Tuesday, March 18, 2008


When Presbyterians visitors arrive at the airport in Kinshasa most are met by Mike’s smiling face. Today, we know him as Mukila, but not infrequently I still hear people calling him by his “radio” name. It’s a nostalgic reference from the days when CB’s (Citizen Band radio’s) were a common means of communication among the missionary community in the country. Cell phones have put an end to most two-way radios, yet the name Mike lingers for some.

While waiting for my luggage next to the carousel, Mukila and I chat. We ask about each other's families. My son is in college in the Netherlands, he has four kids at different universities in Kinshasa. He speaks of the difficulties of life, particularly the challenge of paying the fees associated with four university students.

A father of more than eight children, Mukila shares how he has come to understand the words of caution missionaries gave about having many children. But at the time his village experience was front and center in his mind: families in rural areas wanted, needed, many children to help grow food for the family and do chores around the house. Besides, the cost of living is low in the village. Years later, with a job in the nation’s capital, he realizes that urban life has made it more difficult to care for such a large family. In the city, he explains, the expenses are many. School fees are higher, transportation costs are a daily burden on the family and food generally needs to be bought, as there is little opportunity to grow it in the city.

The struggle Mukila faces to care for his family and to give them opportunities for the future are felt by the vast majority of those living in Kinshasa or other cities in Congo. For many, the idea of children getting an education, let alone a university education, remains a dream.

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