Tag Archives: Congo

“Urgent Appeal” by African Leaders for DRC Peace

When looking up the latest on DRC elections forcast, I found the following post from yesterday on the Kofi Annan foundation’s website:

This is in the context where questions of the possibility of an election are being raised on the basis of both violence and funding:

And early last week we learned that “quickly” doesn’t necessarily mean “in the next twelve months”:

So please pray for Congo. Pray that they would have a just peace. Please pray specifically for an election soon. Pray against financial and insecurity issues, and against the objections of politicians. Pray for something that would give people some confidence that they live an a democracy, in which they are better off than if they were to fall back into war. And if it must be war, please pray that God would be merciful and that the church would grow, even in the midst of that horror.

Making and Maintaining Connections

Photo op with Simon (left) and the Ndaka chief (center)
Photo op with Simon (left) and the Ndaka chief (center)

I have found myself saying a number of times over the years, “I didn’t get into missions to do ___.” Fill in the blank with supervising other people, managing money, raising money, helping people get along with one another, keep my family in working electricity and water; there are so many things this can apply to.

One thing that is more necessary than you might think in Congo is paying respect to authorities. The first time I remember doing this, I was completely at the mercy of students of mine, who were taking me to their home area to present work we had done together on their language. I was surprised at this last minute stop along the road, then surprised that it was NOT optional (we were late, but they were clear that we had no option to just pass by). But then when the guy we were supposed to see wasn’t there, and after we had done due diligence in waiting for him (in the presence of his office staff, who could tell him how long we had waited), we finally moved on. Pardon me if I admit that the whole scenario sounded like just a bunch of posturing to me.  But someone once said to me, that if you only have one thing you do, and someone takes that away, what do you have left? So the guy who puts a particular stamp on a particular form has to put his stamp on your form, or you’re denying his value (and his livelihood, where money is involved).

Fast forward to more recent times, and I’m much more comfortable schmoozing with bureaucrats. Partly because I know they really do have a lot of power, even if its different than the kinds of power I’d been used to. But also because I want to confirm and establish the legitimacy of what we’re doing, and this is not only the simplest and most straightforward way to do that, but also the right one (anthropologically speaking). And it’s also very validating to simply show them what we’re doing, and let them see the value of it.

The Ndaka chief pictured above was hard to get ahold of; I think this was our second or third visit to his office this trip. But all he had to do was see the vowel booklet that we’d done the time before, and he was smiling (but obviously not in the photo; never smile in a photo). Yes, he has lots of power, and spends lots of time traveling with other Congolese bureaucrats (at least based on how hard it was to see him). But show him an alphabet chart and vowel booklet in his language, perhaps the first printed materials he’s ever seen in his language, and he immediately gets the value of what we’re doing. I frankly doubt that he gets the eternal significance of our work. But it is clear that he got that there were people visiting him from another country, that were willing to come and work because they cared about him and his people. And that care communicated gave us an open door to do this work in his community.

A bit aside, I was curious to see that he had an office worker that I had met some seven years before, while doing alphabet work for that worker’s language. So in addition to the printed work in Ndaka for the chief, I also had a Nyali-Kilo man (and his employee) telling how I had been a part of this same work being done in his language. Given my reticence to put too much time and energy into hobnobbing, it’s great to see how God went before us, preparing our path to clearly communicating our good work in the community, based on our care for the community, so the leader of that community would give us the go ahead to keep it up. But then again, I’m not sure why I should be surprised by that, given the word on authorities:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
(Rom 13:1 ESV)



The Function of Tone in Ndaka

In an earlier post I mentioned work I was doing to show the importance of tone in the Bantu D30 languages. Here I’d like to go through the conjugation of one verb in one language, to show how tone works, in relationship to consonants and vowels. To start with, here is one verb conjugated two ways:NDK Conjugation 1
If you have studied another language before, you might recognize this kind of listing of the forms of a verb for each of the people who do the action. In English, this kind of thing is boring:

  • I walk
  • you walk
  • he walks
  • we walk
  • you all walk
  • they walk

The only thing of any interest in the English is the final ‘s’ on ‘he walks‘; everything else is the same on the verb. But that’s not the case in many languages, including the languages I’m working with. For instance, there are lots of differences in forms, and you can correlate the differences in forms with differences in meaning. If you line up the verbs as below, you can separate the part that remains the same from the part that changes. You can also notice that in the meanings on the right, there is a part that remains the same, and a part that changes. This is the case for both conjugations:
NDK Conjugation 2

So with a conjugation paradigm like this, we can deduce that for each line in the paradigm, the part of the form that is different is related to the part of the meaning that is different (e.g., k- = “we” and ɓ- = “they”). Likewise, the part of the word forms that stays the same is related to the part of the meaning that stays the same (e.g., otoko = “will spit”).

But, you might ask, this logic gives us otoko = “(did/have) spit” in the first conjugation, but otoko = “will spit” in the second. Which is it? In fact, if you compare each line for each of the two conjugations, you will see that the consonants and vowels are the same for each first line, for each second line, all the way down to the sixth line. So whatever form indicates the difference between “will” and “did/have” is not found in the consonants or vowels. Where is that difference indicated? In the tone. If you compare the second column for each line of the two conjugations, you will see that the lines representing pitch for each word form is not the same between the two conjugations.

A similar problem exists for the prefixes that refer to subjects. That is n- is used for both “I” and “you all”, and the absence of a prefix is used for both “you” and “he”. But looking at this last one first, we can see a difference in the tone:NDK Conjugation 3

So even though there is no difference in the consonants or vowels to indicate a difference in meaning, there is a difference in tone which does. The same is found for “I” versus “you all”, circled here:NDK Conjugation 4

So the bottom line is that for (almost) every difference in meaning, there is a difference in form that indicates that difference. Sometimes that difference is in the consonants or vowels, as we might expect in languages more closely related to English (and even in English, with the -s above), but sometimes that difference is only in the tone.

But the story is a bit more complex than that, since the tone doesn’t do just one thing. We saw above that tone indicates the difference between “will” and “did/have” in these conjugations. But tone also indicates the difference between c, as well as that between “I” and “you all”. That means “you will”, “you did”, “he will”, and “he did” all have the same consonants and vowels, and are only distinguished one from another by the tone. And there’s another quadruplet with “I” and “you all”, and these quadruplets exist for almost every verb in the language: this is a systematic thing.

So with two minimal quadruplets for each verb in the language, it makes sense to ask what is the contribution from each meaningful word part to the tone, and how they come together. For instance, what is the contribution of “you”, as opposed to “he”, on the one hand, and what is the contribution of “will”, as opposed to “did/have”, on the other? And how to these different bits of tonal information combine to form the tone patterns we hear on full words? (Hint: they are a lot harder to chop up than the consonant prefixes above).

Anyway, that’s the essence of what I do, in brief. By looking at the actual pronunciations of words in a system, we can deduce what the contribution of each meaningful word part is, then make hypotheses about how they come together, and test those hypotheses until we come up with a coherent system.




After a couple days of struggle, and finally giving up, Kim made one more call. God parted the clouds, and let the rainbows through.  The tickets we got today are a bit more expensive than the ones we originally had, but they’re actually better, in terms of the connections in the Entebbe airport. Praise God!

So Joel and I fly out this  Wednesday, and return in just over a month. If you want to pray more specifically for this trip, you can sign up for updates here.


Visa_IMG_7456At long last (after 70 days, 10 weeks, or 51 work days, as you like) we have our passports back!  And they contain valid visas!

So now that we have official permission to enter Congo, we need to rebook tickets to Uganda, as well as organize logistics to get into Congo, as well as on to Nia-nia. Please pray for us as we figure out our options at this point, and make final decisions about our new schedule hopefully in the next few days.

One major issue is the fact that the cost of tickets is much higher now than in a month or so (as would be expected of getting tickets at short notice). But in a month, Joel would not be able to come without missing school. So we’ll need to figure out what kind of balance we can achieve between a raised ticket cost, and the other goals for this trip, including when other people are available to help. Please pray that we’d get this figured out today, or at least in the next couple days.

Mid July Update — Learning to Live with Plan B

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written, so I thought I should post something about how things are going. Not because I have something new to say; things are still pretty much where we last left them, with our passports in Washington, D.C.,  and us unable to do anything until they come back, and us not sure when they will come back, or whether they will have visas in them when they do.

We have heard from a number of sources that the whole system is slowed down due to changes in how Congolese visas are approved, and that this isn’t political or personal. So it may be that we do get visas in advance of the constitutionally required elections in DRC this November –regarding which some have expressed doubts that they will happen on time.

So in the mean time, I’m following advice from our support team, and moving forward as I can with my doctoral work. I had hoped to make two more trips to DRC before I finish, but that may not be ultimately possible. These last couple weeks, I’ve been organizing material that I’ve written over the last couple years, but had not compiled in one place, as well as catching up on comments on some of that material that I had not yet incorporated.

I’ve also organized some of the data that I haven’t finished analyzing, and I will continue to get what I can out of that. It may well be that I can make tolerable doctoral work out of it, though that was definitely not plan A. But it seems like this is maybe something God is working on in me; making me willing to accept a lower standard of excellence than I know I’m capable of.  As one of the founders of the modern Bible Translation movement said, “There are some things that are worth doing, that are not worth doing well.” (or something like that).

For a perfectionist with anxiety issues, this is a hard pill to swallow.  But perhaps that’s why it seems to be next on God’s list. Anyway, I’ve seen a number of times in this program, where I have been forced to simply submit what I consider B level work, and move on. Not that I’ve ever actually gotten a B (there is grade inflation, after all), but I have had to continually face my own lack of satisfaction with my work. And I think it is true, that some things just need to be done, and spending a lot of time and energy doing them really well is a waste. For instance, today I cleared the back yard of dog poo. I think there’s a basic level of time and energy that it’s reasonable to spend on that, and it’s not more than an hour (unless maybe you’ve really let it go…).

Likewise, a paper that is necessary to pass a class, but which will never be published, is not one that merits getting it just right. Even some papers, I can tell before finishing them, that I’m going to need to move stuff around (and add it to other work, for instance) before it would make sense to a broader audience. Time and energy spend word-smithing those papers is a waste.  Once the overall structure is in place, and the analysis finished, then finer touches make sense.

In any case, I feel the need to plan for the possibility that I may not be able to enter the DRC in the next couple years, which would mean either waiting to finish the doctorate, or finishing it with the data that I have already. No one has advised the first, and several people have advised what amounts to the second (“Get this done; don’t delay”). While I’m working on that, if Congo opens up for me, I’ll make a trip, and see what happens. But in the mean time, I’ll execute the plan that I don’t desire, but which seems to be the one God is offering me.



On Hold

We heard this afternoon from a friend who was able to visit the Embassy in Washington D.C., to ask in person what was happening with our visa application. Apparently the embassy workers are waiting on approval from D.R.Congo, and there is no indication of when or if that may come. So there is nothing they can do about it for now.

So this looks more like a larger diplomatic issue than a problem with our specific application. Still, let’s be praying for God’s timing and Glory to be evident, as we wait on the outcome of this application.

In the mean time, I have other work to do (including processing data left over from my last trip), so the time is not lost, just not as I had planned and hoped.


Trip Cancellation … for now

So we called for prayer for last Friday, and decided to wait until after mail on Saturday, just in case something weird happened. We believe that God is at work in this situation, though we don’t know what He’s doing… We waited until the very last minute, even until Sunday (yesterday) afternoon, before canceling our flights for this morning.

I talked to the airline agent about the possibility of just canceling the first half of the flight, so we could rebook just that much in the next few days, in case our passports come in that time. But by airline logic, that would actually have been more expensive… So we have a voucher with the cost of that ticket that we can put forward to another ticket, so long as we book it before May 2017. Which is nice, because that gives us time to try to get a visa again, if this one eventually comes back refused. But we’ll need to consider that carefully, since DRC-US relations don’t seem too positive right now, and there aren’t many signs of them improving until after the DRC elections, scheduled for this November.

Once the ticket to Uganda was canceled, we also had to cancel our  guest house and taxis in Uganda, our flight from Uganda to DRC, and our arrangements to stay the first few days in the DRC.  Not to mention the workshop and all the logistics surrounding it. 🙁

We continue to believe that God is orchestrating what from here looks to be chaos into something that will eventually be clearly Good, but it’s hard to see what value there is in this delay at this point, especially if the delay extends so long that the trip will simply not be possible.

Please continue to pray for us, that we would be diligent to do whatever we can to move this process forward, that we would continue to trust God and wait in faith, and that we would have the peace to be productive in other ways in the mean time.

Diplomatically Speaking…

Apparently a UN embargo on arms entering the DRC (except for purchases by the government) was renewed this week. But it didn’t limit itself to arms; it also includes two paragraphs on elections ((“Stressing the crucial importance of a peaceful and credible electoral cycle, in accordance with the Constitution, for stabilization and consolidation of constitutional democracy in the DRC, expressing deep concern at increased restrictions of the political space in the DRC, in particular recent arrests and detention of members of the political opposition and of civil society, as well as restrictions of fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of expression and opinion, and recalling the need for an open, inclusive and peaceful political dialogue among all stakeholders focused on the holding of elections, while ensuring the protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights, paving the way for peaceful, credible, inclusive, transparent and timely elections in the DRC, particularly presidential and legislative elections by November 2016, in accordance with the Constitution, while respecting the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance,“20.))((Urges the Government of the DRC, as well as all relevant parties to ensure an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process, in accordance with the Congolese Constitution, and recalls paragraphs 7, 8, 9 and 10 of resolution 2277 (2016);)).

About the same time, we have this site telling us “After issuing a warning in May that it would impose sanctions against the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the US has acted.” This is a specific sanction against the police chief of the capital city, such that “all assets belonging to [him] are frozen and Americans are barred from doing any business with him.” I have not been able to find the text of the sanction, but it is confirmed here, with nearly identical wording (so one is probably the source of the other).

If there is any question that the DRC is taking this as a serious criticism of the country leadership as a whole, the ambassador made an official statement to that effect.

Anyway, maybe that’s why I haven’t gotten my visa…


WASHINGTON—JUNE 23, 2016—The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today released the following statement regarding the recently announced sanctions imposed by the United States.

“The DRC condemns the action taken today by the U.S. Government. It is an infringement on our sovereignty and will undermine bilateral relations. It will also embolden those who seek to divide our nation and impede our democratic processes,” said Ambassador Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi, Diplomatic Advisor to President Joseph Kabila.

“As the DRC confronts important political, economic and security challenges, we welcome the support of international partners. Our efforts to organize elections in particular will benefit from encouragement by those interested in a free, fair, transparent and peaceful process, as we have seen from certain international organizations to date.

“Despite this decision by the Obama Administration, our efforts to engage and work with foreign partners continues. Ambassador Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi is in Washington, DC this week to consult with U.S. policy makers regarding the actions by our government to advance both a national dialogue and the electoral process.

“We continue to pursue consensus through dialogue, but also have taken actions that have enabled the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to continue to prepare for elections, including the allocation of funds to facilitate the identification and registration of Congolese voters for upcoming elections.”

For more information, please contact: