Congo Reflections Part 1

You may need Google Earth handy…

Charles Buller, my former pastor, now with Africa Inter Mennonite Missions (AIMM) asked me to go to Kinshasa with him in August. Or September. Maybe October. “I can’t do November,” I said. The idea is to do some very basic coach training for Congolese Mennonite pastors.

I began reflecting on Congo (formerly Zaire) seriously when I went to hear Charles talk about his last trip to Congo, when he and a Congolese pastor rode motorcycles 1000 km from Tshikapa on the Kasai River, through Kikwit and back to Kinshasa. Do you have any idea how dangerous this was? Charles went thousands of miles from decent medical care, and no such thing as a med-evac even if anybody knows where you are, if you wreck, which they don’t. Charles talked about frequent incidents of getting lost like he made a wrong turn going to Kroger’s for some avocados. (But he did get some avocados.)

When I left Zaire in 1988 I thought “I may never see this place again.” Now the opportunity presents itself, I have to ask this question first: “Am I really needed?” Charles says yes, so I am in. And second, “If I got the chance, would I also take a motorcycle trip through the bush?” I say no.

What does a leadership coach trainer have of value to take to the slums of Kinshasa? If I had kept up with my nursing career (LPN from 1994 to 1996) I might be able to bandage wounds, give some shots, save some lives. But if Congo needs anything, long-term, it is leadership. Coaching is a key to options. Options are a key to infrastructure and an economic middle-class. An empowered middle class is a key to balanced leadership. Leadership is a key to the sustainable liberty of a people. And if anyone needs liberty:

King Leopold II’s personal exploitation project (and by extension, all Belgians, and everyone who used rubber tyres in the early days of automobiles) pillaged Congo for somewhere around 80 years from the 1880s to the 1960s. One of my literary heroes, Mark Twain, spoke out against it in his pamphlet “King Leopold’s Soliloquy”, a piece of political satire that set the stage for American comics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. This pocket-lining set the example for Mobutu, Congo’s .

Maybe you’ve heard of Leopold, and Mobutu. But do you know the name Patrice Lumumba? Lumumba was (perhaps) Congo’s greatest hope for quality leadership. I won’t say that power wouldn’t or couldn’t have corrupted him, but it’s hard to say when the CIA makes you poisoned toothpaste. It appears that Larry Devlin, the CIA operative in Kinshasa at the time stalled. Perhaps he knew that Lumumba’s days were numbered. Lumumba, an African for Africa, was dangerous. It is said that when the USA ignored his pleas for help, he went to the USSR. He didn’t really care who helped him: he cared about Congo.

Lumumba met his end by firing squad in Katanga, that ever-dangerous provincial center of raw wealth in the southeast.

In my boyhood, I visited Lumumba’s birthplace with my brother. We went by bicycles because it wasn’t more than 6 or 8 miles from where we lived. I cannot find it on Google Earth: Onalua, near Wembo Nyama, in Katako-Kombe province. In today’s ultra-connected world, Onalua is still the middle of nowhere. It’s like it doesn’t exist. I doubt very much whether more than a dozen living Americans have been there. After all, Charles recently went through villages where they haven’t seen an American missionary for two decades.

–To be continued June 9.


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The author lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife and four children. He is self-employed as a leadership coach working with business executives, writers and other artists, and spiritual leaders. His clients enjoy business growth, increased vision and purpose, work/family lifestyle balance, and freedom from writer’s block.

2 thoughts on “Congo Reflections Part 1”

  1. Pops here. How about posting on FB a photo with one of those self made posters to try to get viral: “How many Americans have been to the birth-place of Patrice Lumumba in Onalua, Eastern Kasai, DR Congo?” (I was there 1987)


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