BREAKING NEWS: Clement Kroeker in Congo

A Personal account

The following is a condensation of Kroeker’s personal letters written to family  and close friends chronicling his role as an invited observer for the momentous event of DR Congo’s 2011 election. This is actually a repeat performance as he served in the same capacity in the elections of 2006.

Introductory note: For the benefit of comprehension I, Joanne Kroeker Mahar—Bud’s sister— will be inserting explanatory annotations in parentheses to facilitate comprehension. Also please note that Clement is known, to most of his close English-speaking friends, as “Bud” so the two names might be, at times, used interchangeably. See “Shiny Shoes on Dusty Paths.”

October 28, 2011

Dear friends,

Here I am in Kinshasa (Capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo). The trip Thursday went well, but is all but forgotten because so much has happened since.

Kinshasa capital of DR Congo

The flight was scheduled to go beyond Kinshasa and first land at Luanda, Angola to let off passengers, then return to Kinshasa. But about 2 hours before landing at Luanda, the pilot announces that due to re-routing, he will go directly to Kinshasa. So we land at 6:30 instead of 8:30. I think my friends would surely not be there yet, so I telephoned Erik Kumedisa (Bud’s close friend and collaborator in the capital) upon landing. But he answers that he is already there waiting at the airport. Traffic going to the airport is so difficult, that people take every precaution to arrive in time.

I leave the airplane and feel the evening heat, and realize again that life runs on a slower pace here in Africa. It is 9 p.m. by the time I have my bags, and it takes another hour to drive into the city. I meet Pastor Milenge, my host, and he invites us for dinner; Erik Kumedisa brings me a modem to connect up to internet. Before leaving, Pastor Milenge explains that he will come get me the next morning at 6 a.m. for the meetings of the day. I am tired and forget to change my watch—a nuisance since Kinshasa is an hour before Brussels.

Friday, day of meetings

Kenyan Delegation: Left Madame Mbari; Third, Ambassador of Kenya; Fifth Milenge Mwenelwata; on right Serge Lombo

I get up at 5 a.m. (but it is really 4 a.m.) So I end up waiting outside. The first meeting is at a big Hotel with the Kenyan delegation who is offering to send observers for the elections. (Bud had originally planned to return to Congo this fall on a third “Open Heart” effort to assist the Congolese Christians in the area where he had lived as a child and teenager. Meanwhile he received the invitation to serve as an observer for the elections.)

A Madame Mbare Canon is the person in charge of the Commission for Peace, Healing and Reconciliation of CETA, the Conference of African Churches. We have a good conversation with this African woman who is herself a reflection of the very thing she seeks to promote: peace and gentleness. She introduces us to the Kenyan Ambassador to the Congo, a fine intelligent man who speaks fluent English, French, and five other languages, as do many other Africans. The hotel serves us a breakfast but I barely eat anything as I’m busy taking notes and talking with these people.

From there we return to the city and the office of the ECC or Eglise du Christ au Congo, the federation of Protestant Churches. I will be working with them for the elections this month. Pastor Milenge, who is vice president, shows me a small office next to his where I can work – a table, an old chair and a computer that no longer works.

Discussion with MCC

Before 8 a.m., we have a meeting with the MCC, Mennonite Central Committee, a humanitarian organization that represents all of the Mennonite Church’s Social endeavors to seek peace. In 2006, they were able to find the funds to finance the observers and around forty came from Canada and America. This time they don’t have available funds, due to the financial crisis. The problem this year is the lack of participation. For the first free elections in 2006 there was a great deal of interest, but this year it’s more, «Do the best you can by yourselves» the words we hear. I met two men who represent the MCC, Tim Lind, whose wife Suzanne is in charge for the Congo, and Mark Sprunger, the director for all of Africa. He is from the same family of former missionaries who lived on a neighboring mission station to our family back in the 40’s, who were our good friends.

There are certain problems to solve, such as the Carter Foundation who will be sending observers, but who feel that the elections will have to be at a later date because the country isn’t ready… There are 18,386 candidates for the House of Parliament which has 500 seats to fill. And there are ten candidates for the presidency. I will be contacting the office of the MCC for working out the details. Pastor Milenge announced that I would be responsible for coordinating the program of all the observers, as well as in charge of the communications. Another problem is the material, urns, ballots, etc. The printing presses in South Africa are printing this material and the MONUSCO promises to distribute it throughout the country if they receive it in time. There are 4 weeks left.

Protestant Women’s gathering

5000 Protestant women in the Protestant Centennial Cathedral of Kinshasa

We leave the ECC office just in time to be at the Protestant Centennial Cathedral in Kinshasa when the women march in. They have marched across the city in a parade, ending up here for a whole day of meetings. They are all dressed in traditional yellow print cloth, symbolizing the Protestant Women’s action throughout the country. This cloth is printed with the text: Muklistu adjali mwinda, or «Christians holding forth the light». It’s very impressive to see this huge building that seats 20,000 people as the women enter. There are around 5000 women, and the meetings last several hours. The Minister of Family Affairs is a Protestant lady, and she speaks first and then the wife of Congolese president Kabila, Madame Olive Lembe Kabila, speaks. Then the president of the ECC, Marini Bodho gives a speech.

It is hard to stay awake after five chorales and many dances. I am very tired and ask the chauffeur to take me back to my room. The traffic is so dense, however, that it takes us a long time to drive that distance, so I end up having only a half hour to rest. By then it’s time to leave for another meeting.


Meeting with Religious leaders

The last meeting of the day is with the various other religious leaders all assembled for discussions, Catholics, Muslims, Salvation Army, Protestants (ECC) Kimbangistes, and the Political Affairs Representatives, Political people from the MONUSCO, and Professor Achi Atsain of Ivory Coast. They are all preoccupied with the problem of violence during the elections campaign.

The political parties have all signed a document agreeing to stick to good conduct, but it is very difficult for those campaigning to not resort to language that provokes anger. We are especially concerned for the actions of the street kids. These young people, (shégués or pomba) are orphans run out of their homes, kicked out by their families, who end up living in the streets. They are happy to receive $10 to wear a new T shirt and cap and a banner to wave advertising some political party. They can easily tear off the posters put up and take out revenge on a society that has mostly abandoned them. It will take some special effort to try to persuade them not to take out their anger in this way, and to encourage the politicians to refrain from soliciting these street kids.

After this last meeting I am taken back to my guest house where Erik Kumedisa of Congo Open Heart is waiting to help me get connections for my cell phone and discuss other things. The cook brings me a large plate of rice and pork with gravy that I am happy to share with Erik.

Start of the Electoral Campaign

Friday, October 28 is officially the beginning of the political campaign in Congo. Everyone is amazed to see the thousands of posters and banners flying that appear from nowhere during the night. It is very interesting to see the slogans, promises and various ways of saying what they are promoting. All day there are traffic jams because of spontaneous processions, bands, marching with flags, noise and whistling. More than 17,000 candidates will be disappointed after the elections when they don’t win, but at least they will have participated, and that’s the important thing to them.

Saturday, October 29

At 4 a.m. this morning a tropical rain pours down on the city and continues to escalate. It is difficult to describe such a torrent of water dumping larger drops of water than anything you have ever seen. Everything comes to a stop in the city and some neighborhoods are being flooded. Pastor Milenge wants to take me to a meeting but it is cancelled because of the rain.

We try to go to a store, but we waste hours in the bottlenecks because of all the road-working going on by the Chinese. After the rain it seems that everyone is out moving about and intensifying the congestion still more. We finally arrive at the Baptist welcoming center where I will probably be staying after tomorrow when there will be a free room available. But we take time to do a little sight seeing and visit the very first Protestant chapel built in Léopoldville (Kinshasa) down by the river, a very beautiful spot. It was built in 1891 by missionary Aaron Sims for the Baptist Foreign Mission Society. There is also the tomb of Fritz Gleichman who died in 1893—like many others back then—after only three years of working in the Congo.

Meeting with Deolo Tonga

In the evening I have the privilege of meeting a young pastor who came from the province of the Equator in the north of the Congo. He studied at the Bible Institute in Bangui, Central Republic of Africa, where Charlotte (Bud’s wife) and I visited in 1998. This man, Deolo Tonga, and I were both thrilled to find out that he was the one in charge of the Sunday School material that we sent out in a container four years ago to his mission in northern Congo (Covenant Church USA had ordered it) He asks me if I can come some time to visit the mission but I say it will not be possible due to time and funds. `

But the next morning I go with him to his former church in the town of Messina on the outskirts of Kinshasa. The Congolese have built a beautiful building all by themselves and they have two services on Sunday morning in French and the other in Lingala. I will try to explain their church services another time. Their worship services  are as hard to describe as the tropical storms. One is deeply moved by their strong zeal, ardor, and spontaneity in their songs and prayers. Pastor Deolo preaches on the parable of the talents and explains how God distributes them according to each one’s capacities, and then asks for an account for what we’ve done with them. He ties the theme into the elections  by comparing it with those running for office who lack the necessary qualifications… and likens the reward to receiving a visa to a country beyond our wildest dreams.

Deolo is in charge of mobilizing observers for his province and he has signed up nearly 1000 people. There are 10 provinces or departments in the whole country of Congo. So there will be around 30,000 Protestant observers besides those sent from the various political parties or the Catholic church, plus the people working in the places where people come to  vote. A big undertaking. There will be 60,000 centers for voting throughout the country. We are waiting now for the lists.

Monday October 31

Thunder showers again this morning between 5 and 8 a.m. with lightning and thunder, the sky going wild. Out in front of my room and along the building a concrete sidewalk stretches out some 40 meters. I notice that, over time,  the raindrops falling from the roof have literally dug holes in the concrete. The internet is cut off. The humidity and heat last night were so high that I had to turn on the ventilator in order to sleep and, since the mosquitoes were attacking even more than usual, I decided it was time to use the mosquito net.

Thank you for your prayers and please continue to pray that God will lead and give wisdom, strength and His perfect rest throughout this month amidst the turbulence that abounds on all sides.

In Him,


Tropical storm: symbol of stormy times for the country


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