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Ready to return?: Checkpoint Winter 2021

CMS missionaries David and Prue Boyd have ministered in DR Congo for many years, but due to COVID and other complications write this from Australia. They are clear about the risks and costs, but are praying that they might return to location. Here David explains why. 

Life can take some unexpected turns, as billions have found out afresh during 2020. We came back to Australia from DR Congo in October 2019 for medical reasons, and we are still stuck here. 

During our time in Australia due to the pandemic, we have been able to do some useful things related to our ministries, using modern technology—Prue answered audiological questions via WhatsApp, while I have translated Bible studies related to COVID, which can be distributed via WhatsApp. However, these have been limited because only a very small proportion of the population in DR Congo have smartphones, and internet access is slow, expensive and limited, as it is for billions of others in the world.  

We believe in people

The precise reason that CMS sends people resources—rather than just funding or other resources—is that we believe that the personal and relational are crucially important to moving people forward in their relationship with God. God himself came to earth as a man, and we seek to imitate him. Our long-term commitments to learning culture and language are based on this same truth. 

Cross-cultural mission is one natural outcome of Jesus’ identification with us in taking on human nature. He “became flesh” (John 1:14) with all its limitations, in order to bring humanity back into relationship with God. If God loves all people and wants to make himself known as Lord over all the earth, then Christians—those who have found a new relationship with God through Jesus—will want to be part of his purposes by imitating Jesus. After the resurrection, Jesus commissioned his followers with the words in John 20:21:

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

So our commission follows in a direct line from that of Jesus—to make incarnate, within our human limitations, the love and redemptive purposes of God. 

The challenge of the pandemic

The pandemic has challenged us: can you develop, maintain and grow deep missional relationships via technology?

In times of constrained travel and in considering dangerous locations, this is a crucial question.

Our answer, in relation to DR Congo: not much, when the technology is so expensive and difficult to access.  

But CMS colleagues connected to other countries have been able to continue group meetings, to preach and teach, and to encourage others, all of it online. So, it varies. And the challenges for us in maintaining ministries via the internet mean that we want to get back to location as soon as we can. 

Placing the pandemic in perspective

To place the COVID challenge in context, our experiences as long-term CMS missionaries have included:

  • severe nation-wide looting in 1992 (we had to evacuate across to Rwanda and commute back and forth daily to our house in DRC (former Zaïre) for a month); 
  • the Rwanda genocide in 1994, resulting in a refugee crisis in DRC, with hundreds of thousands of refugees living in the open in the town, including on land next to us. We had people isolating in a tent in our front garden due to cholera, so that they could have fast access to our outside toilet. We lived with the confronting knowledge that those crowds included thousands of murderers; 
  • the following two years of extended crisis, in a war zone, with the refugees in camps close to the border and our town, and thus skirmishes happening and, at times, bullets and mortar rounds being fired from Rwanda over our house; and 
  • in our second term of service (from 2014) we were able to stay during the Ebola crisis, even when it reached Bukavu. 
What the pandemic now means for us

Nonetheless, it is COVID that has caused us by far the greatest disruption. We find ourselves still in Australia after an unexpected year and a half out of DR Congo. Several times, we have started to make plans and bookings to return, but signs of new COVID spikes in DRC and Rwanda (through which we travel to reach Bukavu), with their threat of lockdowns and border closures, have caused caution and delays. So also have a couple of personal health issues (now dealt with) which popped up for us and for our travelling companions from WA. And recently, we decided together with CMS that the wisest course is for us to stay in Australia until we are vaccinated. This will give us much greater freedom when we do return, and peace of mind to us and our families. But, more waiting… 

Patience in uncertainty?

There will still be a certain level of risk in returning to DR Congo. If one or both of us gets COVID (despite being vaccinated), then we will be stuck and not able to cross any borders. We will have limited treatment options. We have 3 children and 11 grandchildren, and there has already been one extremely traumatic death in the family. So, what is our responsibility in that situation? We take the words of Jesus concerning putting him before family seriously, but how should that work out in practice? We continue to try to think through that. 

Do we trust God to bring good from whatever happens? Yes. Will this mean that, in worldly terms, we will remain healthy and prosper? No. God’s perspective is far longer and wider than that. We try to wait with patience and allow him to lead us in the next steps. 

PRAY

Pray that God would guide and protect the Boyds as they seek to return and continue their ministry in DR Congo.