This is Congo. There are few paved roads. It rains, a lot. Getting stuck in the mud here is a right of passage that equals your first infraction with the roadside police or navigating the tricky process of getting your visa renewed, etc. It signifies that you live here and you learn to deal with it.
After church last Sunday, my truck was loaded with around 20 men, women, and children as we headed out. On the way to my house, they each got off at a number of different stops. Except for the last family, which had three small children. They live just down the road from us, so I decided to take them all the way to their door. Only, I never arrived. Thirty feet from their house, I got myself stuck in the mud. This was not your run of the mill, casual, stuck for a few minutes kind of deal. We were down all the way to the axels and the fuel tank was resting on the ground. Upon seeing our grave situation, I suggested that we jacked the truck up and put boards under each wheel. This idea was quickly rejected by the growing crowd of spectators, which was multiplying by the minute.
A spectacle like this is a rare occasion; a white guy dressed in his Sunday best, covered in mud while his two kids play in the street nearby and his wife converses with the neighbors is surly an event they will likely never witness again. Each man who arrived instantly became the expert. He would take one of the shovels, look around for a while, and give some new commands. Finally, after three hours with no success and everyone tired from digging us out, I gave my advice again. The current new guy – boss – liked it and gave orders again to the crowd. Fifteen minutes later, we were out of the mud. However, I was less excited than I had anticipated.
This is because, this is Congo and this was not my first “rodeo.” What followed next was a discussion about how much each individual should get paid for his work. Don’t get me wrong, it was money well deserved but the negotiations can be hectic and started off rocky when a man shouted, “50 dollars each!” I was in a hurry to speak to a church in the US on Skype and so I ended negotiations quickly with 50 dollars for the 12 or so to split between them. They were happy enough and so was I.
The five-minute drive home gave me time to reflect about the experience and other times in which I am asked for money. Just a few days before, I was scolded by a group of men who didn’t like me cutting my own grass in the field next to my house. Twice in the same week, the same man was astonished that I drove myself around and didn’t want to engage him as my chauffer (a common practice here). Perhaps Americans just like the idea of being independent and able to do things on our own. Perhaps the Congolese just like the idea of providing stable income for others if they are able. We have two people who work part time in our home, mostly because people seemed upset and confused when we would do things for ourselves.
Unfortunately, most outsiders see local people as greedy when they insist that you pay them for work you can easily do for yourself or work that might seem like a neighborly favor. However, this is Congo. Many people don’t work and those who are able are obliged to help others whenever possible. If cultures will clash for only a few reasons, the flow and distribution of money will surly be among them. My hope and prayer is that we will fall somewhere in between as we seek to value hard work and personal achievement; while also generosity and improving the stability of others.
Perhaps the economics of the Kingdom call for such a stance. After all, what landowner would foolishly continue to search for laborers when the work is almost done, and then have the audacity to pay them all the same at the end of the day? (As in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16).