Over the years Kansas has produced a number of exceptional individuals, men and women who go on to do great things. Perhaps they are nurtured by fertile communities, or perhaps, as some believe, they are men and women of destiny. For El Dorado, Kan., native Mark Wentling, it was a little of both, and after 43 years of adventure he's finally taken time to write about it.
"Africa's Embrace" is a novel based on Wentling's life and exploits on the continent of Africa. In 1966, compelled by a sense of destiny, Wentling abandoned his studies at Wichita State University and his job as night manager at the Student Union to accept the challenge President Kennedy made to his generation in 1964.
Wentling began his lifetime of civil service with a Peace Corps tour in Honduras, shocking everyone he knew by dropping out of school only one semester away from graduation.
Wentling's first assignment was a major learning experience. In training in Puerto Rico, he was dubbed a "high-risk, high-gain" trainee by Peace Corps officials because of his free-spirited nature and tendency to ignore rules and deadlines.
But he made the cut, serving two years in remote mountain villages in Honduras. True to form, however, he didn't attend his own graduation, embarking instead on another tour with the Peace Corps to the place he'd always wanted to go: Africa.
'Made in Africa'
Wentling's work in Africa has covered 54 nations during the past 30 years. He has served with the Peace Corps, USAID and International Non-Governmental Organizations, and has witnessed firsthand the horrors of human misery as well as the intimate corners of African lives.
He was marked for life by events in the Battle of Mogadishu (made famous by the movie "Black Hawk Down") and empowered by the rites and beliefs of the people he came to love. "Born in Kansas but made in Africa," Wentling says of himself, which is true of the protagonist in his novel as well.
"Africa's Embrace," the first of three books, is a semi-autobiographical novel that tells the story of a simple Kansas boy dubbed "Bobovovi" when he sets foot on the Dark Continent. His humanitarian path takes a mystic twist when he dedicates himself to the welfare of the native people and he is chosen by the spirit world to be transformed into something unimaginable.
Wentling's novel shows a facet of Africa most people will never know. The three years Wentling spent in a small village in Togo in the 1970s turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime; an experience that shaped his life. Wentling's story promises to be an experience for the reader as well.
Wentling retired from the Senior Foreign Service in 1996 and became country director for Plan International's humanitarian program in Burkina Faso in 2011.
He is a graduate of Wichita State University, Cornell University and the U.S. National War College. Wentling lives in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, West Africa. His novel is available on Amazon.com.