Musings From the Road
Travelog: Biking Bob's funeral
by Rev. Lana Robyne, FPM Board Member
The mood was somber as a small group loaded onto the Wings of Morning. Bishop Mande and retired Bishop Ntambo were on the plane flown by Bishop Ntambo’s son, Gaston. The vice-governor and grand-chief of Mulongo were both on board. Several other important personages were given seats. We were headed to Mulongo for the final memorial service for missionary, pastor, author, founder of Friendly Planet Missiology, friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. Bob Walters. His widow, Teri, his daughter, Rev. Taylor Denyer, and Isaiah Robyne, my son, were the only other American passengers. As the plane revved up, we sadly waved to those left behind. Many had planned to be at the service. There was no way they could make it in time by moto or bicycles on the sandy, rutted roads, one unfortunate cost of conference running over another day. At least one came in the hopes that there might be room on the plane. There was not.
It was surreal flying over some of the very roads Bob had bicycled. We circled over Mulongo about an hour after take-off from Kamina. We saw a shiny new building by the nursing school. Then we saw the crowds below, twenty people deep, probably more, lining the grassy runway on both sides for much of its length. It looked as if the entire population of Mulongo was there, approximately 100,000 adults not counting all their children. All the children seemed to be here too, hundreds of them of all ages. Older boys, scouts in tan uniforms, pushed them back to clear the path. Many children would not have remembered Bob. They were probably just excited about the plane, wanting to be part of the huge crowds, who the important visitors were, why so many people were waving flags with Bob’s smiling picture on them.
After eulogies were given by Bishop Mande, Bishop Ntambo, and both the Vice-governor and Chief of the region, I was honored to preach my eulogy/sermon, and since I did not write out a copy, I am sharing part of the essence of it as I remember it here. It was a rather long sermon, so I am not including everything I said.
“Baba” Bob passed away unexpectedly on July 31 last year, suffering a massive heart-attack while doing what he loved so much – bicycling near his home in Indiana. Since the moment I heard the news, I cried and worried what would become of FPM without him. I also immediately felt reassured by a vision of him setting out that day, bicycling along smooth roads, enjoying life as always, planning his next trip the North Katanga and the future of FPM. Then suddenly he is cycling up into the air, looking down in surprise to see his body and bike laying on the ground. But he knows where to go. First over his home to reassure his wife he is okay, then over his son Robbie’s home and on to Algiers over Taylor’s family. Then he cycles on to Congo, until he gets to North Katanga and Kalemie, circling over those who are weeping at the news, assuring them his mission will live on in them.
Bob had a loving heart for serving God and the people of North Katanga, but he also had a bad heart, physically. After he died, the doctor who examined him was amazed. How could he have bicycled so much and so strongly? His heart was almost completely clogged. Bob should have died of a heart-attack ten years ago, he mused. Ten years ago? Think of that. Many of us did not know Bob ten years ago. That was about the time he returned to the DRC to ride his bicycle into war-ravaged areas he had served before being evacuated. That was about how long ago he became friends with Rev. Joseph Mulongo. I myself did not know him very well ten years ago. That was about the time he introduced me to his daughter Taylor. Over the past 10 years, Bob has inspired me in my missional theology, and kept encouraging Glen and me to bring students to bicycle in North Katanga with FPM. Two years ago we did that, but due to visa issues, Bob couldn’t join us. He made sure we were in good hands with Rev. D.S. Joseph Mulongo and watched over us from Indiana. We had begun planning on a second trip this year, about this time. We were looking forward to our group bicycling with him and learning from him this July. I never expected I would be returning to North Katanga with him for his memorial service. But I am assured he is with God, watching out for us and making sure we are all in good hands even when he can’t be with us in person.
It is up to those of us left behind to carry on the mission of FPM. The mantle he left behind, unlike Elijah’s mantle for Elisha, cannot be carried by just one person. It will take all of us to share the responsibilities and carry on the spirit of listening to each other. Bob’s mission was not something only foreign missionaries could do. It is easy for all of us to listen and encourage each other, partner with each other to make our world a better place for widows, orphans, the poor and marginalized. The mantle we inherit is a servant’s robe. It is not like those who see clergy robes and stoles as signs of their authority and power to rule over the church and others, using money selfishly. It is a robe of Jesus Christ who turned his kingdom upside down to be a servant to others out of love, humility, justice, and compassion.
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