Bob and Kristi Rice
We want you all to know' God's amazing grace for us! Last December, we were hosted by fellow missionaries in Kinshasa. Over an amazing meal of pasta and garlic bread, a missionary colleague made this interesting comment: “Missionaries who go to Asia come back as mystics; missionaries who go to Latin America come back as activists; missionaries who go to Africa come back drinking beer and telling stories!” I sure got a good chuckle out of this comment. This writing will include a remarkable story and a mention of beer.
As a means of background, some of you may know that I (Bob) have been struggling a bit with my health. I have contracted malaria three times in the last six months, I have had typhoid which stays in your blood for two years, and I have encountered other various smaller ailments which have been frustrating and even debilitating. For this reason, a missionary colleague and friend, Dr. John Fletcher, advised us to go to the States for some further medical examinations. His unexpected advice was affirmed by our leadership in the U.S. and in Congo and just felt right to us.
Getting out of Kananga was nothing short of a miracle. In July, a Hewa Bora plane crashed in Kisangani. For this reason, the Congolese government has grounded all Hewa Bora planes. Currently there is only one passenger carrier (CAA) operating out of Kananga to Kinshasa. Because the Thursday flight is booked full on a regular basis to begin with, and with Hewa Bora currently out of commission, chances of us getting seats were virtually impossible.
On a Monday evening, we visited two of our closest Congolese friends, Mukulu (Elder) Ntumba Simon and Mamu Tshibola Therese. As we told them our situation and plans, they were very supportive and prayed for us. We discussed with Mukulu Ntumba and later Dr. John and Gwenda Fletcher ways to get a Thursday flight, considering both the CAA option and the UN. On Tuesday, we learned that the UN does not allow non-UN-personnel to travel for medical purposes. Feeling deflated but not losing hope, we figured God had another plan. We then learned that that our friend, Mukulu Ntumba, had gone to the governor’s office that afternoon. To our surprise and great joy, we learned that we had two seats for the Thursday flight. Apparently the governor’s office had intervened. Mukulu came by that evening to fill us in on the details. The Vice-Governor of the Province of Kasai Occidental had two children on that flight. When Mukulu Ntumba told him our medical/health situation, he generously gave up his children’s seats. The Vice-Governor, Pastor Kamuesa, is a Mennonite pastor and serves as the Legal Representative for the Mennonite Church of Congo. God’s amazing grace was demonstrated to us through this man!
Kristi and I arrived at the airport at noon on Thursday. Our plane would leave at five. Two close colleagues stayed with us all afternoon and would see us all the way to the airplane door. When we arrived at the airport, I still felt anxious about our situation. After all, we hadn’t yet received our tickets. I told Kristi, “I will only rest when we are actually inside and have seats.” It became apparent that my anxiety was adversely affecting our small group sitting in the airport lounge. I turned to Kristi and said, “I think a beer would really mellow me out right now.”
Kristi, knowing that I only drink occasionally and sensibly, agreed. So, we were able to spend the next three hours relaxing with our colleagues, laughing and reflecting on experiences together, patiently waiting for our plane. Even though actually getting on the plane turned out to be an amazingly chaotic experience, even for all the members of “the governor’s party” (which included us!), everything worked out in the end.
We stand in awe of God’s amazing grace, demonstrated through Pastor Kamuesa and his children, our friend Mukulu Ntumba Simon, and our fellow missionary friends Dr. John and Gwenda Fletcher, all of whom helped us in incredible ways. May God receive the glory!
And the winner is...Schisto!
The last two weeks have been full of doctor appointments and medical tests. One of the key results is that Bob tested positive for a parasite disease called schistosomiasis. While the hospital we are working with found a positive result for schistosomiasis (colloquially “schisto” for the non-medical folks), the CDC does a more specialized test, and we are still waiting to receive their results.
These worms enter your skin in fresh-water sources, carried by snails. Fortunately, there is a medicine that can cure people of schisto. For the last month, Bob has felt unusually tired and weak - lacking energy to go out or be active, and taking multiple naps every day. Yesterday, Bob took the medicine, praziquantel (it is just a one-day course). We are hopeful that in the next couple of weeks his energy will come back and his immune system will regain strength after its long fight with this parasite. We found out this week that I (Kristi) have also tested positive for schisto, although I am asymptomatic, so will also take the medicine while we are in the U.S. Thank you for the many words of encouragement and prayers for Bob’s recovery! We trust that God is healing Bob’s body and will give us health and energy to embrace life and ministry in Congo! Our hope continues to be that we will return to Congo in early October.
Grace and peace,
Bob and Kristi Rice