Mission To Congo
I just arrived home yesterday evening, days after undergoing a twenty-four hour journey to Congo, changing four planes so as to reach my final destination. We had great problems and terrible agonizing stress from the moment we checked- in at the Athens airport for Kinshasa via Rome and Addis Ababa. It seems we had to have a visa and none of us, including Father Vincent, who was trying to check-in through Geneva, had one. We panicked and called Ange the TLIG coordinator in Congo. The Congolese coordinators in-turn, then panicked, worried that we would be unable travel. Ange then thought to tell me to use a Congolese archbishop’s invitation letter to facilitate travel. After many of arguments at the airport, as time was wasting away, getting us nowhere, we showed the airport personnel our official invitation to Congo on our iPhone. Now it was up to the Alitalia main official to accept that letter instead of the visa. Fortunately, she did. In the meantime, I called Fr. Vincent to show this letter, telling him that even if it did not change his travel status, he could buy a new ticket for Rome and we will see what transpires from there. The risk was that he would lose the entire ticket. He showed them the letter. Initially, the Geneva personnel did not accept it, but after some coaxing, they did. Regardless, he expected to have a problem boarding the Ethiopian Airline in Rome. In the meantime, Ange called the governor of Lubumbashi, asking him to call Ethiopian Air in Rome for our behalf. To do this, he needed our passport details.
On arrival to Kinshasa we were welcomed at the foot of the plane by television crew, news media and the press asking questions to which I replied. Then, happy that we made it to our destination, we walked triumphantly, (so we thought and felt at that moment) with Ange and the team, treating us as VIP. Upon arriving at the VIP hall, one of the team asked for our luggage tags so as to pick up our luggage, we gave them to him, but when he came back he told us that one bag had not arrived. It was mine. To top it off, some police officers were sent to us so as to rush us back to the plane again. Apparently, the visa we had needed and waited for was at that very moment delayed (someone responsible was sleeping on it), and the discrepancy forced the need to send us back to Addis.
We were waiting for at least half an hour in the heat, under the sun, at the foot of the same plane on which we arrived. The police officers, three men and one woman, were sympathetic to our situation, saying between them, “Why can't they just let them stay; the waited visas waited will be sent here anyway.” After half an hour of touch-and-go, someone yelled from the building that the visas had just arrived. The police were so happy, happier than us. They later said that they were impressed with the calm we had in these moments of anguish, and they warmly walked us over to an office. There we filled a form. To my surprise, the lady responsible for the form, along with the other two ladies there, asked me to pray over them before I leave, which I did. To thank them, I gave a small icon to the lady responsible for the form, (I had bought small real icons for presents) and gave rosaries to the other two. The lady responsible flew with joy; she said that she too had had, as a girl, some experiences with our Lady and this gift was a sign that She never forgot her!
We left, accompanied by police force driving at times on the opposite side of the road, and I was still journeying without my luggage. In this humidity and heat I had no clothing to change-into. The hotel boutiques had mostly men's clothes and a few banquet style dresses for women. I began thinking, was it that I had to personally pay for the success of this mission trip in this way? Stripped from my belongings?
The witness meeting was scheduled for the following day. All the while, the only clothing I had was what I was wearing on the plane: an old khaki pair of trousers with a green khaki T-shirt! The local ladies, knowing that I had no change-of clothes, went to buy me two dresses. They were bright colored with print, Congolese style. I wore the one that fit me. So, I had to wear this very local dress for the meeting which was to take place that afternoon at a stadium. I had a small kit, given on the plane, with a small tube of toothpaste and toothbrush which fortunately did its hygienic work.
The next day, still without a suitcase, a private jet offered by Governor Moise of Lubumbashi was waiting to take us to Kisangani, a two hour trip.
Upon arriving in Kisangani, an even bigger crowd than the one which had previously welcomed us in Kinshasa was at the foot of the plane to welcome us with dance and song. Police and priests, charismatics, and different Christian Associations were there. They drove us to a run-down hotel by the river, as it was neighboring the big cathedral compound where my talk would be held. That same day, I desperately walked into a local shop to buy a normal skirt and a normal shirt for the meeting. I could not find one! As a last resort, I gave-in to wearing a skirt which we had previously bought and a single shirt that would go with that skirt. This was all I had for nine days along with my old khaki pair of pants and T-shirt. Till today my bag is lost....
That evening, at the Kisangani Beach Hotel, which was like a two-star hotel, I caught bronchitis and I'm sick with this illness to this day. In the hotel, there was a thermostat that was set on eighteen degrees without a control button. I only noticed it late in the evening, when the hotel personnel had gone to bed, and I did not want to disturb them. On top of that, the room did not even have a bed sheet. I was freezing and I had to wear my new skirt to cover my freezing legs. The toilet was not flushing either. The shower had not even a drop of water and I had to wash myself with a thin drizzle coming from the tap for two days. Fortunately, Gethsemane and Fr. Vincent, my travel companions, had much better rooms with functioning utilities and bed sheets. I was paying again....
The next day, feeling weak with bronchitis: unwell with a bad cough the event organizers led me at 2:00 pm to the big function that had already started as early as 10:00 am. A crowd of perhaps thirty-forty thousand was already there. At the podium just outside the door of the great cathedral that was high-up, overlooking the crowd and the river, sat many priests and VIP people. The choir was wonderfully singing solemn hymns, while I crossed inside the great cathedral to go thru its front door to the podium. In the Cathedral, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and six people were in adoration around the presence of the Holy Sacrament all the while during my talk. It was solemn. The crowd went into hysterics when I showed myself at the podium. Such a welcome was never seen at anytime during all these years of my mission! That was because ALL the churches of this city and all the government officials were open to the messages and to me!
The talk was simultaneously translated into their local language. It transpired very nicely, with dancing and local music. It was very hot and humid; the function itself had barely ended when a rain storm developed. Nonetheless, the crowd was already gone! The organizer Ange said that he noticed that during my two hour talk not once did I cough...
The following day we left again, escorted by police with a private jet to Lubumbashi. There at the foot of the plane on arrival again was an even greater welcome! While walking through the crowd I saw a lot of religious figures, even a local Greek Orthodox priest, apparently the only one there from the Greek Orthodox denomination. The crowd was enthusiastic, smiling and yelling: “welcome!” We were escorted into a big, bullet-proof minibus given for us to use at anytime by the Governor Moise Katumbi. We were driven straight to his office. On our visit with him we discovered that he was a mixed-race young man whose ancestors were Greeks from Rhodes. His sister is married to a Greek! His nephew speaks Greek! He was very open and very Christian. He asked me before leaving to bless him with my cross, which I did, and added some 'escarchas' glitter from Heaven that I had with me, on his forehead. He told us how he was elected governor even when he was refusing to take that position. After leaving him we went to meet the honorable Kyungu Kumwanza Gabriel, president of the commission of Lubumbashi. It was a very warm greeting. When all the guests in attendance left his office, he wanted a private talk with me. I had this talk with him, and as a consequence quoted to him some words of Jesus as counsel.
The following day, Sunday, we went to a cathedral. The priest announced my presence. Then later in the afternoon we were invited by the governor and his wife Carine to watch a football match between the Algerians and the local team at the football stadium that he owned.
That evening after the match we were invited for dinner at the governor’s house. He had around ten guests and during our dinner our talk revolved around my mission and my experiences with Jesus. Moise, the governor, shared with us an experience he had during my talk. He said that he saw a very bright light right on top and behind my head. He took away his sunglasses and looked again. It was still there. He deliberately looked elsewhere for a while, and then turned his eyes on me again; the sparkling light was still there. Immediately, Ange's wife who was sitting near me said that she saw that light as well, but was embarrassed to talk about it. All the guests wanted me to bless them with my cross and glitter before we departed.
We left the following day. My bag, still to this day has not been seen and the airline personnel have still been trying to trace it down. Otherwise, the mission in the three cities was the most successful and the biggest ever throughout these twenty-nine years of mission talks. Football stadiums were completely filled-up and this has never ever happened.