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Chronicles of a Weekend

9 May, 2010

The alarm says wake up.  Six AM, Saturday.  Time to hit the road.  But first take a shower.

Then hit the road, to make it to Mitendi by 8.  As little money as possible, so that I can be truthful when I say I have no money when they ask.  And I will be asked at least 15 times today.

Make it by 8, which was the time they said would be the latest I should get there before they leave to go to Kasangulu, to the morgue, to pick up Jonas’ body.  We sit for an hour or so, drink some coffee, take the Landcruiser to fill up ten 20L bottles of water (there is water in the town for the first time in 2 months today!  praise God).  Use the 4 wheel drive to get out of the sand.

Finish a huge piece of bread and a cup of coffee, then head out to Kasangulu with 7 people in my 4 seater two-door jeep.  At the morgue, a friend insists that I go “visit” the hospital (same property as the morgue), which means walk around and let the nurses show you the sick people.  In the maternity ward, meet an orphan girl skinny as a rail who has just had a baby, but has no food to eat.  Regret not bringing any money.  But do pray for her, for God to bless her with food to eat for her and her baby.  And for the gospel to change her life.  Its just as hard as they say to give someone the gospel if they have no food to eat.  But it must be done.

Wait around outside the morgue (not sure how it compares to a morgue in the states, because I’ve never been in a morgue in the states).  While waiting, the craziness ensues.

First its the drunk guys.  Guys my age, just hangin out around the morgue, looking for a good time.  And they are having a good time.  Loud, obnoxious, drunk.  Its kind of like a 5-points Birmingham scene, but at the morgue.  At 10 o-clock in the morning.  One guy has a picture of a Chinese guy, and is strutting around holding it in front of his face, acting like a Chinese man that is there to mourn; only mourn like an obnoxious drunk Congolese kid.

Then the verbal fight breaks out.  There are two coffins there by now, which means two families waiting to take their dead family member out.  They are fighting over which one should come out first.  Are you serious?  Yes, yes they are.

After a while of waiting (long enough for two more coffins to show up, one obviously for a child) a brother of Papa Jonas comes to me with a necktie and asks if I know how to tie it.  I said I can try, and put it around my neck.  He then tells me it is for Papa Jonas.  So I tie my dead friend’s necktie for him.  Wait around some more; women are wailing in mourning.  Men are looking somber.  Boys are drunk and acting like fools.  All in the same place, all without much care for anything that’s going on.  I step away from it all just to get a breather from the craziness, and Jonas brother comes up and pulls me even more to the side.  He tells me he knows of a field where diamonds are, he just needs the machine to get them.  Do I want in?  No, not really.  I am a missionary.  I don’t even know what you are talking about.  Oh.  Didn’t know that.  Ca va.

I am told the ‘program’: when they bring Jonas out, they will put him in the casket, I will pray for the voyage home, that all the evil spirits will stay away, etc.  OK.  But then right before they get the body out, the same person who told me the program earlier tells me to drive my car down the road so I can follow the hearse (big van with holes cut for windows) back to Mitendi.  OK.

So we start following the motorcade, this time only 5 of us in my car.  But every other car?  Out of control.  There are Civic-sized cars with 20 people in/out of them, driving down the road at 60mph.  There are vans with 40 people in them.  The van with the casket probably has 25 people in it.  There are drunk people hanging out of every window, riding on the roof, anything you can imagine.  All screaming and hollering and such.  These are people who barely knew Jonas or his family, just neighborhood kids really.  Looking for an excuse to party.  So they choose a funeral.  Like they do every Saturday.

We get back to the house in Mitendi, and they put the casket in the purple cloth gazebo that it is supposed to go in.   All the women of Jonas’ family begin mourning.  Wailing to God.  I go and pray over the casket, which is glass on top so you can see Jonas’ body.

After about 5 minutes the music starts blaring, the neighborhood boys pick up the casket, and start dancing around with it.  Jonas’ family just sits back and somberly watches.  Not affirming, not condemning anything.  Just sitting.  Staring.  Silent.

But nothing else is silent, now the dancing party of 50+ people is marching around the house, throwing the casket up and catching it.  Dance dance.  They put the casket back down eventually, and then fighting breaks loose.  Its like a riot video.  People who are breaking up the fights are suddenly in their own fights, and the mass of fighting is moving.  Toward the women.  Women get up and out of the way, just in time, as the mass of fighting people storms through where they were, leaving behind chairs and cloth in the dirt.  Then all of those fighting people, plus about 30 more people focus their attention on one person.  He broke the glass.  On the coffin.  They set the glass aside while the crowd chases down and beats the person (I never saw if it was a boy or girl).

When the crowd returns, the father of Jonas is holding a huge stick, ready to beat the people who just ruined all the peace of the ceremony.  By “holding” the stick, I mean he has a death-grip on it.  It takes four people to pry it from his fingers.  This is about the time I notice a bunch of kids jumping on the bumpers of my jeep, so my friends tell me I have to move it.  Good.  This isn’t exactly what I was expecting today, and I could certainly use a break.

As we’re driving down the sand-road (not dirt, deep sand), I notice a bunch of guys riding/jumping/running behind my bumper, trying to ride.  I don’t want them to, so I slam on my breaks, making sure to watch the rear-view mirror.  If only I had a video camera.  Awesome picture of drunk guys smashing into the back window.  Makes my day.

But one of them decides he is rebellious, and stays hanging on the side bumper.  My friend tells me to just go a little faster and he will get off.  We shout out the widow for him to get down a few times, then I slam on the brakes again.  Even funnier.  I see his body fly from the back, to the front of the vehicle, face plant into the sand.  I make sure he’s not under the wheel before I start going again.  He’s not.  He’s back on the bumper.  And he’s mad.  He says I tried to kill him (which isn’t extremely far from the truth).  I said, “You’re right, but I told you to get off my car, and I never asked you to get on it in the first place, so you asked for it.”  This is all while still driving down the sand road.  He shows me a scratch on his wrist, and tries to make me give him money for injuring him.  Right.  We are getting closer and closer to the paved road, and for once in my time in Kinshasa I can’t wait to see the police.

That’s about the time the guy hanging on my car starts freaking out, reaching in the open window, and trying to shift my gears.  Time to speed up.  When we get to just before the police-hangout, he jumps off, in a hysterical cry, and runs away.  OK.  Didn’t think that would happen.

We go park the car at the WFF property, leave it there where it is safer, and go back down to the visitation.  Shortly after going returning, I give my condolences to the family members (who are now at the peak of sadness, and anger, because of the current events).  Me and my friend who has been with me this whole time, Jille, go to his house.  He is the only other male that consistently met with the Bible Study that Papa Jonas was in.  So he’s a pretty good friend.  He recently moved, so that’s why he was showing me his new house.  On the way, I was told to pray for his neighbors new baby, who was wailing in my arms for the whole prayer.

Before I finally leave Mitendi, I decide to go eat a little at the Malewa (Congolese restaurant) that I usually go to.  Park the car, look up, and see an interlocking AU.  War Eagle.  Its a Santa hat, on a Congolese, but its an Auburn Santa hat.  I tell the guy “That’s my university!  In the United States!!”  He’s not as excited as me, but he tells me his name, Alain.  That’s my name too!  So that makes my day again.  Its good to have things that make your day on crazy days.  I go to the restaurant, and tell her I only have 90 cents (800 franc), but I want a soft drink (Djino) and whatever food she can give me.  She is awesome and gave me some fufu and pondu-madesu, and a cold Djino.  Good to have friends.

So I finally make it home, just in time to play the “escape the world” Saturday softball game with the other Americans.

Sunday, wake up at 7, get to Mitendi by 9.  Sit around, drink some coffee, eat the biggest piece of bread I’ve ever seen (since I’m white, I must eat a lot).  Load up in the car to go get cases of drinks for the after-party.  Or after-funeral.  I guess it shouldn’t be called a party.  Women already weeping at the casket.

I tell the guys I’m not loading up any beer in my car, and after they tell me to help them out in Jesus’ name, I say, “Jesus wouldn’t be drinking beer!”  May or may not be true, in hindsight.  But in context, probably true.

Get back to the funeral, there is music blaring from the 4 box-speakers and women are weeping at the casket, while young people dance around the scene in a circle.  The members of Jonas’ family that aren’t at the casket are just sitting, staring, silent.

Then “that guy” shows up.  A guy about my age with a tank top and jeans on.  And a bra and panties on top of that.  Starts dancing suggestively (which is pretty extreme considering how suggestive normal Congolese dancing is) and everyone laughs, but does nothing about it.  He will be there the rest of the day.

This scene goes on for a while.  After about an hour, the brothers give me a microphone and ask me to pray and preach.  Alright.  No translators, so I stick to the Scripture.  Read Ephesians 2:8-9, why faith is necessary for salvation.  Hebrews 11:1-2, 12:1-2, what faith is and how it applies to us since Jesus has come.  And finally Romans 5:12-17, why death is necessary, and how Jesus alone brings life.  I can only pray the gospel was heard and not just preached.  Then I prayed, and went and sat down again.  The scene went on for another couple of hours, with more minorly-crazy stuff going most of the time.  At one point, a woman started going bizerk, and other women seized her and took her away.  The only explanation I got was that a evil spirit had entered her.  No one seemed at all surprised at that event.  No one.  Except me.

Finally, it was time to take the body and put it in the ground.  They are going to carry it up to the cemetery, but Jonas’ brother wants us to make one more run to get some more drinks, so we go and get 4 more cases, and then hurry back to the house, then hurry on foot up to the cemetery, because the dancing procession had already left.  We get to the cemetery, and upon stepping over the first fresh grave, people are fighting just ahead, in the middle of the graveyard.  I never asked what they were fighting about.  The fighting apparently never stops.

At the grave side, I finally see someone I recognize (the brothers had gotten involved in the fight) and it is Jonas’ father, squatting down on a adjacent grave, looking totally exhausted.  All I wanted to do was squat beside him and just sit there in shock with him.  But there were more drunk guys.  At the grave.  Hollering over anything that was said.  Not your old Westminster Baptist Church folks.  These are guys who intentionally go make a ruckus at the grave site so that people will give them money to shut up.  So when the white guy got there, I was the center of attention for them.  I tried to listen to what the good-guys were saying, but all I caught was when they asked me to pray again, with the coffin in the ground.  I prayed, then another guy prayed (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t praying to Jesus, but to the ancestors) and then they started shoveling in the dirt.  And then they handed me a shovel.  So I shoveled some dirt down there onto the casket.  Then handed it off quickly.

We walked back to the house, and when we got there I was ready to leave, because I knew they were about to start eating, and that takes forever.  But I couldn’t get to the brothers that I needed to tell before I left, because they were trying to stop people from fighting over the drinks (there weren’t enough for everyone).

All in all, it was a weekend full of evidence of depravity in lost people, and people with faith being robbed of any chance at a peaceful ceremony for their loved one.  All because of culture.

It’s ironic that the coffin said “R.I.P.” in English on it.  There surely was no comprehension of that in French or Lingala.  Rest and Peace were two things that were hauntingly absent from any ceremonies this weekend.

Be thankful for what we have.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 May, 2010 22:32

    Sorry this is ridiculously long. But the real Chronicles are long, and people read them. So I don’t feel terrible.

  2. mom permalink
    10 May, 2010 00:25

    I started praying for you about 1am Saturday morning…about 7am your time? I knew this weekend would be hard, but I can’t even imagine what this was like. My strongest emotion would have been anger….only His Spirit in you must have kept you where you needed to be-both emotionally and physically. Hard stuff.

  3. naomikk permalink
    10 May, 2010 10:00

    alan…. your life = not average.

    praying for you!

  4. Ginna permalink
    18 May, 2010 08:11

    I am 9 days late reading this post. Wow Boo, I could not imagine. I am praying!

  5. Jonathan Weaver permalink
    21 May, 2010 21:00

    “I saw my sin most barbarous and a filthy crime. I had to conclude, with great shame and astonishment, that I had horribly abused the holy Son of God. I felt my soul greatly to love him and my heart to yearn for him, for I saw that he was still my friend and did reward me good for evil. . . . I thought, had I a thousand gallons of blood within my veins, I could freely have spilled it all at the feet of this my Lord and Savior.” –John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

    I thought of this quote while reading your chronicles and am praying for your difficulties! I have one verse for encouragement, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” 2 Thess. 3:13 This verse was a great motivator for me in the tough times of South Africa, when it doesn’t seem like anything you do will affect the cultural norms.

    Grace and Peace in His Rest!

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