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Somebody's Always Saying Goodbye

Written by Susan McNeely
April 30, 2014

A full week of saying goodbye to friends I probably will not see again – this is tough. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were final classes for English and computers, five in all. Saturday was the closing ceremony and a reception at Rev. Ilumbe and Rosette’s house. Sunday was my last worship service in Mbandaka. Today (Monday) people were dropping by to say goodbye, tomorrow lunch is at Rev. Bonanga’s, to say goodbye, and something’s on tomorrow night, not sure what. Wednesday I fly to Mbandaka, so there will be goodbyes at the airport. Rosette, Ilumbe, and Oscar Pekombe are flying to Kinshasa on the same flight, and plan to come to the airport Thursday night to see me off. Seeing old friends in Brussels on Friday, then more goodbyes. I’ll be very ready for some hellos on Saturday!

The closing ceremony for the English classes was actually another worship service, with everything except communion – procession, choirs, sermon, offering, prayers, the whole works. My sermon went OK, but I’m really glad I never had to make a living as a preacher – no pulpit presence. Which is kind of funny, on my own subjects (science, packaging, anti-counterfeiting), I can usually carry an audience pretty well. Moral: stick to what you know when you open your mouth.

There was a lot of fun, too. Each of the classes had some of their members give presentations, showing off their English. One of the elementary classes had worked up a conversation with an inside joke or two. The second elementary class had one student act as me, drilling the students on what they had learned. The intermediate class provided a lesson on what to do if someone faints. The advanced class demonstrated their writing and speaking skills. Someone read the scripture in English, and there were two English prayers. Very touching to see how proud everyone was of their new skills.

And of course, there were marvelous gifts. Three different dresses, one from the class, one from a student who likes to sew, and one from the women of the Mbandaka post. I will look pretty sharp when I’m talking about DR Congo. A shirt for my husband Bob, because he was so kind to let me leave for three months, they have really worried about him being alone at the house (a situation pretty much unheard of here). And finally, there was a marvelous wood carving of four students (one for each class), at desks, with notebooks (to reflect the notebooks I had provided), and a blackboard, all in dark wood. There was also a woman, with her hand raised pointing to the board, carved out of white wood. The board read, “Mbandaka Post – First English Class”, and 2014 was carved on the base. As with all Congolese gifts, there is all sorts of symbolism in the gift, not the least of which is the use of the word “First”; they really hope there will be more!

This has been an extraordinary experience, and one I will never forget. I have had a much closer look at the lives of people I care very much about. Their lives are incredibly hard, but they are a warm and loving people. It’s something that more people should experience, to begin to understand what developing world challenges are all about. Anyone who comes should understand, though, that you will not go home unchanged. The term that is used in Congo is “pricked by the palm (tree)”, and it is very apt.

Having many of you share the journey with me has been of immense help in processing and interpreting this whole experience. I’ll post at least one more reflection on coming home, but this will not be the end of the journey. Already one church and one regional women’s group has asked me to speak about life in Congo, so the story will go on for a while.

Blessings and peace to all, wherever you are.

Susan McNeely serves as a Short Term Volunteer, teaching English with the Community of Diciples of Christ in the Congo.

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