Monday, September 7, 2009

From the Congo to the Country

Kirsten Wettlaufer, the oldest of three children born to Missionary parents in the Democratic Republic of Congo-- formerly known as Zaire-- had what some of us might consider an unusual childhood and upbringing, but for her and her siblings--a younger sister and brother, and the other 'MK's (missionary kids), living life in the 'Bush' alongside the Lunda Tribe, was her 'normal'.

Her father was working in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a agricultural mission group, and her mother was a Danish missionary nurse. The couple met, and as they say, the rest is history. But what a history! Raised mostly in the southwest corner of the DRC--a grassy savanna, Kirsten's family lived with approximately eight other missionary families at a mission station. Her father taught at the missionary Ag school and her mother ran the health clinic. Their neighbors, the Lunda people, lived in mud huts with thatched roofs. French is the official language in this area, but Swahili was also spoken.

Kirsten has fond memories of days spent playing in the Bush with her younger sister--she now marvels at how they never got hurt as snakes were abundant. Pets included dogs, cats, a guinea pig, and their monkey, 'Chatterbox'. Family excursions included camping trips when Kirsten enjoyed pond fishing. Television was nonexistent..."you played until dark, and then you either read a book or went to bed." Life at the settlement was somewhat isolated from the outside world as an airplane would deliver mail only once a month. The family always had a car, but considering the poor condition of the roads, it took quite awhile to reach their destination. Kirsten remembered that while driving through neighboring villages, children would come running to see the car... "and you didn't dare stop", as stopping would have most likely resulted in a mass of arms and legs crawling all over and into the car--this having been the most exciting event of the year for those children.

At the age of five and one half, Kirsten was sent to a British boarding school in neighboring Zambia, and if someone were to lament about how difficult a walk it was for them to get to school, Kirsten's story would certainly top theirs: She would board a small plane to fly to another missionary station, be driven by car to the Zambian border where she then crossed the river by boat. Upon reaching the other side, the teachers would be waiting with a large, army-type truck to drive them the remaining hour-long ride to the elementary school. After First grade, her family returned to the United States to raise missionary funds. This would be the pattern for the rest of her childhood, with the family returning to the states once every four years, resulting in Kirsten attending school in Lincoln, and also Page, Nebraska. During her high school years, she attended an American school in Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, graduating in 1978.

During the years the family lived in the DRC, Kirsten's father purchased many artifacts from the local people to help them out financially. Kirsten has an amazing collection of handmade items, including ceremonial masks, a heavy carved bracelet (she said the tribal women's arms would be covered in these bracelets), a bird carved out of a cow horn, a clay figure, hippo tusks, a carved wooden snake, a beautiful clay water vessel, malachite 'eggs', and a intricately woven food storage basket.

Kirsten returned to the United States to attend college and later married her husband Randy in 1980. Now living in her fraternal grandparent's house in rural Page, she and her husband are involved with raising cattle and grain production. They have four children, two grandchildren, and "one on the way". Kirsten enjoys her beautifully landscaped yard (the setting for her daughter's wedding this past summer), her horse 'Haley', and dog 'Chewy'. Interests include gardening, landscaping, refinishing furniture, quilting, and just enjoying kids and family. She states, "kids and family are extra special just because of (my) growing up away from a lot of family."

When I inquired as to whether or not she would like to return to the DRC, she said, "I'd like to go back and visit, but I like my hot water, I like my electricity."

Kirsten has just recently reconnected with former high school classmates on Facebook-- she is finding that the sharing of information over long distances is a lot faster now than it was when that mail plane made it's once-monthly visits to the mission settlement in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kirsten commented, "I appreciate growing up where I did. I think it's really hard for me to see people complain about things our government does, because there are places like that (DRC) where they don't put money back into the country to fix up roads, no health care, nothing. We have a lot to be thankful for."



  1. Very interesting! Great pics too.
    Loving your new blog.

    I am in my art room creating something from your paper napkins. Hope it is post worthy when all finished. ;-)
    Have a blessed one. Hugs from TeXas!

  2. What an amazing collection of artifacts! and the story is wonderful!

    I own handmade baskets made in Papua New Guinea from a dear Missionary friend..what a treasure these items are, as I think upon the weathered hands that made them.

    VERY interesting!



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