3 Weeks in the DRC
We landed in Kinshasa late on November 2, 2021, just in time to celebrate Bruce’s 71st birthday on the 3rd. We celebrated by attending the Festival International de Cinema- Kinshasa, where we saw evidence of the growing film industry. Some beautiful films from the Congo and elsewhere were shown, and nascent filmmakers mingled. We were impressed by the common goals and cooperation of everyone in attendance.
While at the festival, we met two young men (Congolese) who were planning on becoming filmmakers. One of them had a deep scar across his cheek. We talked about how the Congo is progressing, acknowledging that problems with violence in the east were still keeping the country’s bad reputation alive. The scarred man pointed to his cheek and told us that he had received his scar in the east, when he was attacked by a gang. He had gone there to find out “who he was.” He had heard that he had family members in the east and was seeking them out so that he could understand his roots. His ambush resulted in his having a near-death experience. He encountered an ancestor who told him that all of his ancestors were counting on him to make a difference in their family line. He was not intended to die but to recover and do great things. (I recorded the full interview.) Both of these young men had a deep sense of the goodness of people in the Congo, and a realization that something had gone terribly wrong. The moral compass had somehow disintegrated. They wanted to get to the heart of their identity and work to heal the wounds in the country.
Bruce and I have a mission call to serve in the Mbuji Mayi mission in the DR-Congo. We had talked with the mission president, Jean-Pierre Lono, a few months earlier to ask if he intended to open Lodja. His response was that his brothers, both Catholic priests in Lodja, had asked him the same question the day before. “The problem is,” he said, “there are no roads and there are no members.” Bruce and I thought about this and called him again the next day. “If we were there,” Bruce said, “there would be members.” President Lono told us to submit our papers as soon as we could and he would “install” us in Lodja.
I had been to Lodja several times and was aware of at least two people who wanted to join the church. One was the English professor, Guy Onamboya. He had had a vision with stark similarities to Joseph Smith’s, including the words, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (He heard them in his own language, of course.) I let him read Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision—which was stunning to him. He kept repeating, “Yes! This is exactly right! This is just what happened to me!”
The other man is Norbert, an ophthalmologist. Norbert had helped my brother, Dell, many times while Dell was in Lodja. Norbert asked him once, “Where do you pray?” Dell said, “Oh, I can pray anywhere.” Norbert pursued, “But in what building? What church do you go to?” Dell answered, “Our church isn’t here [in Lodja] yet.” At some point, Norbert said, “i want to join your church.” That was back in 2018.
Because one project (a possible entrepreneurship to sell prescription glasses) had failed in 2019, I had given the supply of glasses to Norbert. But in the two ensuing years, I had forgotten his name. As I contemplated returning to Lodja as a missionary, I tried to remember it. Then on September 27th, 2021, I received an email from him—but I don’t think he intended to send it. It comprised photos of various charts which I did not understand. But there was his name. Norbert Djamba. I emailed back and let him know that we would be in Lodja soon. I then called my brother to ask about their previous conversations.
Dell told me to write back to Norbert and let him know directly that Bruce and I would be there as missionaries and that he should pray to know how to proceed. I did as he suggested.
I soon got this note from Norbert, which I’m translating into English: Thank you Marguerite for your message. I am very happy with this news. As David said: I am very happy when I am told let’s go to the house of the Eternal. The things of God consecrate me more than the things of the world. So I am consecrated, agreed and invested.
We took a propeller plane to Lodja after a week of films and reunions with our many friends in Kinshasa. We were met at the Lodja airport by Norbert and by our friend, Abbe Blaise Veron, a Catholic priest. We had let l’abbe know that we would likely be coming to Lodja as Latter-day Saint missionaries and asked how he felt about that. His response was, “This is good. The Latter-day Saints are welcome. It will be a bonus for everyone.”
We soon saw that Lodja had lost ground during COVID—and sometimes literally. This photo shows a growing ravine which was the result of relentless rain and no infrastructure. As I write this, several buildings (including a school) are at risk of being taken into the ravine.
We showed “Heart of Africa” three times in Lodja—once to a large group of Catholic nuns and priests, who were delighted to see Lodja itself in the film, and even two seconds of Abbe Veron walking up a hill; once at a school; once at a quickly improvised open air theater by Norbert’s home.
A few days into our Lodja week, we received a call from our soon-to-be mission president. He let us know that there were two members of the Church in Lodja, and gave us their contact information. We didn’t have to seek them out. Only an hour later, one of these men knocked on our door. He was holding his triple combination and his certificate of ordination. He told us that he and his wife had joined the Church in another city and then moved to Lodja. “We don’t have a place to worship,” he said, “and it’s hurting our relationship.” He had been the Sunday school president and his wife had been a counselor to the Relief Society president. He also let us know that there were others in Lodja—he called them “the friends of the Latter-day Saints”—who wanted to join.
With permission from President Lono, we held an unofficial LDS meeting in a bamboo grove. A few hours later, we held another unofficial meeting with Norbert and his family.
A few days after our return to the States, we got this note from Guy, the English teacher—who hadn’t known about our unofficial meetings. I told him via social media that we would be returning to Lodja as missionaries. This was his response, written in English.
Hi madam ! I’m the first to become the disciple of the LDS teachings ( doctrine) et serve JESUS C. With it. I’ve already got a space for the church in LODJA. Sincerely yours. GUY.
Eager to welcome LDS gospel in my country side . From my heart ! Greetings to all my brothers and sisters in christ in US. and to saint family !
I won’t detail the humanitarian work we did, but it was significant and planted seeds for initiatives which can be continued. This youtube gives some sense.
We are aware that we’re in a historic moment, at the beginning of something magnificent and divine.
There is so much I haven’t said—and so much on the horizon.