Answering God's call

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By John Barnhart

Charles Moore can tell you that getting carjacked is a disconcerting experience. It's even worse when the thieves take you along with the car.

This was one of many experiences that Moore had during nearly 30 years as an American Baptist missionary in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Moore and his wife, Alice, were first appointed as missionaries there in June, 1960, not long after he had finished seminary. That was the year the country, formerly a Belgian colony, became independent. They actually arrived in the country in November, 1962, after extensive training in Brussels, Belgium. This included studies on Africa and missionary linguistics. Moore said that missionary linguistics taught them how to learn another language without classes or a textbook. They also had to learn French.

"We had to be fluent," he said.

Congo has roughly 200 indigenous languages along with four trade languages. The country, as a whole, also uses French.

"I taught math in French," Moore said.

The American Baptist denomination appointed missionaries to various tasks. The Moores' job was to teach high school math and science.

Moore said that there had been schools for some time in Congo, but high schools were just starting to form when they got to the country. Moore said that the Belgians' approach was to train the Congolese to do what Belgians told them to do. This, plus tribal issues, left the country ill-prepared for independence.

"Our strategy from the very beginning was to train local leadership," Moore said.

He believes they, and others like them, were successful. When he got there, missionaries ran the schools. Now, there are eight high schools affiliated with the American Baptist Church. All are run by Congolese.

The American Baptist Church already had missionaries at the time, but most weren't prepared to teach math and science. That's why they wanted the Moores. Charles had always loved math but, after earning his undergraduate degree, he gave up math to go into the ministry.

Following seminary graduation, both he and Alice felt inadequate to be missionaries as they felt it was such a high calling and they had so little experience. Nevertheless, they made themselves available, willing to go where needed.

"You see again and again that God raises up the right people at the right time if we are open," Charles said.

"We had a lot of adjustments to make when we got to Congo," he said.

The first adjustment came when he got off the plane, wearing a suit. He was hit by what he called a wall of humidity. Thereafter he rarely wore suit and tie.

The Moores also had to get used to a lack of privacy. When they got to their house, they found people who had worked as household workers and expected to keep their jobs. Having household workers took some adjustment on the Moores' part.

"We came from a class where people hired us," Charles said.

They had to have a number of items they needed shipped in. This included shoes and some food. Not only did they have to get used to local food, but local food was in short supply at first. Later locally produced food became more abundant.

One local food that was abundant were peanuts. This was a pleasant surprise for Moore. In Congo, he roasted his own and made his own peanut butter. The Congolese also made peanut butter, pounding the roasted nuts with a mortar. This could produce interesting results because, if hot peppers had been pounded previously, you ended up with hot peanut butter.

The locals also used peanuts in cooking. Everybody had chickens and chicken dishes were cooked with peanuts. A great deal of palm oil, something that was locally abundant, was used in cooking.

They ate some strange food, too.

"We've eaten snake," Alice said.

The snake was boa constrictor meat.

"It tasted kind of fishy," she commented.

They've also eaten goat intestines.

When they traveled to villages, they incurred a risk that went beyond having to eat something out of the ordinary.

"For hospitality's sake, we had to accept what was offered," Charles said. "Sometimes you pick up things that way."

Malaria was a disease one could acquire no matter what, as it is spread by mosquitoes. They constantly took anti-malaria medicine, but both have had malaria more than once. They said that symptoms included chills and a headache that wouldn't' go away.

Although there had been turmoil in Congo in its early years, the unrest calmed down, until the early 1990s. The country steadily deteriorated and its dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, reacted by loosening his grip, then clamping down again. The Army wasn't getting paid.

"So they went on periodic rampages," Moore said.

The Moores were once held up at gunpoint by soldiers. Soldiers also set up roadblocks in order to shake down travelers.

There was a great deal of looting by civilians. They said that there were sometimes tidal waves of looters who even stole roofing off of houses and tore fixtures out of walls.

The U. S. Embassy ordered all Americans to leave, but the Moores stayed until it reached the point where they felt they were putting their Congolese friends in danger.

Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) flew them to the neighboring Republic of Congo, from where they eventually flew out of Africa, but came back in 1992, staying until 1995.

"All through that turmoil, the Gospel was preached," Charles Moore noted.

Along with his math teaching duties, Charles Moore trained pastors and Alice ministered to their wives. The high schools, themselves, had an impact. According to Alice Moore, 90 percent of all Congolese high school graduates came from church-run schools.

"That's a huge influence on the leadership of the country,"said Charles Moore.

Originally, all doctors and high school teachers in Congo were missionaries, whether American Baptist, Presbyterian or from other denominations. The Moores said that the various denominations cooperated rather than competed. Now, most of these professionals are Congolese.

One of Charles Moore's former students, Nzunga Mabudiga, is now a missionary. He and his wife, Kihomi, are serving in Haiti and the Moores have visited them.

"They are doing a great work," Charles said.

He said a number of his former students went on to become professional Christian workers or medical professionals. One, Jean Mvula, ended up emigrating to the United States and is now a doctor in New Orleans.

The Moores raised their children in Congo and their youngest, Tim, was born there. One son, Jonathan, followed in his father's footsteps and is a missionary in Niger. Another son, Bill Moore, is pastor of Bedford Christian Church.

Charles and Alice Moore still keep busy. Charles is involved with Bedford County Habitat for Humanity, the Bedford Branch NAACP, and the Bedford Community Christmas Station. He is a hospice volunteer chaplain and a volunteer chaplain at Bedford Memorial Hospital.

Moore volunteers at Bedford Christian Ministries, coaches Bedford Middle School's Math Counts team and is an elder at Bedford Christian Church. He and Alice co-chair the church's outreach committee.

Alice is also involved with Bedford Christian Ministries. She's still working in conjunction with their churches in Congo, researching and compiling music for their hymnbook.