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Jay | Susan | Alex | Beth | Samantha
August 6, 2010 2:53 pm
Published in: Flying

Last Monday I flew from Nairobi to Entebbe on the DC-3, spent the night with the Pontiers, and then bright and early the morning of the 27th of July, Ron and I loaded up in the Caravan, and headed for Zemio, Central African Republic (CAR).  We stopped first in Bunia, Congo, for fuel, and to pick up a senior pastor, Lalima.  Next we went to Dungu, Congo and picked up another senior pastor, Mboligihe.  Then on to Isiro where we picked up pastor Toloidi and his wife Ngbabino (no, I have no idea how to pronounce her name).  Finally, after dealing with incredibly greedy officials….it cost us $200 in fees in Bunia and nearly $600 in Isiro, we headed for Zemio.  Our hostess is the AIM missionary in CAR (yes, singular).  Less than 20 years ago there were about 40 there…a dozen plus in Zemio, and another 18-20 in Obo.  The church is, amazingly, strong there, though it is ripe for heresy to creep in.  The church in CAR lacks Bibles, Bible schools, trained pastors, teaching materials….you get the idea. Anyway, on arrival at Zemio with the missionary and these three senior pastors we  got the full African greeting.  The people were lined up in front of the hangar (AIM Air used to have an airplane based here) singing and dancing to welcome them.

BIG Welcome.  Oh, the reason for the big trip:  Two men had graduated from the Bible school in the Congolese refugee camp in Zemio, and four men were being ordained as pastors in the Congolese church.  I know this risks putting a lie to what I just said about the church in CAR and Congo lacking so much, but these are the first two graduates in over four years, and the first four men to be ordained in about the same length of time.  The need is definitely there.  But that’s for later.  Ron and I put the airplane away, getting it prepped for the next flight.  Then we went to talk to the Ugandan soldiers there at the mission.  The UPDF (Ugandan Provincial Defense Force) is chasing after the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Koni’s band of thugs.  Part of Ron’s and my task during the week we’d be in Zemio was to do a security assessment for Central Region, to see if it was reasonable for the missionary to stay.  The UPDF is pretty well trained and equipped, especially for Africa. It was very comforting to have the guys there at the mission.

The next day Ron gave me the tour of the mission, and we did some repairs to the missionary’s motorscooter and the solar system in the guest house.  Mostly a quiet day.  I looked at an old BJ-45 very similar to Mr Zebra and was able to help the owner, Franga, who is a transporter in CAR that works with the mission regularly fix a couple things.  I’m getting some parts together for him now, for it.

I should take a minute and talk about food.  We ate African while there. The missionary doesn’t have a refrigerator and so relies heavily on the local market.  Rice was a staple, as were peanuts and peanut butter.  We also had greens, and matoke (plantain) and manioc (cassava).  The greens were usually served with a peanut sauce….very good.  For breakfast there was oatmeal (with peanut butter mixed in) and pancakes and peanut butter, and granola.   We ate well….  The other local staple I forgot to mention is palm oil.  Lots of palm trees here, and the nuts produce lots of oil.  A local export from the area is soap.  Soap from CAR gets exported all over Africa.

Probably the highlight of the trip was the next flight we did. Ron received word that a couple of children who’d been taken by the LRA as slaves had escaped and found their way to an airstrip.  The local guards were taking care of them, but could we get them, and get them back to their home village?  Yes, we could, in fact.  We flew to the airstrip where the kids were.  I stayed at the controls and kept the engine turning while Ron, who speaks the local languages (He speaks about 6 languages: English, Kiswahili, French, Lingala, Zande, and some Luganda) got out to unload some food we’d brought for the guards, and to get the kids on the plane.  We were on the ground less than five minutes all told…..  The reception back at their village was amazing…everyone was crying.  Given how few of the kids taken by the LRA get away, and the traumas they were subjected to, the reception they received was very understandable.

On another flight we took the missionary with us to the village of Rafai, just to the west of Zemio.  She wanted to meet with the church leaders there, and to meet with the people in the refugee camp there.  I walked with her when she went through the camp. Camp, however, is not very accurate, it’s more like a village.  The folks there are settling in for the long stay.  These folks didn’t flee an actual LRA attack, they left ahead of the attacks, and so were able to bring most of their things with them, and so are fairly well supplied and equipped.  In their minds at least.  Of more worry is the fact that they’re settling in for the long stay.  They’re Congolese, and while they’re all Zande like the folks in CAR this isn’t really their home.  The Red Cross is there providing some aid and mostly some advice (they have the villagers digging good long drop toilets, for instance, in an effort to head off disease).  It was an experience getting to the village…the airstrip is on the other side of the Chinko river (a branch of the Mbomou which defines the border between Congo and CAR) from the village. So we took the ferry.  Then  walking through the village was it’s own education, as I’ve hinted at before. 

It was, as I said, educational to walk through the refugee village.  The people were so amazingly glad to see us.  The missionary translated for me a bit, and most of the translations boiled down to “We’re so glad you came to see us.”  The people aren’t asking for help, other than getting rid of Koni and his goons, but they are very glad to have people from outside come and see.

I see that this post is getting long, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  It’s quite a task to pack such a full week into a few words and pictures.  In fact, it’s a task beyond me.  So….stand by, there’s more to come.

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