Sheltering Safely in Place

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Straight out of the gate from my on-boarding and training as a PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker, the COVID-19 pandemic, and shelter-in-place order hit. With both domestic and international travel all but completely shut down, my getting to know the U.S. supporters and partners of schools in Congo has been a challenge.

Thanks to the proliferation of online platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Zoom, I have been able to get to know some of the Build Congo Schools/Congolese Mission Network members. I have also met a couple of our brothers in Congo with whom we share this mission to educate the children of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In those meetings, I have learned that the schools that we work with have a great variety of needs. This need represents an opportunity for everyone who supports the educational ministry to be tied closely with God’s plan of lifting up education in DRC and strengthening the bond between our churches.

In conversations with my Regional Liaison, Jeff Boyd, and the PMA Area Coordinator for Africa, Debbie Braaksma, I am building a good foundational knowledge of the historical and cultural landscape to which I go. I have immersed myself in several books on the history and the political heritage of the country, and Jeff has been very helpful in sharing his expertise and experience in Congo and Central Africa as we have been discussing Duane Elmer’s book, Cross-Cultural Conflict.

Plans, in today’s COVID-19 world, are at best tentative with a lot of uncertainty. Our current plan, with my need to better my French language skills, is to continue with my online study of the language. Through the miracle of online communications, we have requested that I practice with a Congolese language coach from one of our partner schools. My wife is also studying French. When we are able to travel to Africa, we hope it will be possible to pursue some final polishing of our French language training while immersed in African culture and accent, hopefully taking place in a neighboring country to allow us to concentrate on language learning. Finally, we would then both head down to Kinshasa to begin our tenure working with the Presbyterian Church of Kinshasa schools. We are both really excited! In the meantime, we wait and prepare.

A typical day for me begins with a healthy breakfast and a light workout. Refreshed, I listen to my first French lesson. I take notes, make vocabulary cards, and practice. When I finish, most days, I get on my computer to check e-mails, or I engage in one of several Zoom or WhatsApp calls. I’ve already closed down my household, and I am staying in a guest house. My reading chair, computer, and keyboard (about all I need to be in contact and be happy) all fit in my room. Of course, since I love to cook, the kitchen I share with my roommates is the icing on the cake!

Evelin, my wife, is closing down our place in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. She has been a caregiver for her mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Our home is across the street from my mother-in-law’s house, which makes it easy. Although there is a caregiver to help out, there are lots of things to do. We are both ending a season of caring for our parents, which for both of us has been a great way to tie up loose ends and be a blessing to those who have been such a blessing to us in our maturation and development of faith.

As we wait, we have been helping out at our local congregations with making masks, cooking and delivering meals, shopping for our senior members, and the like. Each Monday, the mission co-workers in Africa gather for prayer for each other, for family members, for friends and partners here in the U.S., and our mission countries. As things begin to appear to calm down here in the U.S., the infection rates in Africa are still in nascent stages.

The shelter-in-place order has put a lot of people out or work. Many people are at their wits’ end with so much time on their hands. The diminished resources resulting from losing a job or being laid off makes it worse. We in the U.S. have a social network in place to help with the transition, but the poor are always hit most hard. Similarly, our brothers and sisters in Congo are experiencing job loss and reduced income. But their infrastructure is not as strong.

Please keep our African brothers and sisters in your prayers as fear and anxiety increases due to the instability COVID-19 has put on already fragile infrastructures. People have been laid off. Businesses have been shut down. Households must choose whether to die because they cannot get enough to eat or from COVID-19. It is not an easy choice! Even more today, your prayers and support are important to keep health, education, and infrastructural development happening. Thank you for your faithfulness in good times, and even now, as we shelter-in-place, watch and wait, but persevere in the good work God has begun and will see to completion. We are healthy. We are working hard to prepare for our work in DR Congo. We wait. Until the time comes for us to take off, we will safely shelter-in-place.

To God be the glory!

José LaMont Jones

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