Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Update from George & JoAnn Billings in the Congo

Dear Family and Friends,

Elder Billings students in the Democratic Republic of  Congo
On Christmas day we had several of our students over for dinner.  Some brought their wives, others brought their girl friends, and others came alone.  We prepared most of the dinner but counted on them to supply some of their own dishes.  I started picking people up at 12:30 p.m.  When I arrived at the pickup point there were only two people.  I thought we were going to have a dismal turnout as we had expected around 30 people.  I waited for 1/2 hour and three others arrived.  I  took them to the apartment and went back in hopes that more had shown up.  There were a couple of others at that time.  I waited again for1/2 hour and three others showed up.  They became the next trip to the apartment.  Then, I started getting calls wanting me to go to different locations and get people.  I made at least four more trips to different parts of the City in the next two hours until I was confident that everyone who was coming had arrived.  No one came on their own.  They had either walked or taken a taxi to the location where they wanted to be picked up.  Only two of the guests brought something for the dinner.  They had brought beans and the ingredients they needed to prepare them.  When we saw the beans we knew that dinner was a little bit away as beans take some time to soften up and cook.  Due to the beans the dinner was delayed for three hours.  We pretty much had an American Christmas dinner and we had plenty of food.  Although there was nothing left when they got done.

I have attached three photos of the Christmas celebration.  As you can
see by the photos it wasn't exactly a white Christmas.  One photo is of us and all of the guests except the one who took the picture.
Another photo is of the two who cooked the beans.  The third photo is of a couple who were married three days later.  We were invited to the wedding on their marriage date and to a reception on January 4th.  We
weren't able to make it to the wedding itself but we did make it to the reception.

It was our intention to learn about Christmas traditions in the Congo. Some of them talked about how they spent Christmas with their families but there really wasn't much of anything that we would consider different or unusual.  There aren't a lot of decorations and there isn't much in the line of gift giving.  They did bring us a gift however.  It is a musical instrument carved out of wood.  The carving is quite detailed.  It is a bosomy pregnant women with two heads.  I think it is going to take me awhile to figure out the significance.  They did explain a little bit about it but all of the commotion of the party distracted attention and I can't remember what they said.  I'll have to ask again when I get some time.

 The two other pictures I have attached are of the wedding.  The first is of the beautiful bride.  The reception definitely was done in
Congolese tradition.  We were invited for a 7:00 p.m. reception.  We arrived about 10 minutes early and we were the first ones there.  We were escorted to a waiting room and other guests began to trickle in.
At about 8:45 p.m. there were about 20 of us in the waiting room and
we were called out, couple by couple, and escorted to our assigned table.  After we were seated many more guests continued to trickle in.  There were around 150 guests by the time things really got started.  The bride and groom didn't arrive until about 9:30 p.m.  They had a  grand entrance as they were escorted by a couple they had chosen to  advise them about marriage.  That is their custom.  They choose a couple who has been married for some time and who they trust.  In the  marriage process they are accompanied by this couple and receive advise.  The couple is seated at either side of them during the reception.  

During the entrance music is played and they proceed to their seating area with a slow rhythmic dance step.  After they are seated each of the wedding party are formally introduced.  Then it becomes time for gift giving.  First the family of the bride are called upon to bring their gifts.  Each gift is personally given to the bride and groom.  The bride's family is followed by the groom's family and then friends and other acquaintances.  After the gift giving it is time to eat.  There is a complete meal prepared and it is Congolese all the way.  I can't name all the foods but they were interesting.  I was served a piece of fish and all I got was the head.  Fish head is a delicacy.  It was a delicacy that I just couldn't  bring myself to eat however.  I pawned it off on another guest at our table and watched him devour it with expressions of culinary delight.Then it became time for dancing.  It was getting late and we decided it was time to go.  It was midnight and we had been their for five hours.  Besides that I was getting uncomfortable about maybe having to dance and I don't dance.  When we got up to go the groom immediately stood and asked us to pose with them for photos.  We were some of the first of the guests to leave.  We were told that the dancing goes on until 5:00 a.m.  People stay all night because it is dangerous for them to travel in the dark hours of the night, so they just dance and visit all night.

Dear Family & Friends:

I thought I would add a bit to George's email.  Christmas & New Year's gave George a breather from teaching. For the past 2 months, George has been teaching 2 classes a day, starting at 7:30 a.m. and arriving home about 6:00 at night.  That is a long day to be working construction in this heat.  Since our office is in our home, that has left me home alone except for the 1/2 hour George is here for lunch.Our power source is not stable; we usually have low power and therefore no internet for half to two thirds of each day.  During those times I cannot send my work to Salt Lake and receive their input.  I am also isolated from the outside world.  I cannot leave the apartment alone because it is not safe to walk alone about the city.George has the truck, so I have no means of transportation.  I told George I feel like I'm under house arrest.  A lot of the work requires both George and I to work together, such as writing tests and evaluations.  I could not do it without him here and he has been too exhausted in the evenings to work on bookwork.  Things are looking brighter, however.  On the 20th, Bro. Bonnet will be in town and we will re-evaluate our teaching schedule and training of additional teachers.   Changes will be made to improve the program.  Already it has been approved to have wireless anywhere internet put on my computer so I can travel to the sites with George, and do some of my work there.  (There are rented meetinghouses next to both sites.) That will allow us to be together and give me more of a chance to be with the students.   It is most rewarding to be with these young men and see the hope in their faces as they learn an occupation that will help change their lives for the good.

Additionally, we will be moving to the apartment building where the other couple missionaries are housed at the end of this month.  We will be on the 5th floor in an apartment that has a huge expanse of windows on two corner walls.  It is a spectacular view of the city and the Congo River.  Below is the biggest plaza in town, with a statue, a large fountain, and lots of benches.  Many people gather there daily.If there is any excitement in the city, it usually starts there.  I will love having the view, and also to see the sun rise each morning
over the Congo River.  This is also a much more secure building.  Before one can drive in to park, security guards check under the hood, and all underneath the truck with detectors for bombs, etc.  The building was part of the American Embassy buildings and is very sturdily built.  It is surrounded by thick cement walls with razor wire at the top.  I think with the trouble going on in the Eastern Congo, the President felt it was better to have all couple missionaries together in the same secure location.  (It is also located on a direct route to the airport.)  President Jameson receives security reports frequently and the Church is very committed to keeping the missionaries safe.  We have never yet felt unsafe.

This next week, I also have a chance to start working half a day with the PEF (Perpetual Education Fund) department.  The missionary couple serving there has been reassigned to South Africa due to health issues, and so the two young Congolese returned missionaries who were volunteering have had to carry on with the work.   Both of these young men have interpreted for me when I have taught Family History training programs.  I will enjoy working with them.  There are many young men and women who take advantage of this program to pursue higher education degrees, and I will get to assist them in that.  Someone from South Africa will come to train me at the end of January.   I look forward to this work.  No more house arrest!!! I will be working with the Construction program for half a day, PEF for half a day, and Family History on weekends.

One of our great joys continues to be visiting the wards of George's students, going to church with them and their family, and taking pictures afterwards.  Since pictures are a rare possession here, we usually print up about 8 pictures and give to the student of him and
his family.  It has been so fun to drive all over this city, up steep mountain roads, roads half washed out with rain, and roads hardly wide enough for a car to travel.  We know this city very well now, and don't worry about getting lost anymore.  The students are so excited
to see us, to think that someone would think enough of them to come and see them at their ward.  You can only imagine how insignificant they feel in a city of 14 million people.

This mission has been a great adventure and a great blessing in our lives.  How we love these Congolese people.  George can communicate very well with the people now.  He even knows quite a few Lingala and Swahili words.  I continue to struggle but I am now able to talk
somewhat with our students.  They are very understanding and try to speak slowly and use words they know I am familiar with.  I still study French every day learning new words.  I intend to speak it before I come home.  At this New Year's time, we look forward to
another great year of our "Up" adventure.

At this time of year, we appreciate the love and friendship from our dear family and friends.  We hope your lives are full of joy and happiness.  We wish you a wonderful new year!

George & JoAnn Billings

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