Chapter 16 – Setting up the Children’s Home

Chapter 16

Setting up the Children’s Home

Since the family’s arrival back in Congo in August 1955, Ione seems to have little time for letter writing. The McMillan’s had to sort out and rent a house in Sergeant Ketele street; take on parental responsibilities for another five children and get them all settled into a school where most could not speak the language.

On October 11th 1955, Ione has the opportunity to respond to a letter from her mother which contained good news – Marcellyn had become engaged.

Dear Mother,

I suppose there are lots of plans and preparations going on over there. I am so glad to have the newspaper clippings, especially the one with Marcellyn’s picture (a new one?).

Ione explains:

you had the announcement dinner, …we’re starting school here, with a total of 12 school children and Timmie and Stephen. Marcellyn will be interested to know that Jim Carter arrived a week ago yesterday with his 3 boys (Gordon, Philip and Michael). They are such nice boys and a real inspiration to ours. I peeked in their room the other night and found them all reading their Bibles. (Ione fails to mention that during Gordon’s first few weeks at school he returned with a box of six large black beetles. Not having a cage, they were placed in a bowl with greenery. Surprisingly, next morning, all had escaped and were never seen again. That did not deter Gordon! He returned with two white mice in a box. Fortunately, a cage was procured from somewhere and the mice resided with him in his room and procreated at will!)

Only 3 little girls (we were destined to always be in the minority). I washed heads today and braided hair. I do enjoy them all so much and the help question is getting less acute. Tell Marcellyn the Boyes have spoken first for Andre but he had been disciplined at Ekoko for talking about Margaret Ogilvie and they didn’t get him. I don’t know what to do about it, for I don’t like to go over someone else’s head. And I hate to bring any boy to their wicked city (Kisangani). I have a couple of city fellows and one wife who knows the city ways and live nearby – Christians. The wife works right along, too, and is a whiz. We’re turning out the laundry by the basketful! The Lord is so good. Everyone is in good health here. Dolena Burk had to go home suddenly last week for an operation. They thought at first it was cancer, but it is a growth. They left a week ago today and 4 stations turned out to see them off. We had the crowd to dinner and supper – about 40 in all. We have the school children in 3 booths against the wall, 4 to a table. They like that – restaurant style. We have two other long tables and a small one for the adults and visitors. Our stuff from Bongondza came with the Walbys when they brought Janet Cowger in too for medical care. Conversation between the 3 ladies – Janet, Mrs. Walby and Mrs. Burk:

Dolena Burk – “I’ve got cancer – what are you here for?”

Topsy Walby – “I’ve got T.B.” (The tropics did not suit my mother, she lost weight but carried on resolutely).

Dolena Burk (turning to Janet) “I suppose you’ve got leprosy!”

But it has not turned out that bad. The report for Mrs. Burk was better before she left and Topsy may get over hers with more rest. I have just had some teeth fixed! (there appears little empathy for Janet, a British nurse)

I am feeling fine. I mix up the cookies and the boy bakes them (a double batch every day!) 3 loaves of bread a day from the bakery next door. Love, Ione

Ione is not only managing the children, but the home becomes a base for missionaries travelling in and out of Kisangani, as Ione recounts to her mother on 22nd October 1955:

Today the children were entertained at “tea” at the B.M.S. (British Bapt. Missionaries) Mr. & Mrs. Seoul. Had a nice time and all behaved – all 14! I had a date, too, with the Protestant Chaplain & his wife, the Salvation Army man & wife to sing some mixed quartets for the radio here. They are recordings and will be used a week from Sunday – 3 songs from Chants de Victoire in French. I guess this is going to be a steady job. I didn’t know they had started a radio station here. I am singing the alto in these numbers. I love it.

We are without guests tonight as the Carper’s (Del, Lois and daughter Marilyn, recently arrived from America) and Valerie Buckingham (a British Nurse) left this morning. Yesterday Viola Walker and Olive Bjerkseth were here on their way back from taking Verna Schade to Boyulu to take Mrs. Burk’s place, who flew home for an operation. Mary Rutt had been waiting here for a ride to her station and left then. About 15 guests in all thru this week. We have some better help now in the kitchen and washroom – in all, 4 natives. I am trying a man and his wife, the latter to serve the children’s tables where we seat 4 at a table, restaurant booths.

The Lord is good. Marcellyn was right about there being few dishes and linens and our drums haven’t arrived yet. But we had a gift of 8 tea cups and saucers and 12 glasses and with a bolt of Americani, have made pillows, cases, sheets, table clothes, etc. Our “guests” have helped a lot in this work and have given extra gifts of money. From day to day we see His hand moving in our behalf. Our promise yesterday “not a feeble one among them”, and a “happy mother of children”.

Tomorrow a group of former native Bongondza-ites who live here now are coming to give an “official” welcome. We’ll have them at 9 A.M. and a visit from Mr. Coumidy at 5. He wants to rent us “very cheaply” a larger house and furnish it. But we are careful, for altho’ he is a professing Christian, he has a very critical spirit.  A Greek man – Marcellyn knows him.

And now how about some news from you. Our biggest news yesterday – a letter from Jean (Hector’s sister) telling of going forward in a Billy Graham meeting in Ottawa, also John D. Dunbar. The letter glows with a real experience! Praise the Lord. (Billy Graham was an American evangelist whose passion and zeal for the teachings of the Bible led to him organise large rallies/ crusades all over the World).

And now a head wash and bath and to bed. One package we mailed to ourselves has already arrived. Hope the drums come soon. No jiggers (the parasites – tunga penetrans, that wriggle into the soft tissue of toes and feet and need removal with a sterile needle before sepsis sets it) here and fresh Capitani fish (Nile Perch) every week. Hamburgers two days ago. We had a gift of money to go to the ice cream parlour next door (the bakery – a very special and most welcome treat). All for now. Love, Ione

There are few letters saved from Hector, however, on November 2nd 1955, he writes to his sister Irene and her two children, Barbara and Donald:

I was just down at the post office and got your letter which you wrote Oct 25th. It probably arrived yesterday but as it is a holiday here, the office was closed. We are sharing a post box now until the new Post Office is completed. Stanleyville has grown so fast that there is a long list waiting for post boxes. However, the Salvation Army man said we could use their number. It is nice to get the mail any time you like instead of once a week like we used to.

I suppose your boss felt sorry for you not getting any letters, so he took a special trip away! Well, I have some time so I thought I better just sit right down and answer. John’s arm is as normal as the other one. After the doctor took the bandage off Sept 10th he told me to gently straighten it a little every day. I made a little tray for the arm to be measured in as it straightened out and we noticed the mark at the wrist was moving about ½”. I took him back to the doctor two weeks later and the arm was almost straight. He felt around the back of the elbow and said it would not straighten any more. He showed us his own left arm which he said was hurt when he was small but the parents didn’t know about it. He has the use of it but cannot rotate the lower arm. Then he asked John to try – quick as a wink John gave it a flip both ways and the doctor threw up his hands in laughter and said, “I guess he will live with it.” But better than that the arm did continue to straighten out and he can put it out flat as a board. I know a lot of folks were praying about it.

You better send Donald out here to be a model for our children. Their writing could stand a lot of improving but if these first two months are any indication, their teachers will give then no peace until their books are real neat. They have a real good educational system here and everyone so far seems highly in favour of the new set-up for the UFM. The 8 extra children come from four families representing Australia, England and USA…. There are 12 of them to get off to school twice a day on the bus which comes to the corner. Two are in 6th grade, 3 in second, 2 in first, 4 in kindergarden, and John in “ecole maternelle”. They take little lunches to eat in the middle of the morning, so Stephen likes to imitate them and pack a little sandwich which he carries as far as the bus when he goes with me to see the others off. Then when we come home and he eats his on the front step! French is coming along nicely. I, too, am finding it much easier, since I have to use it every day.

Glad to hear about your housekeeping arrangement. It sounds as though it should work OK. Talk about washings. If we left ours until the week-end it would fill the telephone wires in Avonmore from Dad’s down to Jimmie Blair’s!!!! We have two people on it all the time and two extra on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. It is all done by hand and ironed with charcoal irons.

It is nice to hear of your visit up home and to hear so much about Dad. Jean wrote us about her experience in the Billy Graham meeting in Ottawa. Glad to hear about Florence’s holiday too. Give Eleanor our love when you see her next. I must get a letter off to Alice soon.

How nice of you to start a HIM fund! I know the Lord will bless you for it. We appreciate your love and thoughtfulness.

We have lovely times in family worship. Some of the new children are quite good singers so we enjoy our sing time too. We just started in Genesis this week in the morning readings after we had finished Daniel and Jonah. There were some splendid lessons in those two books. In the evening we are reading in Matthew. It was nice to have enough children to take the name of each one of the disciples. They had lots of fun remembering who was who.

We have been looking at some other property and some seems to suit our need. One nice acre of land in a residential district has a price of $3,500. The man who owns it has not put up any building, but as he is retiring and returning to Belgium he is giving us first choice for the same price as he paid for it. Please remember to pray for this choice of a permanent home. We do want to get the place the Lord has for us.

Well, the children will soon be home for dinner and I want to get this down to the Post Office.

Bye for now, LOVE AND PRAYER, Hector and family

A few days later, Ione pens her own reply to Irene:

Thanks so much for your good letter of Oct. 25th. It was so newsy and of special interest was the Him Fund which is a very thoughtful idea.

Yes, John’s arm healed very well, and it never even had a cast! When the doctor here examined it, it was fully set and he soon took off even the bandage. John uses it all the time now. We do thank the Lord for His faithfulness. There were a few times along the way when it could easily have been knocked out of place. He is enjoying his school, as well as the others. French comes hard as yet, but our children have had none, whereas the others have had lessons in French from their parents. Kenny asked yesterday what is meant by, “qu’est ce que c’est ce la?” And they all know sit down and stand up, etc. Our boys need improving in writing, too. The children here do beautiful work, and the school is very strict about blots, etc. They write with pens in Grade 2. Last week we had to make two gymnastic costumes and now comes a note for the four kindergarteners asking for Noel costumes, 2 shirts and two “jupes” (skirts) in horizontal green stripes. Whatever can these represent? Their copybooks must be signed weekly as well as their report books. You should see Hector pouring over the dozens of lessons. The number for Excellent is 10, and each week they get a report for 4 items, I can’t just remember, Ordre, Application, Conduit-savoir vite, and the 4th I can’t think of. Last week Kenny got 10 in three of them. The kindergartners have a card with four squares and if all goes well a red line is in all four, for ‘tres bien’ (very good). Alas, John got one blue mark last week, for Propre (that’s the 4th I couldn’t think of!), so I guess he must be messy and not tidy. Maybe I can slick him up a little!

Enough of the school affairs. I sang with a quartet on the radio last week, Prostestant Chorale it was called. And I have a “date” today with an English lady married to a Greek hotel-keeper, for a walk and a bit of fellowship. There are many white people here who are lonely we have found. Perhaps we can “first give our own selves” and then point them to the Saviour. And last but not least of our opportunities is among the native population, a daily chat and Bible study on the front porch, with this one and that, house staff principally, and others who come in. There is time for this just after the children go off to school.

You would enjoy the balmy weather we’re having. It was 85 last evening until well into the night. In the heat of the day we find our excess pounds melting away. My dresses are already too loose. And Hector is a little flatter in profile! But all keep healthy. “Not a feeble one among them.” We have enjoyed so much reading from Hudson Taylor’s life. He says, “Let us see that in theory we hold that God is faithful; that in daily life we count upon it; and at all times and under all circumstances we are fully persuaded of this blessed truth.” “And they overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.”

All for now, Love,   Ione

There were many advantages to be living in the middle of Kisangani, but as Hector mentions in his letter to his sister, the house they were renting was not fit for purpose and was exceeding the budget allocated. It was only envisaged as a short-term prospect. I loved the house, being next to a bakery meant that daily we experienced the delightful smell of fresh bread being baked.

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