Nyankunde is a legendary mission station. I grew up reading the accounts of missionary stalwarts of the last century who poured their lives into it. After the post-independence Simba uprising in Eastern Congo in the early 1960's, the missionaries who returned cooperated to form what would become the region's premier referral and teaching center. There was a thriving hospital, nursing and other professional schools, a church, printing press, primary and secondary schools for kids. Missionaries from 5 organizations supported it with professional services. Names like Dr. Carl Becker, Dr. Helen Roseveare, Dr. Dick Bransford, all spent significant portions of their careers here. Ruth and Rich, an OB surgeon and an engineer, spent 20 years from 1965 to 1985 raising a family and creating the place. We meet people who speak of Nyankunde with tenderness in medical circles all the time. Our Congolese colleague from Hopkins was raised there, and an entire generation of others were impacted. And we've spent our lives in what would be, in another world, a parallel region only an hour's drive south, instead of a politically and geographically isolated impossible distance away. So we were pretty eager to see this place at least once.
However, in 2003-4, when the BaHima and the BaLendu errupted in another round of the conflicts that have wracked Eastern Congo for the last decade-plus, Nyankunde was devastated. Decimated would be too mild a word. People were slaughtered. Dr. Mike, who grew up there, lost his mother and siblings (he escaped by being in school far away), even though he was from an unrelated tribe, caught in the crossfire of hate. Not just the foreigners, but EVERYONE fled. Rebels, bandits, looters, opportunists came in and stripped the place bare. Furniture, household items, books, shelves, dishes, gone. Roofs gone. Window frames, doors, electric outlets, gone. Within a year the place looked like a bombed shell of a century-old institution. Rain fell, vines grew, trees sprouted. Only foundations and crumbling walls remained on most buildings, though a few that had asbestos harder-to-steal roofing survived. It is difficult not to see such a maelstrom of terror and destruction in spiritual terms. This was a place created by God's people as a center for healing, learning, and good. And it was wiped out.
When peace was restored, some of those missionaries started to ask, should we come back? The church, planted by Plymouth Bretheren, persevered. And some of those Congolese, like Dr. Mike., heard God's call. He came to visit and changed his one-day plan to a one-week stay when he was bombarded by medical needs, then moved with his wife and two tiny daughters into a now-decrepit house to begin to redeem Nyankunde. Now Samaritan's Purse has taken up the cause. There is one Japanese woman who trains lab workers, and Dr. Ruth who works in maternity, and a growing staff of Congolese working with Dr. Mike. Rich D, who BUILT THE ORIGINAL STATION IN 1965, now in his 70's, has started over. His ingenious water system survived. He's supervising a team of workmen, up every day to take roll call at 7 am, out on the construction site with his hands in the process. Across from the tragic shell of their old home, Ruth and Rich live in the first rehabbed home, which they have made beautiful. Ruth can barely walk without a cane, and moves about the station on an ATV. The day we arrived she had been intercepted on her way to early staff prayers to assist in a complicated surgery, saving the life of a women whose uterus had ruptured due to poor care in labor. After 20 years on the field and 20 years in the states, this couple is back at an age when most people have long since retired to an easier way of life, and this in spite of serious medical problems and dear children and grandchildren far away. And they are doing this quietly, obscurely, cheerfully, not with bitterness or judgement. They are doing it for God, and for the people they love.
So though they do not want to be heros, they are right at the end of Hebrews 11. And what pictures they are of God, who created a beautiful world which we ruined, but then returned to redeem and rebuild, to renew and restore, not leaving us to what we deserve, but pouring life back into earth. At a cost, the highest cost, the cost of blood and love.