Norfolk missionary back in Congo after 30 years
Maureen Lee, a former Christian missionary, now in her 70s and living in Norfolk, says it was "a great thrill" to fly back to the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa recently, where she worked as a teacher, 30 years ago. Mike Wiltshire reports.
"Some of my former students are now grandparents," says Maureen, who taught in the French-speaking nation for 12 years and was known to them as Mademoiselle Lee. Some students who learned English, called her 'Miss Lee' - a term so popular that one young couple affectionately named their baby daughter, 'Misslee'.
Armed with insect repellent - and bearing gifts - Maureen's action-packed two-month trip included ministry in Congolese prisons and broadcasting in French on radio and TV. Highlights of her journey included seeing the work of Christian evangelists who, with the help of 100 bicycles, have planted 300 village churches.
Today Maureen is an active member of Taverham Evangelical Church, and a trustee of CAM International (formerly the Central African Mission), founded exactly 100 years ago by UK Pentecostal pioneers, Willie Burton and James Salter.
Hundreds of missionaries followed them, and today there are thousands of Bible-believing churches in the DR Congo with "marvellous opportunities for the Gospel - many people are becoming Christians," says Maureen, who first felt God's call to the mission field at the age of 13.
However, many areas of the mineral-rich Congo struggle with unrest, widespread poverty, corruption and the fall-out of regional wars for many years. Literacy in some areas has gone backwards and many dedicated teachers are unpaid, just "working for love".
Historians estimate that by 2008, 5.4 million people were killed in the 'Second Congo War' - mostly by disease and starvation, making it the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War Two. Nevertheless, Christian outreach today is growing.
Maureen, who has long pastoral experience with the Assemblies of God, which has nearly 600 churches in the UK, agrees that her optimism and sense of humour has "carried her through" many challenges in Christian work at home and abroad. "But the joy of the Lord is our strength," says Maureen, with a smile - adding she "can't rule out yet another trip back to central Africa one day."
Pictured above is former missionary Maureen Lee and, top, Congolese pupils.