We've all been someplace where we didn't want to be and had to make choices where either outcome was found to be less than preferable. Don't get me wrong. We absolutely love living in Congo, even though it's challenging and I often boast that we age double while living here. However, this is a place where I often find myself between a rock and a hard place; or between competing bad choices both begging for me to choose them.
To be fair, Congo is no different than any other place. Perhaps these paradoxes present themselves to everyone all the time. In this case, what seems bizarre about the rocks and hard places that I continually find myself between is that they are altogether foreign to our western culture. For instance, have you ever had to choose between taking a bath or washing your dishes? What about paying a small bribe to customs officials or being refused entry to your country? I know Connor will judge us harshly in his adult years for the number of times that he has had to choose between going to the bathroom in his pants or in a semi-crowded parking lot.
Things can get more serious as the complexities of Congo unfold. Recently my boss, Stéphane, and I had planned a trip through Congo to attend five district assemblies. With one assembly down and four to go, news broke of political protests in the capital city. Do we cancel our two assemblies in those affected areas (rock) or do we risk getting caught up in a lot of unpleasant junk (hard place)? How does one decide? We strongly believed that God wanted us in these places and could trust him to see us through with our planned schedule and keep us totally out of the mess.
After traveling to Kinshasa and completing our second assembly, we noticed a critical error in the documents sent to us from our leader in Brazzaville, Rep. Of Congo. Yes, there are two Congos. Suddenly it occurs to us that we would be unable to obtain our visas and leave Kinshasa, DR Congo before the political demonstrations ever take place. We would be right in the heat of it, with 12 million of our closest friends. After some prayer, we decided to move to a hotel in a more calm part of town and wait out the protests. We were never in any real danger. As we spent the day in prayer and fasting, I could hear distant, steady gunfire on only two occasions. Other parts of town were not so fortunate. Burned cars, sporadic gunfire, barricades, and looting ruled the day in more densely populated areas. The next day, there was little change except that the protesters moved from town to block the road leading up to the airport. Suddenly, every taxi in Kinshasa, the third largest city in Africa, was booked for the next morning. Or rather, refused to take us to the airport out of a rational fear of their car being torched or excessively pummeled.
If living in the DRC has taught us anything, it is that we must rely on the Lord at all times. Even in the face of difficulty, there can be amazing blessing and growth. For instance, our bonus day in Kinshasa, after the two days of protests, gave us the chance to catch up with our Hatian Missionary serving in the DRC. We ate a mixture of Congolese and Hatian foods, laughed, prayed, and heard their story (I will post a link to it in the comments of this post on facebook.) In Bukavu, we were able to pray with the wife the wife of one of our pastors who has been in the hospital for more than a month. Besides the Spirit filled assemblies that we took part in, these events were real highlights of the trip.
In sum, I don't think that we go looking for trouble, but that we trust God to bring us through it. The book of James says it this way: "2 Count it all joy, my brothers,[b] when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 And let perseverence have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." As we continue to live and minister in Congo, we will certainly face more difficult times, but I am confident that the hard times will give birth to blessing as they did last week. Lord, give us perseverance and joy so that we may lack nothing in your service.