A Letter from José LaMont Jones, serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo
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Greetings Sisters and Brothers,
The year 2022 started out rather benignly. We began the year at home, as a family, with our traditional meal. On Sunday morning, we attended 7 a.m. mass at Evelin’s church, had breakfast and chatted a bit. I felt a bit tired and decided to take a short nap before we headed off to the worship service at the church I attend here in Santo Domingo. When the hour arrived, my throat was scratchy, and I had a slight headache.
Since Omicron infections were raging in the United States, and the Dominican government had recently published guidelines on social interaction to prevent and lessen the outbreak here, I decided not to go to church and potentially spread or contract anything more than a headache and scratchy throat. Instead, I attended worship online.
By mid-day, I felt exhausted again and lay down for another nap. This was definitely not normal for me. I did not wake up until Tuesday morning and soon realized that things were not right. I remember faintly hearing comments about having been lazy on Sunday, being awoken and asked if I was alright. I remember stern requests to get out of bed and worried pleas to call 911! In the end, I decided to be tested for COVID, and the results were positive! When the nurse told me I had tested positive, she referred me to the physician who counseled patients with positive test results. Since my symptoms were mild, she prescribed some preventative aids, just-in-case things got worse, and then sent me home to rest and quarantine.
“Wow!” I thought to myself, “How did this happen?” I had followed all the precautions, including wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, keeping distance between myself and almost everyone I came in contact with, exercising, taking my vitamins, choosing not to participate in events where I thought ventilation might not be adequate or that too many people would be in attendance. However, that little bug still got me!
I am fortunate to have been fully vaccinated and that my illness was mild, but many in the world are not so fortunate. In our Congo Mission Network Conference presentations on the COVID vaccination program in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we heard that vaccines had only recently arrived in the country. There were difficulties in distributing the vaccines and implementing the vaccination procedures. In addition, storage of the vaccine and getting the vaccine to people in the villages and outlying parts of the country were problematic. And so, my privileges of being vaccinated and having access to medical attention and testing opportunities were not available for many of our siblings in the DRC.
The Democratic Republic of Congo had a difficult 2021. It had just recently bounced back from not one but two Ebola outbreaks. The DRC is struggling with ongoing battles against measles, tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever and other diseases. The COVID pandemic and the accompanying economic fallout have pushed the population to work tirelessly to earn a meager living. In addition, those affected by the recent eruption of Mount Nyiragongo have had to add displacement, food insecurity and water shortages to an ongoing list of challenges.
And yet, in our most recent session of the Congo Mission Network, we see God at work, in the midst of challenge, equipping communities to strengthen, care for each other, and build foundations to thrive! The presentations remind us how the old-time practices of sharing, collaborating and engaging with others are still best practices and an example for effective church ministry. Now having both natural and vaccinated immunity, I am ready to join those “on the ground” in DRC who walk with our partners who, in turn, accompany our Congolese siblings in dealing with malnutrition, healthcare access, education, food/water insecurities, infrastructure and development.
Recent circumstances have pushed groups to virtual spaces and distanced interactions. Still, personal relationships allow us to identify needs and fulfill our call to support and accompany our siblings in need. Don’t get me wrong, we have learned many good lessons these past years of the pandemic, but a smile, a handshake, and a hug remain effective ways to encounter, engage and accompany each other as we “walk” together. In the evolving hybrid world, technology is another tool for witnessing and sharing our mutual needs. Technology allows those of us who cannot be physically present to pray for, give in support of and share in ministries that accompany others around the world! Thanks to the faithfulness of many, the PC(USA) has been able to contribute in significant ways despite the economic and social stresses the pandemic has put on the U.S. economy. Your continued faithfulness shows a commitment to our Matthew 25 call to help others but also an understanding that we are all united in our shared humanity!
Keep the faith, my brothers and sisters! Keep hope alive!! The God we serve is much bigger than our problems and is able to provide and protect us from even the darkest storm. Our current times open up opportunities for doing even greater good if we remain open to identifying how we can participate in God’s creation and help others in need.
In the words of a song written by Charles A Tindley, the African American pastor of one of the first inter-racial megachurches at the turn of the 20th century:
Take courage, my soul, and let us journey on,
For tho’ the night is dark, it won’t be very long.
O thanks be to God, the morning light appears,
And the storm is passing over, Hallelujah!
José LaMont Jones
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