Back to Africa

I’m on the road again, traveling back to where it all began. I started writing this from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some 35 years ago, when this was known as Zaire, Millard and Linda Fuller turned a sand and block mission into a house building ministry and created the model for what was to become Habitat for Humanity and later The Fuller Center for Housing. I’ve come to dedicate the first ten houses in the 2009 Millard Fuller Legacy Build; six here in the DRC and another four across the river in the Republic of Congo. In this dispatch, which I’m trying to send from Paris with little luck; I’ll talk about the first part of the trip—the voyage to Bolomba.

I arrived in the DRC a week ago Sunday. We spent Monday and Tuesday in Kinshasa in meetings; talking FCH philosophy and making plans with government officials and potential partners. I’m the guest here of the Hon. Pierre Maloka who represents Bolomba in the National assembly. Pierre knew Millard and Linda when they were here and has a heart for this ministry. He also has a heart for Bolomba and wants to see it develop. He has the insight to know that the Fuller Center model is potentially transformative and offers great hope for his territory and who whole country.

On Wednesday we flew to Mbandaka. It’s an hour away from Kinshasa by air; but in true Congolese fashion the trip took the better part of the day. We met that evening with the Governor of Equator Province; a true friend to our work and another leader who sees the tremendous potential of our system. He arranged for a boat to get us up the Ikalemeba River to Bolomba.

I’m not really sure how far it is from Mbandaka to Bolomba. The only way in is by boat. Our first trip took 6 ½ hours. We had a faster boat the second time and made it in a little more than 5. We broke records this time and made it in 4. I learned after the fact that the boat we took this time actually belongs to the President of the DRC! We’re traveling in good company.

The plan was to leave Mbandaka on Thursday morning; spend the night and return on Friday afternoon. As it happened the gasoline shipment from Kinshasa was delayed– they’d been two weeks without fuel– so it took most of the day Thursday to get gassed up. By the time the boat was ready it was getting dark; so we decided to leave at dawn on Friday. The river is a dangerous place for a fast boat after dark.

We did leave at dawn on Friday and got to Bolomba at 9:30 There were a series of public events– there’s no electricity there; no television; no internet– so our visit had major entertainment value. We finally got to the build site a little after noon; had more speeches; and set about dedicating the houses. They’re not all quite done yet; but are very nice. The families have made all the bricks from local clay. We’ve had to bring in steel; cement and roofing from Mbandaka. We ship on a pirogue– a huge canoe-like vessel carved from a single tree trunk. We have an outboard motor for ours; which reduces the trip from four days to 24 hours. The level of sacrifice in the Bolomba project is stunning.

The dedications were very sweet. These folks have very little exposure to outsiders– on my first trip they told me that I was the first white man to visit Bolomba in 20 years. So I was accorded great respect and the house blessings were a serious matter. We gave each family a Lingala Bible and encouraged them to continue the work so that every child there could someday have a decent home.

We left Bolomba at 4.30. The custom is for a departing boat to travel a little ways up river; then turn around and steam past the pier to wave goodbye. Hundreds were gathered on the shore to wish us bon voyage.

More to follow. . .

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