We made it to the Congo and my thoughts during the 34+ hours it took us to get here.

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the Congo crew before takeoff. Me, Stephanie, Joan, Anthony and Gary

The First Flight (San Francisco to Washington, DC)

Right now I’m sitting on a huge United Boeing 767. I’m sitting next to Stephanie and as she is reading over some history of the orphanage in the Congo while listening to an episode of The Office they’re showing on the in-flight TVs. I can’t help but think about how in a couple of flights from now we’ll both be smack dab right in the middle of Kinshasa (The capital of the Congo). Everything that we’ve grown used to and everything that makes us comfortable is about to be stripped away and replaced with about 40lbs of luggage a piece and a few carry-ons
To be honest, I feel great — especially considering the fact that I went to bed last night around midnight and had to wake up after sleeping under 4 hours later (I like to call it napping). Mentally I couldn’t feel  more on point. Stephanie and I woke up at 3:45am, left our place around 4:45am and met Sharon (one of our mission leaders) at my office in Burlingame at 5:30am so that we could be at the airport at 5:45am. Everything went super smooth and we were all checked in for our flight and through security with still enough time to grab some tasty airport food court breakfast. As we said goodbye to our luggage and to Sharon we all prayed together and thanked God for giving us the chance to go on this mission trip and asked that us, along with our luggage makes it all the way across the world. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Physically my arm is still really sore from that last-minute Tetnus shot that I got at Walgreens a couple of nights ago and it’s also given me a little bit of a fever, but hopefully all of that will go away by the time we make it into the Congo. I need to be on top of my game and full of energy so that Stephanie and I can go hang out in Kinshasa the day after we arrive.

Speaking of arriving in Kinshasa, we’re currently flying from San Francisco to Washington D.C., which is about a four and a half hour flight. We’re all supposed to stay awake for this flight, which is why I’m trying to occupy my time with typing this. After we arrive in Washington, D.C. we’ll hop on another flight to Brussels, Belgium which will be a longer seven to eight hour flight. We’re supposed to sleep for the duration of that flight so that when we arrive in Brussels (where it will be morning) we’ll be rested up and ready to stay awake for a while. We’ll then take off from Brussels and will head to Kinshasa, which is our final destination. It will be around 11pm in Kinshasa, so at that point we’ll all crash at a hostel for the night and will wake up the next day for a full day in Kinshasa.

I’m super-excited for this day in the big city and I’m hoping that Stephanie and I will be able to venture out a little bit and soak up some of the local culture. From what I hear it’s pretty safe, but I’m sure it will still freak me out a little bit at first. It usually tales me a couple of days to adapt to a new place, but even before then I really enjoy the rush of being in such a different environment. I’m getting pumped just thinking about it right now.

Up until this point things have been smooth and fairly uneventful, but I’m not going to get used to it. I know that in the upcoming weeks Stephanie and I will be experiencing things that we can’t even imagine at this point, but until then I guess I’ll just sit here on my laptop and enjoy the comforts of the civilized world for just a few more hours. Now, where’s that flight attendant with my oranje juice?

The Third Flight (Brussels to Congo)

It’s now two flights and about 22 hours later and we’re all flying in a Brussels Airlines Airbus A 330. Thanks to Joan we’ve figured out that our entire travel time to Kinshasa is right around 30 hours and we’ve all been trying to sleep just the right amount so that we’re not completely jet-lagged once we get to Kinshasa. The last flight, which was from Washington D.C. to Brussels, Belgium, was the was supposed to provide us with a good nights sleep as we’d be arriving there in the morning. Thanks to their sleep masks and noise cancelling headphones Gary and Anthony were ready to catch as much shut-eye as possible during the 8 hour flight. I crashed out after watching The Social Network and Stephanie and Joan got some quality nap time in as well. The flight ended up leaving D.C. about two hours later than scheduled, which burned through a majority of the three and a half hour layover we were supposed to have in Brussels. There was something wrong with the gas gauges, which I’m guessing are pretty important? We unfortunately had to skip the big Belgium breakfast and head directly to our next flight, but we were just happy to make it there before it took off (there’s only one flight per day to Kinshasa).

Although we didn’t have much time in the Brussels airport I could still tell that the workers there were much nicer and easy going than the ones that I’m used to dealing with at home. The people who were working security all had great attitudes and seemed to be having fun while working a job that most don’t usually enjoy. The flight attendants on this flight are also really fun and we have had a great time talking to them so far. Also, the food that they gave us was ridiculously tasty for an airline meal and included chicken, mashed potatoes, veggies, a wedge of brie, a roll, a bar of chocolate (Stephanie stole mine) and some kind of desert pastry. It’s probably the first time that I’ve ever cleaned my plate during a flight.

In other interesting news I can’t find my wallet (don’t worry, I still have my passport), my contacts are getting really dry and this flight is full of really interesting people. Some of them can’t speak any English which makes common things like asking how someone’s doing much more difficult than usual. I should probably start getting used to it.

UPDATE: I just chatted with my co-worker Jason and he said I left my wallet in the office on the way out. Sweet!

Our next stop is Kinshasa, which is going to be more different and culturally overwhelming than anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m excited and nervous all at the same time and I’m feeling like I need to get myself prepared spiritually for the environment I’m jumping head first into. It’s getting close to game time and I want to be sure that I’m as ready as I can be.

Next stop, Kinshasa.

Arrival In Kinshasa

It’s a little after midnight Congo time and I’m sitting in one of the apartments at the Methodist/Presbyterian Hostel (MPH) which is located in Kinshasa. As far as hostels go this is really a nice place and it’s got good food, hot showers, air conditioning in the rooms, indoor plumbing and a halfway decent wi-fi connection (which we won’t have much of after today). After 34+ hours of travel it’s nice to be able to clean up and get one really good night’s sleep before waking up tomorrow and heading out into Kinshasa.

The rest of the flight from Brussels into Kinshasa was about as smooth as could be and all I kept wondering about was why the rest of the hundred or so people on the plane were heading to the Congo and what their story was. I’m sure they’re all interesting.

I met one guy named Charles who was Canadian, worked for the UN in Norway and was heading to Goma (which is on the East side of the Congo) to find and detain members of the Congolese police and army who commit sexual crimes. This pretty much blew my mind. The guy was sitting behind me playing Angry Birds on his iPad and for the next six months he’s going to be hunting out the men who are raping women, children and other men as a strategic way to instill fear into the people of the Eastern Congo. I can’t even come close to imaging what he sees and deals with on a day-to-day basis working for the UN here in the Congo. He also looked out for us as we made our way through customs and grabbed our luggage. I feel like I met him for a reason and that God was having him watch over us as we made our way through the madness of the airport. We needed all the help we could get.

Speaking of the Kinshasa airport, I have no idea how that thing works. We first walked down a set of stairs off the plane in muggy 75 degree weather and then took a quick bus ride to customs where we all made it through with no problems. I have no idea what the guy who looked over my customs info was saying, but I swear that at one point he asked me for an American dollar. I politely said no, said ‘Merci’ and grabbed my newly stamped passport from him and headed out with the rest of the group to get or luggage.

On the way to the luggage carousel we ran into Mr. Kuwale who was hired by Texa to be our driver. Texa is a local Congolese guy who traveled to California a few years ago to learn English at our church. He’s now involved in all kinds of stuff and is a great friend of ours. Mr. Kuwale helped us with making sure that no one took our luggage and with getting us everywhere we needed to go in and out of the airport. Once we walked out of the airport with our luggage there were dozens of Congolese guys who wanted to help with us out (for a small fee, if course). Texa and Mr. Kuwale did a great job with keeping them away from us for the most part and Texa even paid a few of the guys who were following us around to help pack our luggage into Mr. Kuwale’s white van. As Texa talked to them in French they did what he said and before you know it we were rolling nine people deep through Kinshasa.

Driving through Kinshasa on the way to our hostel was a trip. The roads are terrible, there’s no real separation of lanes and the buses we passed were literally overflowing with people. As Mr. Kuwale drove us around cars, people and potholes like a seasoned verteran Stepahanie and I checked out all of the Congolese people who were out and about in Kinshasa. It was dark out while we were driving and most people in Kinshasa don’t have electricity so we saw lots of people sitting around candles, car lights and any other sort of light source they could find. Most people seemed to be dressed nice, but I’m still not really sure what so many of them were doing out in the city at 10pm. They were all over the place.

I’m starting to get really tired at this point, but I wanted to make sure that I got all of this written out before I crashed for the night because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to an Internet connection again. So far this has already been an amazing trip and God has already showing himself in so many ways and we’re just getting started. Tomorrow we’re going to wake up, eat some breakfast and then head with Texa to the Kinshasa market. Even though it’s usually safe we were told that white people should never go without someone who’s Congolese, which is why Texa’s going with us. I can’t wait to check it out.

Keep on praying for us and I’ll be sure to write up an update again soon with some pictures once we get out and explore. If you have any questions for us along the way, feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

The Colts win and make it into the playoffs!

For the past 3 years my big bro has let us snag his super-awesome, 7th row from the end zone Colts tickets and today we had the chance to go see the Colts beat the Tennessee Titans and clinch their spot in the playoffs. It was a great game that came down to the Colts kicking a last second, game-winning field goal into the end zone that we were sitting behind.

Of course I had to get a video of it, which you can see below or over here on YouTube. As you’ll see, there was a lot of celebrating and a lot of high-fiving by yours truly. What can I say, I was a little exited to see us pull off the game with a field goal that was kicked as the time ran out. I’m a sucker for fantastic endings.

Up next, the New York Jets.

Just call me Professor Hupfer

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Over the past  few weeks Stephanie and I have been introduced to several people who we’ll be hanging with while we’re in the Congo. Two of these people are Pete and Cindy Ekstrand (who are pictured above). I don’t know a whole lot about Pete and Cindy, but I do know that they’re full-time missionaries in the Congo, have 3 adult children who all live in the United States and that they write an amazing blog about all of the day-to-day stuff they’re doing and experiencing over in Africa. They’ve dedicated their lives to God by serving Him though serving the people of the Congo and I think that’s pretty awesome. Talk about being different and living out what Christians are called to do — wow.

Anyways, I’ve been emailing back and forth with Pete about what all Stephanie and I should be prepared to do while we’re in the Congo and how we can be the most effective with the time that we have. He’s been in the Congo for several years and has a great relationship with the church leaders over there, so he’s one of the best resources as far as where we can have the biggest impact. It’s been great to chat with him about some of the different projects that have been going on and that are being planned and he’s even looped into several email threads that were started months ago in an effort to get me up to speed on things as quickly as possible.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a little overwhelming, but it’s also been great to have a better idea of what we can help out with so I guess  it’s all good.

One of these projects we’re gong to be involved with is the Ubangi Protestant University (UPU), which is a local college that was started in July of 2008. This university was established to provide local Congolese a college-level education locally so that there was no need to travel out of the country to get a degree. The UPU graduated it’s first class just last August, which was a huge deal and was attended by 1,200 people.

I tell you all about this university because the last email Pete sent told us about how he wants both Stephanie and I to teach a fully accredited course at the college during the short time that we’re in the Congo. I’ll be teaching them about computers and Stephanie will be teaching them English and grammar. We’ll only have about 14 days or so that we can teach, so you can imagine how much  we’re going to have to hustle (which Pete mentions in his email below).

Here’s part of the email that he sent — the man named Mossai he mentions is Mossai Sanguma, the president of the church and the founder of the university (he’s the real deal):

I just talked with Mossai this morning about what he would like you to do when you are in Congo.  Mossai told me that he had talked to Sharon earlier this week and explained some of what I’ll say.  He also talked with Sharon about the English teaching.

Mossai wants you to teach an introduction to computer class at UPU, the Ubangi Protestant University.  As he explained it the class should include these elements:

- Basic intro to computers, how they work, turning on and off, etc.  This is to students who probably have absolutely no knowledge of computers.

- Computer maintenance such as troubleshooting, computer viruses and the importance of an AV program

- Introduction to word processing with either Word of Open Office.  One objective is to prepare the students to be able to use a computer to type their master’s theses.

- Introduction to basic concepts of Excel

Mossai is working to get a copy of the curriculum that someone from Kinshasa taught last year.  When he either gets that or more information about the course I’ll pass that on to you.  The teaching will be in French and the school is arranging for a translator.

We are learning that university courses here have strict requirements about the minimum number of classroom hours and total hours for the block courses.  The requirements are understandable and appropriate.  What it means is that to get in the hours in the time you have available you will all be pushed.  A block course is to have 30 hours; 22 classroom hours and remainder for research time, exams, discussions.  You can work on this schedule with the school director when you’re here.

Sounds like I have my work cut out for me, huh? Just call me professor Hupfer.

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Thanks for reading and be sure to keep us both in your prayers! If you feel motivated to help us out by donating some money for the trip, you can do so through our giving page over here or by clicking the widget below.

Happy New Year! My thoughts on Times Square and how did you celebrate?

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I’m going to make this quick because Stephanie and I have some more family to hang out with (we’re running out of time in Indiana!).

We wanted to wish you all a Happy New Year and we hope that you all had fun celebrating and bringing in 2011. As always, it comes up quick and before you know it you’re counting down during the Time Square ball drop. We had a ton of fun hanging with a few of our friends and have plenty of stories to tell now that it’s New Years day.

Of course a few of the stories were captured on video, one of which you can check out below.

After watching the Times Square extravaganza, here are a few things that stuck out to me:

1. It’s good to still see Dick Clark on air, but it makes me really sad every time (you know he had a stroke, right?)
2. Nivea was a little out of control with the sponsorship — I’m sure they paid a lot, but wow. Nivea was everywhere and slightly annoying.
3. There were a lot of bands that I have never heard of. Is this because I’m 30?
4. They clear people out of there really quick, don’t they? It didn’t take long for everyone to be cleared out of Times Square after New Years. I know that they’re not allowed to drink in there, so they’re all probably running to the bars for a drink.
5. Antoine Dodson had a lot of makeup on and was rocking some wild looking braids when he was interviewed by Carson Daily. Of course, the more amazing thing is that Antoine Dodson was on the New Years special with Carson Daily and he said that he now earns $50k for an appearance. See the video of him doing his thing over here on YouTube.

So, I guess all I want to know now is how did you bring in 2011? I showed you mine, now show me yours! Add a link to any pics, videos or anything else you have from your New Years celebration below in the comments. Here’s to an awesome year and as always, thanks for reading!