1994 to March 1997
From 1994 to March 1997 we lived and worked on the banks of the Sankuru River, in the province of Kasai Occidental in a small river town called Longa, 1400 km from Kinshasa. Our house was a stones throw away from the river. Our first time going up, we made the journey by road, from Johannesburg, South Africa, across the southern Countries of Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Zaire) to get to our mission station of Longa. The trip took us over 2400 km and two months on the road every day.
Longa, is nestled in the rain forest, with a spectacular view of the Sankuru river, which was also our swimming pool and on occasion became the bath tub. This mission station was started by my wife's father, Mark Grings, in 1960. This was the station that Esther's parents brought her home to as newborn in the 1970. She spent her first three years here before her parents left the Country in 1973.
The mission station provided housing for two missionary families and a single nurse/ mid-wife and also the Bible school. There were dorms, for the Bible school students which at times housed as many as 20 families. The Bible school was a three year program preparing men for service as pastors and evangelists. We also had a one year program that was for laymen. Many of the churches were made up of small groups of believers and they did not have a pastor so they had to depend on laymen in the church to teach and preach.
Bible school would start a 7:00 Am and finish at 12:00 noon. Then at 2:00 pm, all the men would come for work around the mission station till 5:00 pm. This work would include cleaning around the station, some would be involved in building projects (learning to fix mortar, lay brick), others helped in the garage doing mechanical work (repairing bicycles that were used for evangelism) Many pastors would bring there bicycles for repairs. Others would work in the office learning to type, and gain some computer knowledge.
Every new term they would be rotated so that they would learn a new "trade." This would give them an opportunity to be "tent makers" to bring in an income for their families, and at the same time allowing them to start with church planting. We would make many evangelism trips to the surrounding villages by road, and villages along the Sankuru river.
On the mission station we had a local church "Eglise Beloya de Longa" (Berean Baptist Church of Longa). During the time we were there, I was called on by the church to be their pastor, along with a national pastor Jean Piere Nkisi. The church would average in the 120. Many of these being families of the students but also a good amount of people from the village. The church had what we called "satellite churches". There were three other villages that were close to us, yet too far for people to walk to church, so meetings were started in those villages. Each weekend, a deacon or a student or myself, would go and teach Sunday school and preach in the morning service. These services averaged 15-20 People. We thank the Lord for the time that we were able to spend in the church at Longa.
1997 brought the civil war from the eastern Zaire, to the Sankuru region. On the 29th of March 1997, we had to evacuate the mission station because of a boat load of soldiers, fleeing the war, was to pass our station. It did arrive and the station was looted and most things were either destroyed or plundered. Thank the Lord no lives were lost.
Iwas able to evacuate my family and those of the 20 students that lived on the mission station. We went up to our sister station -the Yassa mission station that was 45 km from Longa, but the very next day, on the 30 of March 1997, we had to flee from Yassa to Dekese, to be evacuated by Mission Aviation Fellowship - a good friend of ours Dan Carlson landed and picked us up and evacuated us to Kinshasa. It was a time that taught us to depend on God and trust that He knew all that was happening to us. At this time our first son Joshua was just 16 months old. We left with just one suitcase.
Because of the war and the situation in the country we decided it was best to return to South Africa for furlough, and we were able to visit many of our churches and family in United States of America. We were able to return to Congo mid 1998. I was able to make a visit to the Longa mission station and this was to be the last time for many years that we would be able to visit it again. The second civil war started, Longa was in rebel territory and we were in Kinshasa. Thus the Lord lead us to minister in the capital of this vast country- the capital of Kinshasa.