I first met Maninga at the Njili airport. Our family of six landed in Kinshasa, Zaire and was quickly escorted to the VIP lounge where we would wait for our luggage to clear customs. My husband and I had traveled to Africa before and knew that this was part of the package . . . waiting. We prided ourselves on being the perfect family to live and minister in the third world. After all, I had lived in Africa before and had war stories of living in a dung hut, eating fried termites and battling malaria. My husband beat drums with the Navajo and lived through dysentery in Cameroon. Our children were bilingual and had more frequent flyer miles than most American businesspeople. We were ready.
After a lengthy time sitting on a bench watching a wealthy businessman clean his fingernails with a paper clip, we were told it would be “just a little longer.” Maninga had arranged for one group to “handle” our baggage. Another friend had arranged for a different group. While the two groups argued over “who” would take our bags, the custom officials became involved and the process was complicated even more. So we waited. After three hours and a lesson in the art of paperclip manicure, we were on our way.
The next day we waited for Maninga to bring the list of things we needed to obtain our visas. He was to give us the list, we were to give him the necessary documents and then we would have our visas in a couple of weeks. Once we had our visas we could send for all our earthly belongings and our new (used) four wheel drive. We could then settle in to our new tropical home. It was simple . . . but then again, we were in Zaire.
So, we waited for Maninga. He finally came . . . four days later . . . but we weren’t home. Not to worry, he was to return the next day. Three days later he came. He gave us the list and would return “tomorrow” to get our documents. We quickly gathered the necessary documents, passports, and photos. I stayed up until the wee hours filling out forms for every member of our family. My husband woke up early and ran to make copies of everything. Then, we waited for Maninga . . .not daring to leave our house. What if he were to drop by during those few minutes we went for a walk? If we had been in the United States we would have made a quick phone call, sent a fax, e-mailed or jumped in our car. But this is Zaire where communication is for the culturally challenged. So, we waited for Maninga. “Tomorrow” came about three days later. Maninga explained that he had a problem with transportation. In a country where money is poured into a fancy bus stop (complete with padded seats and brightly painted metal awning) yet there are no buses, it’s no wonder.
Maninga took our dossiers, smiled and said that he would return with our visas. I quickly got my calendar out and “guesstimated” which day our things would arrive and which day we would get the car. I began cleaning cabinets so they would be ready when our things arrived. A week went by and we hadn’t heard from Maninga. We contacted a friend, who contacted a friend who had a radio who could talk to Maninga on his radio. Unbeknownst to us, the electricity in Maninga’s house was out for days and he couldn’t charge his radio. So, we waited. Maninga finally came and reassured us it was only a matter of time. He would come back “Mercredi” to let us know the progress. We quickly learned that “Mercredi” does not mean “Wednesday” as we were taught in our expensive language school. “Mercredi” means, “sometime between tomorrow and next month.” So, we waited for Maninga.
A friend stopped by to console us about “des problems” with our visa. “What problems?” we demanded. He had lunch with Maninga the day before and heard the news. But not to worry, “when Maninga gets back from Benin I’m sure he will work it out,” our friend assured us.
“Back from Benin?” we exclaimed.
“Oh yes, Maninga was leaving for Benin Thursday and would be gone a week.”
We waited for Maninga.
During this “waiting” time, I struggled with anger. At first I directed my hostility toward the people and circumstances surrounding me. But as I began evaluating my feelings of fury, I realized that it was misdirected. I was not angry with Maninga for he is a good and honest man. Nor was I angry with Zaire for I loved it there and believe this is where God wanted me. I was angry with God for making me wait. I felt I was being held back from “starting our ministry” and “settling in our new home.” For some absurd reason, God was not sticking to my timetable. He had messed up. To punish Him for making me wait I ignored Him. I would hide under my mosquito net on my half blown up air mattress and read. The days of barely having fifteen minutes free for Bible reading and prayer had passed. I now had endless hours to wait and do as I pleased. I would show God by pouring the time into books that never attracted me before. I read all of my husband’s Tom Clancy books and would have devoured my daughter’s Nancy Drew collection had it been available. On one of those days while ‘waiting for Maninga’ I finally gave in and turned to the Scriptures. Psalm 62 says, “God, the one and only_I’ll wait as long as he says. Everything I need comes from him, so why not? He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I’m set for life.” My anger melted. I realized that I need not wait for Maninga any longer, for it is God who is ultimately in control. I had to reset my internal clock on God’s timing. In order to do this it required letting go of my old expectations. I began to look at others who had “waited.” Noah waited seven days for the flood after he built the ark. The Israelites wandered for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Paul waited in Arabia for three years after his call to preach to the Gentiles. I was in good company in God’s waiting room.
Today I heard that Maninga returned from Benin and had a wonderful time. I also heard that we might get our visas “Mercredi.” I’ll wait for God.
We began ‘waiting for Maninga’ on July 17, 1996. After four months of living out of suitcases, all our paperwork went through and our car and things arrived. Unfortunately, it was on the same day. The problem with this is that our things arrived at the Ndjili airport in Kinshasa and the car arrived at the port in Boma . . . a small 15-hour jaunt through the jungle. Two friends went to get the car so that we could stay home and take care of receiving our possessions. Our things arrived at the airport on a Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. They were then “stored” (held for ransom) until Tuesday. Since we arrived in Kinshasa, things had been very calm . . . except that Tuesday. The schools were closed, and there was rioting and looting downtown due to a small group of rebels starting trouble in eastern Zaire. Our Zairian friends told us to stay indoors because student protesters were hijacking cars (especially 4x4s or big trucks) and soldiers were looting anything that even looked like merchandise. The global worker community quickly got word to us NOT to go on the road to the airport . . .the hijacking and looting was worse there. And so, all our earthly belongings were loaded onto an open-air truck and hauled through the middle of the chaos. We were convinced that everything would be taken and prayed that we would have the grace to deal with it. We prayed until around 4:00 p.m. when the truck pulled in completely untouched by the surroundings. Our Isuzu trooper arrived a few days later after a 24-hour adventure through forest, jungle and a 250-kilometer-long sea of potholes that some call the ‘road to Matadi.’
Four months later we hid in our Isuzu trooper as Maninga drove us to the airport. “The small group of rebels” turned into a full fledge war and we fled Zaire thinking that we would return in a month or so when things calmed down. We moved to France and began living out of suitcases again. To this day Maninga continues to help global workers and other expatriates get in and out of the (now) New Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Lingala, “maninga” means friend. Our friend, Maninga, now waits for us to return to Africa.
View the original print magazine where this article was first published.