Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published May 14, 2003

One Hundred Spoons

We broke the School Board’s Human Resource Committee record. I’ve attended meetings before that only lasted five minutes. On Monday we met for an hour and forty-five minutes. Most of that time we talked about hockey but, as an afterthought, we discussed the 70 or so teachers that we will be laying off. Such are our priorities these days.

Claudia and I have been preparing for company for the past month. Reverend Ntambue Kazadi and his wife Marie, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo , will stay with us for one week. They arrived on Monday morning their tropical systems still in shock from our region’s cold spring weather. I felt some anxiety at leaving them alone to chair the HR Committee meeting but they are used to hardship and being alone in a Minnesota home for few hours was probably not the worst problem they’ve had to face.

Ntambue is a modest, soft-spoken man whose manor belies the name he received from his Grandfather. It means “lion” in Chiluba, which is one of the four native national languages of the Congo . There are 400 other languages besides. When I asked how one communicates as one travels cross country Ntambue told me that most people can speak a bit of many languages so that there is order to the Babel. Besides, for those families who have scraped together the ten dollars a year it takes to educate their children (about 40% of the population can afford this) their children learn the fifth national language, French.

The Congo ’s infrastructure is in poor repair. The Belgians left in a hurry in 1960 resentful that the Congolese wanted to rule themselves. The colonials handed over the keys to the infant nation to a handful of twenty-year-old Congolese who had been studying in Belgium . In effect they told them: if you want to run your own country be our guest.

Not surprisingly, the Congo was one of the early hot spots which the young United Nations attempted to calm down after war broke out.  When war was finally brought to an end by a fellow named Mobutu, under the force of arms, he continued to rule by force. He also helped coin a new word for his kind of government - “kleptocracy.” This is a nation in which everything, not properly nailed down, is stolen. After 32 years of misrule an ailing Mobutu fled to France after hiding tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of Congolese dollars in Swiss banks.

An entire nation’s infrastructure, left over from colonial rule, had been allowed to crumble away. The world’s richest source of raw materials and minerals is mired today in warfare compounded by malnutrition, mis-education, disease (particularly AIDS), as well as orphans who are dragooned into local militias, the leaders of which dream of following Mobutu’s example of becoming President by force of arms.

Twenty-five years ago a young lion, Ntambue, left his home in central Congo in hopes of earning a law degree from the Congo ’s premier university in the capitol city of Kinshasa . After a year, in which he failed to gain admittance, his father, a village merchant, advised him to heed a dream he’d once had. In the dream God had commanded him to do the Lord’s work. Ntambue returned home and began attending the local Presbyterian seminary. After his ordination he went to a larger metropolis in diamond rich Mbuji-Mayi and served the church for 18 years. Somehow his talents brought him to the attention of the Presbyterian Church in the United States which awarded him a scholarship to study here. He has now returned to the US to defend the thesis for his Doctoral degree. It concerns the tens of thousands of Congolese street children and how the Church can care for them.

He will soon leave Duluth to defend his thesis in San Francisco . He shrugged off a question about nerves by pointing out that he, not his teachers, is the expert on the Congo . He has also brought a simple proposal with him, one which should appeal to Americans who believe in “faith based initiatives.”

The Presbyterian University/Seminary of the Congo enrolls 150 students. Upon completion of their degree they return to the 800 Presbyterian congregations and 2 million Congolese Presbyterians. They minister to people who have no work. They run the six best hospitals in the center of the nation. They oversee 300 elementary and 200 secondary schools while offering lower tuition than that charged by the state. They, along with the Mennonites, Disciples of Christ, Baptists, Methodists and Catholics are the hope of a keptocratic nation.

Ntambue’s school is bereft of the creature comforts. He seeks 100 spoons at a cost of fifty cents apiece as well as 100 forks and 100 knives and 100 plates and 100 cups. He seeks 100 mattresses at $20 apiece for the bare rooms the students sleep in. He seeks 100 chairs for the empty dining hall so that the students no longer have to sit on the floor to eat. These students, sent to the Seminary by their local churches, are the hope of the Congo . Their work may someday allow the wealth of the Congo to return to its peoples.

Well, that’s enough uplift for me this morning. Hockey calls.

Anyone interested in buying a spoon for Rev. Kazadi’s University could make out a check to: UPRECO (Presbyterian University/Seminary of the Congo ) Acct # 31-9004-8884. and mail it to:

Dr. Mulumba M. Mukundi CPC/Kananga
President of the University Seminary
C/O Africa Office, Room 3216|
100 Witherspoon St .
Louisville , KY 40202-1396

Harry Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com

Pictures from the Congo

Postscript: Eileen Zeitz Hudelson, who has characterized my description of the May 1998 NJROTC flag presentation ceremony as a fabrication, did provide a copy of the video of the meeting. I had suggested that this video could make clear which of our quite different recollections about the meeting was more accurate. Unfortunately, the camera does not show Ms. Zeitz until after the Pledge of Allegiance and the conclusion of the flag ceremony. She was, however, clearly in her seat immediately after the removal of the flag. Whether she was out of her seat during the Pledge can not answered by the tape.