If you missed the first installment of Why I Wrote Among Kings, please read Part 1 on the previous blog post. Enjoy the new Among Kings book trailer above.
Despite the initial excitement of winning awards, the screenplay project languished for the next five years with dead-end producing efforts. We were like the Israelites wandering in the desert, but all of the wandering was not without purpose. Along the way, we encountered new people who became fascinated with William Sheppard's story and the rise of Morel's Congo Reform Association.
Ken introduced me to Suzy O'Hara-Welbaum. In her words, she appeared to be a carpool-driving soccer mom. What I didn't know was Suzy had worked for Disney for twenty years. She had vast experience in story development and marketing with many of Disney's most famous and beloved films.
Suzy took a deep interest in our story, offering her counsel and direction. During many drafts of the script and title changes, it was Suzy's who identified the theme of Sheppard's rise to greatness. "I think you should call it 'Among Kings'.” The new title instantly stuck.
If there is one person who has most profoundly influenced our work, her name is Suzy.
In our historical research, we were led to discover the current and desperate conditions in today's Democratic Republic of the Congo. Along the way, people asked us, "Why this story? Why are you spending so much time on it?"
Curiosity and fascination brought us to the story. Outrage has kept us here.
In the past twenty-five years, over six million people have died in the Congo due to two civil wars, armed militias, starvation, disease, mutilation and rape used as a weapon of war. The United Nations has called the Congo Conflict "the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II."
The Eastern Congo has also been given the undesirable moniker as "the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman" and the "rape capital of the world." All of this bone-chilling chaos dates back to Leopold, who was responsible for an estimated slaughter of eight to twelve million Congolese people. Leopold ranks right behind Mao, Lenin, and Hitler as the man responsible for the world's fourth largest mass slaughter of innocent people. Just as Leopold exploited the Congo Free State for every ounce of rubber and ivory he could take, multinational companies and nations continue to exploit the Congo for its natural resources today.
Dubbed the "Resource Curse", the Eastern Congo is filled with coltan, manganese, cobalt, copper, tin, gold, diamonds, coal, uranium, oil, and timber. The media has largely overlooked the Congo Conflict.
Ken and I are indebted for all the amazing people who have enlarged our understanding of the Congo and Central Africa. Special thanks to my friend Chaz Nichols, who introduced us to a former Congo pilot, Steve Wolford. Thank you to Steve and his wife, Debbie, who invited Ken and I and our wives to their home in Irvine, California, for a Congo prayer meeting.
The Wolford's introduced us to their special friends, Camille and Esther Noto, the founders of Africa New Day, a non-profit organization based in Goma, Eastern Congo. Both were born in the Congo and raised in Belgium. After being introduced in Kinshasa, DRC by Sylvia and Wayne Turner, American missionaries serving in Kinshasa, Camille and Esther got married and came to Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, for undergraduate and graduate studies.
Listening to Camille and Esther share their stories of living and working in the conflict-torn Eastern Congo was one of the most riveting encounters I've ever experienced. For everything Ken and I had read, the outrage for what was going on in the Congo was now personalized through Camille and Esther's stories of human rights abuses, the culture of rape, ministering to injured woman at Dr. Jo Lusi's Heal Africa hospital in Goma and the systematic slaughter of innocent lives throughout the Eastern Congo.
Despite their harrowing stories, Camille and Esther spoke with a quiet confidence and determined hope that real change is possible in the Congo. They shared how Africa New Day was bringing transformational change to the Congo through leadership development, education and empowerment in men and women determined to turn the tide of violence and impunity throughout the country. What has evolved is a very special friendship with Camille and Esther that continues to this day.
To be continued...
Leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!