Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Returning to Kapanga

Missionary daughters return to DR Congo to revisit their parents’ ministries

By Dorothy Loving and Christie R. House

In June 2018, three missionary daughters from different families traveled to Kapanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where their parents had served as doctors, nurses, teachers, mechanics, pilots and engineers beginning in the 1940s. Working with Bishop Kasap Owan Tshibang of the South Congo Episcopal Area and Rukang Chikomb, a missionary pilot, Dorothy Loving, Nancy Riley and Cathy Strate coordinated a campaign in the U.S. to collect medical supplies for Samuteb Hospital in Kapanga, as well as clothing, books and shoes.

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Dr. Arthur Piper, Maude Garrett Piper, Ruth and Margaret in the 1920s. The Pipers served in the Congo region of Africa for 40 years as missionaries. After receiving a nursing degree in the U.S., Ruth returned to work in the hospital her father built in Kapanga. PHOTO: GCAH MISSION ALBUMS PORTRAITS #4, P. 253.

Dorothy “Dottie” Hardee Loving is the third generation of her family to feel the pull of the Congo on her heart. Her grandparents, Dr. Arthur and Maude (Garrett) Piper, were among the first Methodist missionaries to work in Kapanga in the 1910s, John Springer’s early recruits to the Congo mission. The Pipers arrived in 1914, and Piper began medical work and built the first clinic and hospital there. The Piper daughters, Ruth and Margaret, were born in the DRC. Dottie is the daughter of Ruth Piper, who studied for her nursing degree in the U.S. and then returned to Kapanga to start medical work. She met Dr. Howard Hardee in Belgium while they were studying tropical medicine. They both ended up with missionary assignments in Kapanga, where they married in 1953. They continued the work of Piper Hospital, which later became Samuteb Hospital. Dottie was born in the U.S. after her parents returned. She and her husband raised a family, and she worked for the American Cancer Society.

Cathy Strate is the daughter of Harry and Phyllis Little. Harry was commissioned to direct the rebuilding of Samuteb Hospital in the 1950s. Phyllis was the assistant director of hospital construction and industrial work. Harry Little accomplished many engineering feats in the remote Kapanga village, including the water tower and the airplane runway, which Cathy said touched her deeply when she saw it come into view on the approach to Kapanga. After returning to the U.S., Harry Little eventually went to work for the National Space and Aeronautics Administration, and Phyllis was on staff at the Bradenton Herald. Cathy Strate has been a high school English teacher for 32 years and coaches the speech, debate and academic teams. She’s active with various ministries in her church in Florida.

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Everett Woodcock in his “portable office” in the back of a truck visiting a mission station in Kabannie District, Congo, 1951. The Woodcocks were missionaries in the Congo for 40 years. Nancy Riley says she still has her father’s desk. PHOTO: GCAH MISSION ALBUMS AFRICA #16, p. 175

Nancy Woodcock Riley is the daughter of Everett and Vera Woodcock. The Woodcocks continued in missionary service in the Congo for 40 years. “My father worked with the Littles as hospital business manager for a time while in Kapanga,” Nancy said. “He also had other responsibilities with the pastors in the area. The last half of their career, dad was the bush pilot for Wings of the Morning. He was Rukang's inspiration as a young boy to become a pilot.” Her mother's influence as a teacher and her work with the Congolese women and girls inspired Nancy, who lived in the DRC with her family, to become a high school teacher in LaGrange, Indiana. “In my retirement, I now focus on a ministry called Women and Girls Alive, which brings mature women from our community churches together with women in recovery to heal, be transformed and grow in maturity by learning to engage with God and each other using the brain skills that build a joyful community,” she noted.

Rukang Chikomb grew up in the Kapanga area and was, indeed, inspired at a young age to become a missionary pilot. The Woodcocks encouraged him. “Growing up …, I helped the missionary pilots unload the airplanes and watched them load the sick patients,” Rukang commented. “We kids prayed for the patients beside the plane.”
Dottie Loving has provided the following story of their 2018 trip, returning to Kapanga.

Missionary Wings of the Morning pilot Rukang Chikomb with Cathy Strate. PHOTO: COURTESY CATHY STRATE

Reflections on Kapanga

One of the most memorable moments of the trip for me was our tour of Samuteb Memorial Hospital, especially the operating room. When my grandfather, Dr. Arthur L. Piper, began the hospital in 1915, he performed surgery by the light of a kerosene lantern. When he returned to Kapanga after the reconstruction in the 1950s, he cried tears of joy upon seeing the modern operating room. On our tour, the staff mentioned that the operating room lights no longer work – how sad Grandpa would be – so one of my missions upon returning to the U.S. has been to try and locate new light bulbs to fit the old fixtures, hoping that will bring them back to life. Today the hospital again has many such needs.

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4 Samuteb Sign: Visiting missionary daughters with the medical staff of Samuteb Hospital, June 2018. Left to right: Nancy Woodcock Riley, Dr. Mutomb Kapend, Cathy Little Strate, Dr. Yamba Katanga, Dr. Zamuda Mema, Dr. Chimwang Kaumb Faby, Dorothy Hardee (Piper) Loving. PHOTO: COURTESY NANCY RILEY

On a bright note, the people of Kapanga were warm and welcoming. Upon arriving, we were greeted by pastors, government officials, hospital staff, a band, two dance groups, Boy and Girl Scouts and about 1,000 people. Our welcome was emotional and almost overwhelming.

The memorial service for our parents and my grandparents was another emotional experience. They had died after retirement in the U.S., but the people of Kapanga wanted to remember them, and we brought some of their ashes. Three things were most memorable for me. First, there were the small, beautiful handmade wooden coffins, painted white with black trim and a Methodist insignia, for the ashes of my mother, Ruth Barton Piper Hardee, and Harry Little. Pastors carried them, along with photos, into the church where my parents were married. Second most memorable was Bishop Kasap’s sermon about how each of us should leave a legacy for those that come after us just like the missionaries in Kapanga. Thirdly was the burial, a short graveside service in a small cemetery across from the hospital – a perfect location for Mom.

Our visit to Piper Falls was unforgettable. I was overcome with joy when I saw the ruins of the cottage Grandpa and Grandma had built. The fireplace and some of the walls are still standing. It overlooks a lovely valley, and I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been when Grandpa discovered the spot many years ago when the trees were much smaller. The falls themselves were a little underwhelming – their beauty somewhat destroyed by the electric company, but I know it benefits many, including the hospital. And the visit fulfilled my dream of taking Mom’s ashes back to where she spent her honeymoon.

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Missionary Wings of the Morning pilot Rukang Chikomb with Cathy Strate. PHOTO: COURTESY CATHY STRATE

Rukang Chikomb was the perfect host. He is such an asset to Congo – a kind and caring man working to fulfill everything we wanted to do on our visit. I know he spent many hours and much effort planning our visit, and I will be forever grateful. My only wish is that he had a larger plane. Because of weight constraints, we were not able to take all of the medical supplies with us to Kapanga. Some would have to wait for Rukang on another trip. We worked especially hard to obtain all the items on the hospital wish list, and we were hoping to see the expressions on the hospital staff’s faces when we presented them with everything, but we were only able to take a few items. The language was a barrier, but I could tell by expressions and mannerisms that they were very grateful.

All in all, our trip will never be forgotten by Cathy, Nancy, myself or the people of Kapanga! It was truly a trip of a lifetime and God’s plan.

NOTE: Dottie Loving found the light bulbs needed to fit the old fixtures at Samuteb Hospital, and Nancy Riley reports the lights are working again!

*Dorothy Loving received a love of travel from her traveling parents. For the past eight years, she has worked as a flight attendant, and she loves it. Christie House is the senior writer/editor for Global Ministries.

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Samuteb Hospital in Kapanga, DRC

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