During our stay in Dingila we are setting up a VSAT Internet system for MSF (Doctors Without Borders). MSF is working in the area to help victims of sleeping sickness and establish an emergency hospital. Sleeping sickness is a disease spread by the bite of the tsetse fly. The early symptoms include fever, itching, and swelling. As the disease progresses it has neurological effects which disrupt an infected person’s sleep cycle and cause confusion and a loss of coordination. There is no vaccine for the disease, but MSF is able to treat the disease by giving victims spinal injections. Without the treatment the many people–mostly women and children–would die. I feel privileged that we can partner with their team and increase their effectiveness by providing providing better communications opportunities through the Internet.
We get to work installing the VSAT. Before we had arrived, MSF had installed a six-inch galvanized steel pipe which would serve as the mast for mounting the dish. It sticks six feet out of the ground and has been cemented into place. Solo begins assembling the mount while I lay out and begin connecting the two large sections of the dish. Several of MSF’s Congolese workers help us, and a few more continue work on the trench for the coax cable and hole for the grounding rod. It’s great to see the Congolese workers making this project theirs in a way.
The two large half circles that form the dish are bolted together at the seams with several pieces of hardware. Tightening them partially at first, we then lift the white plastic 2.4-meter dish up on end to check the seams for proper alignment. When everything looks good we torque the nuts down against the lock washers and attach the mounting bolts needed to secure the dish to the frame. It takes several people to lift the large dish into it’s place, and it is secured with still more bolts. We will check every single one of these once the installation is complete. When aiming a small dish at a satellite in space the smallest movements can cause drops in the signal, so we want everything as stationary as possible.
The next day we install the various electronic components that will turn this plastic and metal structure into a gateway to the information superhighway. I mount the transmitter and receiver on the feed horn, carefully applying silicone to gaskets and checking bolts for tension. When I’m finished, the whole thing looks like a weapon prop from a sci-fi movie, and we mount it to the dish.
I pull out my cell phone and use a digital compass application to find the proper azimuth. After a small horizontal adjustment I use an inclinometer, an electronic device which measures angle of tilt, to make vertical adjustments for the proper elevation. Now that we have a ballpark position for our dish we connect the receive cable to the dish and satellite modem and use a computer program to measure reception signal strength and make finer adjustments. After several minutes of minute adjustments when we’re happy with the alignment of our dish lock it in place and connect the transmission cable. We restart the modem, and voila, Internet access in the middle of the jungle! Though I understand the science of what is happening, satellite communication (and I suppose Internet communication in general) still manages to amaze me.
While in DIngila we also got to spend quite a bit of time interacting with MSF staff. One evening we went to the compound of another NGO (non-government organization) called Solidarities International. Their organization was celebrating it’s 30th birthday. We enjoyed food and drinks while the music played and the camp fire burned. On other evenings we enjoyed grilled antelope kabobs or pizza baked outside in a brick oven. On a couple of evenings we played volleyball with MSF staff, Solidarities staff, and locals on a dirt court in town.
These activities were a lot of fun, and it allowed Solo and I to build relationships with the people we were working with. MAF as an organization was kind of unique to them. Some people gave us funny looks when we explained that it was a Christian missionary organization. I think to many of them the term “missionary” had connotations of traveling preachers or monks setting up monasteries in the jungle. The MSF and Solidarities staff had a lot of good questions for us, and both Solo and I were able to share our faith on a couple of occasions.
It was in Dingila that I realized that there are really two mission fields here in Congo–the local people, and the many expatriates who come here to serve with various NGOs. Before I left on this short trip I was worried about language and culture barriers and whether I’d truly be effective for Christ. I’m glad to see that God still gave me opportunities to share and serve him.
Thank you to all our ministry partners who give financially and pray for us! Without your support, opportunities like this would not be possible, and I hope you are blessed to see what God is doing in Congo through your gifts.