Like Congolese Disciple leader Elonda Efefe, my father Rev. Dr. Joseph M. Smith was a boy from the sticks. In Dad’s case, it was a mountaintop community between White Sulphur Springs, WV, and Covington, VA that rooted and shaped Joe Smith. Rev. Elonda was raised near Lotumbe, Disciple post on the Momboyo River in the tropical rain forest.
The two men had in common a theological education that took them far from home: Dad to Yale and then Union for a doctorate and Paul Elonda to Strasburg, France for his master’s and doctoral studies. They also had in common great love for the people and place they left behind and a visionary commitment to serving those people as Disciple leaders on the two continents.
The rural church was Dad’s special interest both in his academic career and on the mission field in China. After Rev. Elonda was named Equateur Province’s first executive for the unifying Protestant body in Congo, The Church of Christ of Congo, he confided to me, fresh out of college, that all he had wanted and dreamed of during his student days was to become a village pastor.
Dad died January 15 at the age of 98 and a half; Dr. Elonda died in 1991 at the age of 56. Rev. Elonda’s grave is situated in downtown Mbandaka between the Disciples headquarters and the Mbandaka X church buildings. As an important feature of his vision for the church was its leading role in the new nation’s economic and social development, it is appropriate that a corn field grows next to his grave. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Tim 4:7) is the epitaph.