Michael's Dispatches



Boomslangphoto-6-1000Austin Prince, about 12 years, with cobra

12 March 2012

Under my dispatch from Bangladesh: Tigers, Crocodiles, Korans and Superstitions was this comment:


We have friends who are missionaries in the Congo. So far this year, they've killed 72 Cobras in their home. The wife told me; "It's beginning to get a little unnerving."

James F. McClellan

And so I called Mr. McClellan’s friends, Brandt and Pamela Prince down in Congo.  Actually, they are not in Congo but the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a huge country in Central Africa.  DRC is about the size of the US east of the Mississippi.


Confusion often surrounds the name “Congo”: the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo are neighboring countries, partially separated by the gigantic Congo River.


DRC was a battleground in the deadliest war since WWII.  Most people don’t seem to know that the Second Congo War happened, but it did and in a big way.  The “African World War” kicked off in 1998.  It’s estimated 5.4 million people died.

The Congos, both of them, have long been a destination for missionaries.  Enter Brandt and Pamela from Arkansas who are in the depths of Africa today.  Pamela and I talked over the phone and she said they’ve spent 19 years in Africa.  Nine of those years were in Tanzania and the other decade in DRC.  The DR Congo period was interrupted by the war when things became too dangerous, and their son nearly died of malaria.  And so after seven years they left DRC and the war ravaged Africa.

All war is savage.  The Second Congo War was also bizarre by western standards.  Some fighters thought that Pygmies have magical powers and so were chasing down Pygmies and eating them.

DR Congo pygmies appeal to UN

Church leaders and residents have accused Lendu militiamen of killing civilians, cutting open their chests, removing hearts, lungs and livers, and eating them.

UN investigation

Father Joseph Deneckere, a Belgian priest who has lived in the DR Congo since 1970, said that traditional superstitious beliefs, entrenched hatreds and attempts to settle old scores lay behind the atrocities, the Associated Press news agency reported.

"Some of the victims had their sexual organs missing after tribal fighters cut them off to use as charms," he said.

Tribal fighters had also been seen wandering around the bush with human organs "draped from their weapons".

UN officials have opened a formal investigation into the allegations.

The Pygmies asked that the UN help to set up a cannibal court.

After the war, the Prince family returned and found a dilapidated home to move into.   It was completely overgrown, and the driveway was claimed by six-foot-tall grass.

And so the first job was to extract the home from the jungle.  After months of hard work they had a livable abode with no electricity.  They installed a generator for occasions, but with gasoline at more than $8 gallon, they don’t run it much.

Now, three years after their return, Pam said they had found and killed 74 snakes in their home and yard.  Two were boomslangs, which are venomous, and 72 are cobras.  Which of course are cobras.  The thing about cobras is that they are hard workers who dedicate every day to maintaining their name brand.

About half the snakes were inside the house and the others in the yard or just around the house.  The biggest cobra was about six feet long.  Most are babies and often are found in boxes in the home (a major way that people are killed in India).  Brandt once reached into a box and a small cobra dashed up his arm and across his chest to the floor and he screamed so loud that Pam came running.  Pam laughed over the phone that what most concerned Brandt was not the cobra but that he screamed like a woman.  (Worse things have happened!)

Pam says that the Congolese are extremely friendly and spiritually hungry, and they have their own ideas about why the house has so many cobras.  They believe that atrocities committed during the war have left the home cursed.

Pam says that it’s starting to get a little unnerving, though I’d say by any reasonable standard her family has nerves of steel.  She brought a vial of anti-venom but it needs refrigeration, and the vial must be kept at the home of a neighbor who has constant current.  She also said the anti-venom is getting a little cloudy, indicating it might be getting old.

By the time we talked, the family had found 74 snakes and counting, and nobody killed or even bitten.  The Congolese are beginning to think that the house is cursed but that the Prince family is blessed.

As for the Princes, their work takes them elsewhere, so they will soon move over to Zambia and begin a new era.

[Before this went public, Pam emailed that they found the 75th snake; cobra #73.]

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    TheOldMan · 9 years ago
    Stories like this tell me that these areas will never become civilized as the West defines it. I don't see a way to eradicate historically entrenched hatreds. Education will not do it. We (USA) had a civil war that killed -4% of our population but it was primarily economically driven. When it was over, it was over and the country moved on (okay not so well for Southern blacks, that took longer).
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Julia · 9 years ago
      Why do they have to become "civilized as the West defines it?" We have one way of living that is culturally acceptable and they have another. Personally, I think America has lost what it means to be human--having facebook wars that tear at the hearts of people rather than real wars. I'm not saying I support war, but I think we forget that we are human sometimes.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike Barnett · 9 years ago
    And conversely, I can find hope for the human condition simply by knowing there are brave souls who fight for others, not in a military uniform, but a civilian one. These missionaries strongly believe in what they are doing, and they are selfless about the task. It's a long dangerous road, but I believe that, given enough time, the differences CAN be noticed. And I certainly think it's unfair to proclaim an entire population, ethnicity, or race uncivilised simply because they don't live to your approval. There are many difficult and dangerous places in the world, but in each and every one, you will find humans yearning to be free. Only when no others go and attempt to help them gain what they desire will my hope for mankind be lost.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 9 years ago
    This is awesome Michael, thanks for posting. As someone who's taken a number of mission trips overseas, I really appreciate you talking about this family and what their life if like over there.

    It reminds me of when the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Patmos and a snake bit him and clung to his hand while he was gathering fire wood. The locals were certain that he was a wicked person until he didn't die, and then they thought He was righteous because God spared him.

    It's also powerful because the people of Congo know that the crazy amount of serpents is likely to be God's judgment, which is interesting because wild animals overtaking the land is a specific curse in the Old Testament. This also explains why the snakes have not harmed the missionary family.

    Very cool article, thanks again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert · 9 years ago
    Certainly a blessed and dedicated family. Equatorial jungles may never be tamed, but the locals can learn to live together in peace. Living in the wilderness as a team is always better than as individuals. I would have gotten a pet mongoose a long time ago.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hercdriver · 9 years ago
    I follow things Africa because I worked there for years, flying relief for the ICRC, UNWFP and UNOSOM, and Caritas. The DRC, particularly the eastern portion, is one of the world's most deadly, anarchic places. Anyone who risks their lives on the ground in the DRC is acting well above and beyond the call of duty. Rape is accepted as normal behavior. Child soldiers, murderous beyond belief, are common. Daily horror is the norm. Anyone who goes there who doesn't have to has my undying respect.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Linda McMillan · 9 years ago
    :lol: I have very fond memories of Brandt being in my home in Arkansas and in Bible college with our daughters. His gentle spirit and love for the Lord was evident. I couldn't help but laugh when I heard of his concern over his screaming like a girl. That's such a manly attitude! And so funny! I'll never forget what he told me one time when I asked if he wasn't afraid to be in the jungle with his family. He told me of a time when on furlough, pushing a stroller through a city street in Italy I believe it was and he was almost run over. He said as long as he was where God wanted him, he didn't have to worry about his safety. Good word that! I pray for Pam and Brandt and those kids. God be with you all!

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