Eleven Hours of Church? (Part 1)

Blog: 11 Hours of Church? (part 1)
March 3, 2017

As a young boy, I remember sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car with my brother, Jeff. We were driving from home in Hamburg, NY to our family Farm, located miles out into the country between Punxsutawney and Reynoldsville, Pa. This drive into north central Pennsylvania was about a three and a half hour drive south from Hamburg. We would stop at the same little restaurant for lunch in Bradford, then get back on the road, again. I often got migraines and car sick from trying to read, and Jeff and I could only play so many games until we started to get into trouble (he always started it, of course, ha!). While this was before mobile video anything, it wasn’t too bad of a drive, overall. 

Yesterday was pretty much the same, but I’m now an adult, the trip happened in an African jungle, and I sat in the front seat. Five of us traveled northeast from Bongolo to the small town of M’bigou (“Em biguoo”) to attend church and to encourage the Sunday School teachers and children. My friends, Dr. Renee Valach, Bongolo’s Medical Director, and Christine (who works in the hospital’s accounting department and lived in the house next to my apartment last year) were the leaders. Also with us were new friends Emmanuel (a math teacher who I met last week when he and his wife, Juliet came to the hospital clinic to be treated by Renee), and Alice (“Aleese”). Christine, Emmanuel and Alice are in regional Alliance Church Sunday school leadership. Renee’s connection is she leads Sunday school at the big Bongolo church (about 250 kids a week), and, perhaps more importantly, she was the driver (I now have my international driver’s license, but didn’t get to drive this trip).  

The distance from Bongolo to M’bigou is a short 38 miles of open road up Route 20 – one or two traffic circles, no stop signs or traffic lights, and very little traffic. In the US, a trip like this from one town to another would take no more than 45 minutes under normal conditions. As I mentioned, however, this is Gabon, Africa, so this is normally a two hour one-way trip! 

However, it had rained most of the night before, and much of the trip to M’bigou was slow, treacherous driving, so the drive there took three hours! We actually got up to 30 miles per hour a couple of times, but nearly all of the trip was on the typical very bumpy jungle dirt roads, with regular side-to-side swerving and downshifting to try and miss the constant, jarringy deep pot holes - and that was the good part! Because of the rain, there were several long up and down-hill muddy sections where we skidded and slipped, just like it was an icy wintery day back home. Then, there were the gigantic muddy sink holes we stopped in front of to strategize our attack. Spread throughout the trip were several rickety hand-made wooden bridges that looked like you could carry off the lumber for other purposes. Fortunately, we were in a large, sturdy 4-wheel drive Toyata Land Cruiser, and Renee is a seasoned jungle driver, and we arrived incident free.

We experienced five and a half hours of worship, Sunday school and follow-on meetings that left me numb and even drained my hardened African cohorts. More to follow next time about my new travel friends – some amazing stories! – as well as the impact Bongolo has had for years on rural churches such as the one in M’bigou. 

By the way, it was dry all day and, fortunately, the roads firmed up quite a bit during the day, so the return trip was only two hours! The new or deepened friendships, stories, God moments and laughing made it all more than worthwhile.