When he left home in 1950, Clement “Bud” Kroeker ’56, M.A. ’58 had two goals: receive training as a printer and publisher, and return soon to his home in the former Belgian Congo. “That was my place to be. Those were my people,” he says.
The son of pioneer missionaries, Bud recalls biking alone as a boy through Africa’s huge open spaces, with his dog a few hills away giving chase to small animals. Not surprisingly, when he left the country to study in the United States, he remembers feeling “fenced in.” He studied writing and biblical literature at Wheaton, where he also met and married Charlotte Woollett Kroeker ’58.
The couple moved to Belgium in 1959 with hopes of returning to Congo from there. Political upheaval, however, thwarted their plans. Instead, they started a publishing house in Belgium, Editeurs de Littérature Biblique, now called BLF, Bibles and Literature in French.
“We discovered that from Belgium we could reach further into the world with literature than if we were in Africa,” Bud says. Since there was very little Christian publishing in Europe at that time, the French New Testaments, tracts, and Christian books they published were welcomed in more than 40 countries of the French-speaking world. “The reaction was contagious and Christians, when they had quality literature to offer, began losing their fear of being ridiculed,” says Char, who majored in Christian education at Wheaton. With Char’s training, BLF also translated, edited, and illustrated Sunday school materials.
In 1998, Bud and Char retired from publishing work and set out for Congo, but were again blocked from entering due to another erupting war. Finally in 2006, Bud seized the opportunity to return to Congo as an elections observer, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he could return to the Kikwit region where he grew up. “I found an active church, but people lived in misery and extreme poverty,” Bud says.
After establishing connections with church leaders and several of the original missions in the area, Bud helped found Congo Open Heart with the goal of rebuilding missions in the area and encouraging local groups to work together. The organization’s needs are basic, such as a scale to weigh babies, a medicine fridge for the health center “that would not qualify for that name anywhere else,” and funds to help pay for a truck for transport and shipping. The couple prays that through Congo Open Heart, local pastors and schoolteachers will step up to leadership roles in the difficult work of rebuilding.
Bud visits Congo regularly, where now in his homeland the people call him Tata Kikesa—which translated is Daddy Courage.