Congo Mission Trumps Super Bowl

by Nicole Daniels

Roger Thorpe is certainly no stranger to the jet lag he’s been battling since his return trip from the Congo. In fact, after thirty years serving as a missionary to that country and making many trips back and forth, you could say he’s an expert—a term not altogether unfamiliar in reference to this 74-year-old member of North Park Covenant Church. A retired surgeon who prepared for a career in medical missions through time spent in the U. S. Air Force and North Park Theological Seminary, Roger and his wife, Eileen (Adell), were voted North Park Distinguished Alumni in 2001 in recognition of their achievements and contributions throughout their time in the Congo (then known as Zaire).

Despite years of experience and a laundry list of accolades, Roger’s most recent trip undoubtedly garnered more national media attention than any of his previous forays, due in no small part to the identity of two of his seven traveling companions, Kathy (Bowman) Holmgren and Calla Holmgren. Mike Holmgren, Kathy’s husband and Calla’s dad, was coaching the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL while Kathy and Calla were in Africa. This led to a flurry of stories covering the trip, both prior to and during their stay in the Congo. Now that they’ve returned and the coverage has subsided, however, the most important part of the story—the work this team did to impact lives in the Congo—remains to be told.

During their three-week trip, the team spent its days seeing patients and performing surgeries, and their nights delivering and/or translating lectures for Congolese medical personnel. They came face-to-face with the medical challenges confronting the Congo, including malaria and AIDS. They did their best to minister to some of the many orphans and widows created by the recent conflicts in this war-torn nation.

“The team adapted so well to some really tough situations,” remarked Dr. Thorpe—including a lack of running water. Water was supplied by a 55-gallon drum filled continually from a nearby spring. In addition to the unfamiliar living situation, the group faced medical challenges not very common in this country­—bone infections, tumors of the face, and various side effects of past fractures not properly treated. Roger recounted one specific surgery in which he assisted Calla in removing a cyst the size of a cantaloupe from a middle-aged woman’s abdomen. In reflecting on his fellow healer, he commented, “She’s a plucky gal!”

Reflecting on his time in the Congo—thirty years as a full-time missionary and recent short-term trips—Roger said: “having the real strong feeling that this is where God wants you has been invaluable for motivation and inspiration.” Their example accomplished the same purpose for those who watched Roger, Kathy, Calla, and the rest of their team follow God’s call to the Congo.