp. We sure were! It was a bit of a rough landing, but as we came down, I was distracted from the abrupt jolts by the sight of a crowd of Congolese people waiting eagerly for our arrival.
First order of business: take team #1 to the middle of the jungle. Second order of business: leave them. The propellers began to spin faster and faster, and soon enough I could no longer heart the little shouts of the children. But as we began our takeoff, the kids started to chase us, running, waving and shouting. Some even jumped as if they were going to reach us and hop aboard!
The remainder of our ride was a bit numbing. There is an element of fun that goes into flying and traveling, but dropping our other team off in the middle of the Congo rainforest seemed a bit surreal, and it was hitting me that this was the real deal. ‘I’m a missionary.” I thought, a bit mind-boggled at my own state of affairs. I was riding on a miniature little jet out of a missionary flight organization. ‘How in the world did I end up here?’
My ears told me that we were descending. I looked down to see a little white and blue building smudged with orange dirt. We jumped off the plane and I was hit by a blast of warm air. Possibly ten Congolese were standing around, but for the most part, the airport was stranded. As we rolled our luggage through the back entrance, I began to look around.
All the windows were broken, and spider webs overtook most of the cabinets, counters, and desks. I felt like I was in a scene from a horror movie. What I assume was once the luggage claim was rusted over. A huge, brass scale that appeared as if it used to be beautiful was a little lopsided and weepy looking.
A nice young guy loaded our luggage into the back of a rusty pickup and we piled in. The lady who picked us up was from Germany, but had been a translator with Wycliffe for twenty years. She drove us to this big brick house, we unloaded and before I knew it, I was being bombarded with all sorts of hugs and introductions that I didn’t understand at all. I just smiled a lot.
They ushered us into the house and made us sit down. I got my first taste of Congolese hospitality. They made us sit. They made us eat. They made sure that we didn’t have to do anything. It made me feel bad… I had no idea that this would be how I was treated the entire time! Our first night went by in a blur and we all passed out around seven that night.
I woke up early to the sound of new birds and no one else was awake. So, after a trip to the pit latrine (the hole-in-the-ground potty I’d be using for the next three weeks), I walked past the cooks. They all smiled and waved at me, and I couldn’t help myself. I walked awkwardly up to them and just smiled. They assumed I needed something, but they didn’t speak a lick of English.
After a lot of faces and creative motions, they finally understood that I wanted to hang out with them. I sat down on a little log and watched them make our breakfast. I pointed at the pot of green sludge they were crushing, and a little girl brought me a weed. Cautiously, I took a little bite. Spinach! I knew this one.
“America…Spinach.” I pointed at it.
“Pondu!” The old lady beside me said with a smile.
That’s when I had an idea.
I began to listen to their conversations. Then I would point at things and say it in English.
“America…pot. Congo?” And surprisingly, it worked seamlessly. I learned all their names and whose kids were whose. Those little mamas touched my heart, and just reaching out into their hearts and their way of life began to change me right at that moment.
That morning was only a little bit of a hint into the joys of relationship that I was going to experience in the D.R. Congo. I had always told God that I didn’t want to go to Africa. When he took me to Uganda, I was angry, and even though it was a good experience, I never fully let him transform my heart.
Let me tell you, my decision to walk over to the cook’s hut instead of hiding inside by myself was a vital turning point. I chose relationship, joy, and investment in their culture. That’s when I gave my heart away, and I’m oh so glad that I did.