Hello everyone,

Hope you had a wonderful Easter?  As part of some of the original content that contraculture magazine has promised, it is my pleasure to present you with a series called missionary chronicles where we talk to both local and foreign missionaries about their experiences in Africa and other regions of the globe populated by people of African descent.  The first interview is with Ms. Rachel Martin,   a missionary to Congo for many years and also a close  friend and mentor. After listening to her stories of Congo – some of which elicited laughter, and others tears – over the years, I thought it would be great to share her story with the rest of the world. Thankfully she agreed. I was able to interview her recently and I am very excited to be able to present our conversation to you all this Easter season.  I hope her life of sacrifice and love will inspire  and challenge you. The interview was rather long – because we had a lot to talk about, but it was great fun. Yes, I know, I laugh funny! Enjoy the first part of the interview –  you can listen to the audio while you follow the transcript below. The transcript also contains some great pictures.  Ciao!


 

CCmag: Alright. It is a privilege to be able to have Ms. Rachel Martin here with us this morning. Our very first missionary interview, really excited. So, Ms. Rachel is a missionary, was a missionary, is a missionary — but she will explain all that (laughter) — to Congo for many years and I’m excited to be able to speak to her. So, Ms Rachel, thank you for being with us today.

R: you’re welcome.

CCMAG: (laughter). So would please tell us a little bit about, we’re gonna start by asking questions about your background and a little bit about yourself, where you went to school, where you were born, all that, your educational background.

R: Ok. I went to, I grew up in Minnesota and Wisconsin area, so, the Midwest areas, grew up in a Christian family. My dad was a pastor, and he was a pastor who loved missionaries and he loved missions, he had a heart for missions and everywhere, the churches that he planted, he was a church planter and his heart was for missions, so whether  it was starting another church here in the States or whether it was supporting missions worldwide, he was 100% “let’s  go for it” and pushing his church and his people and his family into those kind of ministries, so I had the privilege of growing up in a home where we were entertaining missionaries all of the time and we were six girls

Rachel and siblings

CCmag: where were they from?

R: oh, from all over but I remember especially a  single missionary lady from Venezuela, who, she spent her life there and I remember the impact that she had on my life as a young girl she give me a little hammock from there and she planted, help planted a desire for overseas missions in my heart, we didn’t have a lot of money because of my dad being a church planter and we were six girls, little girls,  and so my mum and dad had a lot of financial problems which meant not a lot of vacationing, and so, we  vacationed at summer camps where my dad will be the speaker and we girls will sing and we could all go free, we’d spent a couple weeks at different camps all over the United states as far  west as California, all over the Midwest,  and the east and those were our vacations but back then, there was always a missionary at summer camps.

CCmag:  Just to clarify, “when was back then?” we’re talking about in the

R: Oh

CCmag: not trying to ‘age’ you or anything (laughs)

R: we’re talking about in the…Back in the late 60s probably.  And missionaries in that time frame, missionaries had a lot bigger voices in churches, they were up in front. Missions’ conferences were very common and missionaries at camp, and so, I met a lot of missionaries and was challenged at a really young age to consider missions. I became a Christian through my dad at a bible camp and he was telling the stories of the ugly duckling and how because of sin we are ugly and God can transform us into something beautiful, I remember, I was just a girl of 6 years old but I remember that time of giving my life to Jesus and trusting him. And also, from the moment I became a Christian, as a young girl, I told my mum and dad that I wanted to become a missionary.

CCmag: How old were you when you made that decision? When you wanted to be a missionary.

R: six years old.

CCmag: Really

Rachel graduation picture

 

R: I grew up always telling them that I wanted to be just a plain old missionary. My older sister, Becky, she was gonna be a missionary doctor and I was just gonna be a plain old missionary, she never got to be a missionary doctor but I’m a plain old missionary. So, that’s my background into missions, because I was always challenged as a Christian, a Christian has to consider missions because all of us are sent into the world somewhere, Jesus said, “go into the world”, and so it might be overseas or it might be right here but we are all sent to go and preach and teach and to introduce people to Jesus Christ. So, as I went through high school, I continued to meet missionaries. I remember one man who preached from Romans 12 on a Sunday morning and he was from Germany, a missionary from Germany, he had a stuttering problem but whenever he preached, his stuttering disappeared and he shared how God had called him even though he couldn’t speak well. God called him to be a pastor and a missionary and he preached from Romans 12, giving our lives, living completely for Christ and don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed, so that you may know the will of God for your life and present yourself a living sacrifice. You know, he talked about that living sacrifice, something that is alive and if you’re a living sacrifice, it’s gonna hurt sometimes too, it’s not easy because you’re alive and it’s not easy to be a sacrifice. Erm, but that’s what God demands of us as believers. So, all through my life growing up, that was my direction and I truly believed that God wanted me to be a missionary and so, when I graduated from high school, I went to a Christian college for acouple of years and then transferred into a nursing school only because I thought that surely God can use a nurse somewhere overseas and I thought that was a good tool for going as a missionary. So, I graduated from a nursing school in the Chicago area Suburban school of nursing, went on to take just a little bit of bible at Trinity seminary, Trinity divinity school and I was pretty young, I was 24 years old and I got on the plane and said goodbye to my family and headed to France where I had to spent a year studying French.

CCmag: so before this you already knew you were going to Congo?

R: Yes I

CCmag: why Congo?  Of all the countries in the world?

R: (laughs) well, I didn’t know where to go and God had not placed any love for any specific country or continent in my heart specifically and because I was in nursing, I applied to the Free Church because that was my background, Evangelical Free Church and that was where they needed a nurse then, they had a medical work there with a nursing school and they needed nurses to teach and train nursing students, so when I applied, they said, “will you go to Congo?” and, I know a lot of people are called to specifically to a certain area, I think my calling to Congo came later. I was sent there and then, God planted a huge love for that country and he does that where he gives us, he fills us with this love that we can’t understand for people that are different from us, they are not our family, they are not our culture, it’s a different life but I had a huge love in my heart after being there for a while and so I continued to serve in Congo.

CCmag: so let’s go back to preparations, so you finished as a nurse and then you went to France to learn French, for how long?

R: I spent one year studying French in France. I spent a few months working at a nursing home in France so I can use my French and continue to develop. From there, I had to go to Belgium to study tropical medicine, it is a six months course, quite a challenge for me, so, I understand international students that come here because I was in France taking a medical course in French and a lot of their testing is oral as well. So, it was a totally different system for me and learning all of this new stuff in a foreign language was quite a challenge for me. And then after finishing in Brussels, it was actually in Amsterdam, I’m sorry, Antwerp, that I went directly to Congo.

Rachel on the way to France

CCmag: so, did you learn the local language before you went there?

R: no, I started teaching immediately in French. And while I was teaching I started learning Lingala, which is the local trade language in that area and I spent about four months where I’d work one-on-one with erm someone from Congo who would help me with the language. And  then, my second term after being there for four years when I went back a second time, I worked on the tribal language, once again just worked with someone locally who helped me with the language.

CCmag: so, you speak 2 Congolese languages?

R: mmh

CCmag: that’s Lingala and

R: ‘baka’

CCmag: ‘gbaka’. Ok, let’s back up a little bit, so, you get on the plane, go to Congo and 21 years old, how old were you?

R: 24.

CCmag:  because you had spent 3 years just studying

R: mmmh (affirms)

CCmag: then, you get off the plane and you land where, Kinshasa?

R: no, when I first went to Congo, I landed in ‘Bangi’ which is Central African Republic because that part of Congo is way up in the north-west and it is near the capital of Bangi

CCmag: so, and then. What were you thinking? What have I done, I wanna go back to the Midwest (laughs), tell us about your first impressions (laughs)

R: (laughs) but it wasn’t just then in Bangi it was all along the way as I got onto to the plane to get to France, my time in France, you know, France is a very different country and culture from here as well and it’s hard to find Christians there and

CCmag: even back then?

R: oh yeah, the percentage of Christians in France

CCmag: that was what

R: it was back in the eighties

CCmag: yeah

R: mmh and where I lived for a while in France, it was just a tiny little evangelical church of maybe 20, 25 people I had to find it on my own and plus I was faced with the challenges of studying, learning French and then learning tropical medicine, I was terrified, terrified and many many times I thought “ what in the world am I doing?” this is crazy and plus I wasn’t, I felt very inadequate, I felt very unable to tackle what lay before me, and so, it was a very scary experience for me, erm, I felt truly that I didn’t have in my own capabilities, I didn’t have what I needed to be able to learn all of this and I was afraid of failing, I was afraid of disappointing my people back home that were supporting me and my family. So, I struggled with a lot of different emotions: loneliness, missing family and culture and food, missing church and all of that right away, while I was in France, I actually, my first few months studying French were very difficult for me and I couldn’t learn and I was at the bottom of my class and my parents came to visit me and I remember the  French professors talking to them and saying “ we don’t think your daughter is going to make it” and they left and I was so shook up and I didn’t know where to turn. I knew people back home were praying for me and erm there was one professor, a lady named Christine, she decided to take me under her wing and after about three months and see if she could help me make it, and she would meet with me separately the night before, go over all the lessons word for word, show me everything and just work on pronunciation and with her help

CCmag; so, it was just a French language school, it wasn’t a Christian school?

R: no, but most of their professors were Christians even though they were French. It was a language school was based on totally on hearing and repeating so we would not get anything written, they had rules where we had to use French even at the dinner table, speaking to one another. So, it was really isolating experience for me and after she started meeting with me, it started to click and I realized that God was able to help me with this impossibility. It was  a really eye opener for me to see that it is true, I am inadequate but God is able to as I trust him, and as I apply myself and work hard, he is able to do what’s impossible in my life and so with her help I graduated with honors

CCmag: wow

R: and went on to learn other languages as well. So, I always look at it as a miracle of my life what God did for me in France. So, when I stepped off the plane in Bangi I was overwhelmed, once I again I remembered

CCmag:  it was hot?

R: it was hot, it was a big noisy city. I remember that night, there was a single missionary lady that had come to meet me and she was gonna go back with me to Congoand she read a psalm, I think it was psalm 117 and it was short little psalm of praise, I think it was only two verses. I never noticed that psalm before. I just praised God and thanked him for his goodness to us and we prayed together. It was a very exciting but scary time in my life. And actually, after I got to Bangi, I only went to where I would be working for a couple of days then I flew to another part of Congo, the eastern part to do what was called, what do you call that? It’s a rotation. It was a three month period of getting some experience working with people there before going back to Congo to prepare me for what was ahead for me at the hospital. So, I returned to a big hospital there, under the supervision of another nurse.

CCmag: ok, so eventually you moved to your base, which was where?

Tandala hospital

R: at that time, “Tandala”

CCmag: Tandala

R: it was a hospital,

CCmag: is that the name of the city as well

R: it’s a small village, yep a small town

CCmag: population?

R: probably around there at 500, but then, it just immediately connects to other villages. So, there were all very small, very remote

CCmag: ok, so you settle in? Where did you live? What was housing like?

R: well, when I first got to Congo and moved to Tandala, I actually lived at a missions station.

CCmag: which was?

R: it had about 10 missionary homes

CCmag: so you were not the only missionary there?

R: no, I wasn’t the only missionary there and I lived with another single missionary lady and it was much more comfortable than the surroundings, the village people of course had no electricity or running water and lived in mud huts. But these were concrete homes that had a cistern where you could draw your water and put up water for a shower and electricity at night because of a generator. So, my first few years living there, living at the missions’ station, we had a lot of comforts that other people, the Africans did not have in our surrounding area. So, which made me uncomfortable, I didn’t like that. It seems like there was an invisible fence between our missions’ station and the village and erm in a lot of ways we seemed unapproachable, because we lived such a different lifestyle, we were separate from the village and so, ever since then, I struggled with a lot as a new missionary. You know there were a lot of things to struggle with of course, like adjusting to a new culture, and other challenges of teaching and continuing to speak French and learning other languages, making friends but the differences were so large between us and the Congolese. They were Zairians at that time but the Congolese that we had come to serve. There is one verse that always bothered me, it was the verse in second Corinthians where it tells us that we know the grace of our lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor that through his poverty we might become rich. You know, looking at that example of the incarnate Christ who came to our world and became one of us and gave up everything, all of his glory, all of his riches, the bible tells us that he didn’t even have a pillow to lay his head on at times and he did that to live among us and to be an example for us. As I looked at Jesus’ example, that always bothered me because I always felt like I was so different and I realized that I could never be just like them because my background and my culture and everything did not allow that, I never liked the barriers that were put up serving them, I dunno if that makes sense to you  so

CCmag: yup, yup, so what did you do?

R: what did I do?

CCmag: yes.

R: oh you know, that was a, it seemed like a simple solution to me, so after my first four years, I wrote a letter to the mission asking if they would give me permission to build a home in the village and actually, the

Rachel's house in Congo

village chief knew of my desire and had already given me a plot of land to, so I could live out where the people were living but it took me the next four years to get permission to do that, it was a big struggle, I think there was a lot of hesitancy and people weren’t sure about it: other missionaries and the missions’ board, they didn’t know if it was safe, they didn’t know if it would cause problems and there was a lot of feelings that it would cause resentment and problems between missionaries, if I was doing that and not living like everybody else and so I had to patiently wait. I went home and came back for four more years, I was not able to build a home, but I compromised by asking them if I could live in the nursing compound which was for our Congolese nurses and medical staff. And so, that was back behind the hospital about a half  mile from the missions’ station and it was not the village, but it was a step away from the missions’ station where I was with my co-workers, the others that worked at the hospital and lived in a  little home, it was still cement block, but it didn’t have that wall, that barrier there and it was, because I was right there with them and I think it was not so much the kind of home but it was more of I wanted to be present so I could experience their joys and sorrows and just be there to see what was  happening in their lives instead of feeling so separate. So, it was a step in the direction I hoped I could go, so then by my third term after I have been out there for 8 years, I was finally allowed to build a home in the village and that was a really exciting time for me. I will never forget the dedication, just hundreds and hundreds of people came and you could tell their appreciation for what I had done. So that was a really special time in my life to be able to actually move and live among them.

CCmag: ok, so when you were going to Congo, what was your goal and what did you hope to achieve?

R: oh, you know back then, I am not even sure when I think back. Going as nurse, my goal was to be able to minister the compassion of Jesus Christ and to be able to hopefully model his mercy and his love, be able to share the good news through being able to respond to people’s physical needs and to be able to instill  the training and my desire to show the compassion of Jesus Christ and  instill that into young Congolese men and women so that they could not just be nurses but so that could represent Jesus Christ when they were working in the hospital, the health center and really share his mercy and his hope with their own people.

CCmag: ok,  what was your greatest challenge in Congo?

R: my greatest challenge, oh wow, (laughs), greatest challenge, you know actually once I got there it seemed like the teaching and  the language all came together, I don’t look at that as my greatest challenge at all. It was very daunting and huge, when I got there I was thinking “ how can I do this?” but as I got into it, it didn’t seem like a big deal anymore to me. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the teaching, I enjoyed the language learning. I think my greatest challenge was making true friendships, real friends and erm once again, the culture is very different and I was a single woman and in the Congolese culture, it is not very popular to be a single woman, you’re supposed to get married and it’s also not looked on well to not have children and there’s something wrong with you if you don’t have children. And maybe God isn’t blessing you, God isn’t happy with you.

CCmag: (laughs)

R: children are a blessing

CCmag: yea

R: and they are looked on as definitely God’s goodness in your life and it was hard for the Congolese to at least understand why I was single and

CCmag: so did you get any proposals?

R: oh yeah, lots of proposals. I had lots of opportunities

CCmag: (laughs)

R: (laughs) but my dad always wanted many cows and chickens, so nobody could ever pay for me, I was too valuable. But, no, that was a huge challenge with making true friendships because the difference between me and especially the women in that culture was huge. Many, most women were very uneducated, I had the challenge of being able to understand them because even if I knew French and Lingala, many of the women did not speak either of those languages because they have not gone to school and so, that’s why I learned the tribal language because I wanted to communicate with women and so, I took up the tribal language after being there for the first four years and then, trying to relate to women was a huge challenge because of my background and their background being so different. I think I was intimidating to them and I’d try to get to know them and it seems there’s so little we could talk about. All their lives consisted of was their children and gardening, going to the garden and pounding food and carrying water and hard work and to find common ground was not easy and I tackled that I guess by trying to become as much a part of their lives as I could. I was one of those missionaries who tried to do everything, I tried to carry water with them, use a machete with them and then went to their garden, pounded their food, it was very humiliating, I got laughed at a lot. I went to one of my friends house one morning, she was pregnant and I said, “what can I do to help you?”, her husband handed me a live chicken, “we want chicken for lunch, make us a lunch”. I had no idea how to do that. I had no idea how to kill a chicken, no idea how to take the feathers off a chicken, I had no idea how to cut up a chicken, I had no idea how to do anything, here we are sitting outside over an open fire and neighbors were gathered to see what this funny lady is gonna do with this chicken. Then finally, they killed the chicken and handed me this bloody chicken and I said, “ how do I take the feathers off from this chicken?” and so they boiled water and showed me how to do that. Oh, finally I have this cut up chicken and I said, “ok now, I can make chicken for you”. The work was all done, it was all this hard work, so, it was through all those learning experiences and having to humiliate myself a lot, carrying water and get back up from the stream and I’d be sopping up  wet.

CCmag: half the water is gone

R: oh not even half, all of it, it was a little bit left to proudly put in this barrel we would keep water in and people would laugh at me and they would call me “Wasi pamba” which means useless woman

CCmag: (laughs)

picking beans

R: and it was like my name out there but it’s because I tried to do everything because I wanted to identify with the women, it helped even though it’s humiliating, it helped, helped  me to build friendships and it’s still up until this day, it’s harder for me to relate to the women and I have a few friends now that are out there that I consider really close dear friends who’ve had a higher education in that they  have graduated from high school and we can talk about things and I can share things with them and we pray together, they encourage me and they share with me as well, and that’s taken many many years of knowing them and building that relationship. But still when I’m with a village woman and just sitting with her, it’s always hard to come with conversations because so much of my life she doesn’t understand and vice-versa. So, that’s achallenge, being a single woman, I think maybe not all but in many African cultures and certainly it was in Congo. It was difficult, I think too the respect wasn’t there as much for a single woman as some of my colleagues that were male and so that was always a struggle too, and just accepting that and realizing that that’s the way it is. I’m a woman, I’m  single, and so in their eyes even when I was forty I was considered a child still because I never married, didn’t have children and when I have gone back recently, I was told, a certain man who travels with me, I  have said oh finally they respect me. They let me wash my hands first, they will tell me to sit up in the front, finally they respect me, he said to me “ it’s because you’re getting older, you got gray hairs” (laughs)

CCmag: (laughs)

R: “so that’s why they are treating you like that”.

CCmag: that’s funny

R: so anyways, so my  white hair has accomplished one thing for me.

 

Part 2 will be posted next week. Rachel tells of some of her funny experiences in Congo. You don’t want to miss it, it is hilarious!!

 

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