Tribute to a Friend

Newly married Thomas with wife Eyenga and sisters after lunching in their home June 1969
Newly married Thomas with wife Eyenga and sisters after lunching in their home June 1969

Before closing this marathon of blogging begun with my return to Congo in June, 2010, I want to pay tribute to a good man I sorely missed seeing on my return.  Rev. Thomas Bosai was the Director of the Youth Department to which I was assigned as a “Fraternal Worker” – now Global Mission Intern – in 1969. Without his trust and friendship so readily offered on my arrival, this blog writing would not have happened.

Back in the mid-1990’s Thomas wrote the last letter I was to receive from him.  He asked if I could help arrange for support of his son to continue his studies in medicine in the States.  Eric had nearly completed his course in medicine at the University in Lubumbashi by then.  In a time of job transition and divorce, co-parenting two primary school daughters, my response was feeble and discouraging.

Now standing out among my memories of the 2010 summer in Congo visit is lunch in the Mbandaka home of son Dr. Eric Bosai and

Dr. Eric, wife Nicole and children with Grandmother Eyenga Bekana
Dr. Eric, wife Nicole and children with Grandmother Eyenga Bekana

family where I was again able to greet Thomas’ widow, Eyenga Bekana.  Eric, now Director of the Disciples hospital/clinic at the old mission post of Monieka, cast no blame in his account of his father’s death.  In his mid 60’s, Thomas was making the long trip by pirogue from the Mbandaka 2003 Disciples’ biannual Asembly when he was hospitalized in Ikela following a severe stroke.  Just before his Eyenga, “Sunday” in English, would arrive from Opala, Thomas died.

Thomas had served the Disciples as a pastor in several settings after his term as Youth Department Director.  Opala, a remote extended village in Orientale Province, was one of the Disciples new posts when Thomas was sent as the “missionary” there. It was the first Disciples post in the province to the east of Equateur. Today there is a growing Disiples presence in Opala, with primary schools and congregations in outlying villages among the fruit of my friend Thomas’ labors.

Those are some of the facts of Thomas’ life but had I been able to give testimony on the occasion of his passing I would have thanked him for taking me under his wing like an older brother in 1969.  In a vastly different culture, with multiple reasons to suspect and distrust this young white man from the States, there was little Thomas did not share with me – about his past, his education in Kinshasa and his joy and hopes in marrying the beautiful, young Ekana. While it was I who had the title of “Counselor” to the Youth Department, Thomas’ earnest advice on maintaining a respected image as a young, single “mondele” male still rings in my ears though it was not entirely heeded.

Rev. Thomas Bosai next to M. Jean Lompala, r., first Ikengo Farm Director
Rev. Thomas Bosai next to M. Jean Lompala, r., first Ikengo Farm Director

Thomas’ propulsive energy and faith quickly persuaded me that the vision of a Disciples farm project at Ikengo would become reality.  I hope that if that Projet Agro-Pastoral d’Ikengo continues to expand, the roles of Disciples President Dr. Paul Elonda in shaping the vision and Rev. Thomas in carrying it out will some day be honored and celebrated by the Disciples Communaute in Congo.  In the meantime, Thomas, this blog’s for you!

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From Coffee to Corn to Palm Oil

For the rebirth of the Disciples' coffee plantation, Rev. Regine Boole, unloads supplies
For the rebirth of the Disciples' coffee plantation, Rev. Regine Boole, unloads supplies

Even the remote Tshuapa district of the Equateur Province is not immune to the effects of the pricing of agricultural products in the global economy.  In 1970 I visited the Disciples coffee plantation in the Bokungu area of the Tshuapa.  By the late 1990’s the plantation had been abandoned as coffee prices began their fall to unprecedented lows.  The restoration of Vietnamese coffee plantations after the Vietnam War contributed to an over supply of coffee and the drop in prices.  Farmers from Nicaragua to Congo couldn’t afford to grow coffee any longer.

Today, the need for increased food supplies and the leadership of a dynamic recently ordained woman minister have led to the recovery of the Disciples Bokungu plantation.  The only female theology graduate to serve a rural parish, Revde. Regine Boole, has helped the parish of Lotakemela organize a team of 15 workers to clear the overgrown fields and begin new plantings.  The team is assisted by Revde. Boole’s husband and plans an initial planting of 5 hectares of corn.

Profits from the sale of an estimated 5 tons of corn will, it is projected, enable purchase

The main boiler at the Wendji Secli Palm Oil Plantation abandoned in the 1970's
The main boiler at the Wendji Secli Palm Oil Plantation abandoned in the 1970's

of supplies for the cultivation of the remaining 20 hectares and rebirth of the initial project as a palm oil plantation.  Expanding use of palm oil as a fuel alternative to petroleum means this crop, so widely grown in Equateur in the past, now promises price increases and viable profits for visionary growers.

In addition to the Bokungu plantation, the post of Boyeka has already begun planting of palm trees for oil production.  As used palm oil can be processed for fuel, “oil palm planting and palm oil consumption

Housing at the Wendji Secli plantation occupied by former employees and/or descendants
Housing at the Wendji Secli plantation occupied by former employees and/or descendants

circumvents the food vs. fuel debate because it has the capacity to fulfill both demands simultaneously” in the words of Wikpedia.  It does not, however respond to the concern stemming from deforestation wrought by vast palm oil plantations as in Malaysia and Indonesia.  What the effects of the demand for palm oil will be on the Congolese rain forest remains to be seen.