Jacque Breman continues teaching agriculture through international volunteer work

Jacque Breman, an Alexandria, Minn., resident and retired professor, continues teaching agriculture through international volunteer work in Africa.

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Jacque Breman stands outside his home in Alexandria. Breman moved to Minnesota after he retired, but he spent most of his childhood in South America and adult years in Florida. (Jasmine Johnson / Echo Press)

Jacque Breman spread out laminated posters, an interactive diagram with velcro attachments and other teaching materials around his living room, scattered on the carpet and balanced on couches.

He hopped to and fro, explaining what each material would be used for during his trips to eastern Africa.

Breman, 67, held tight to his passion for teaching, even after retiring from his role as an agricultural professor.

He lived in South America growing up, as his parents were missionaries in Bolivia and Columbia. He attended high school and college in Florida, going on to teach for 32 years at his alma mater, the University of Florida.

After retirement, he moved to Minnesota to get married in 2012. Some farmers he made connections with during his teaching career still reach out and call Breman on occasion.


Accepting an unexpected expedition

While attending an event at Lutheran Island Camp near Battle Lake, Breman's wife, Alicia Johnson, sat next to two missionaries, Delano and Linda Meyer. She told the couple that her husband used to do mission work as well, so they asked where he was.

“Oh, he’s riding his motorcycle,” Breman said with a chuckle.

She proceeded to invite the Meyers over for bars and coffee so that Breman could meet them. They had been missionaries in Africa for more than 17 years and convinced Breman that he should go, too.

“The next thing I knew, I was getting a visa to go to Malawi,” he said. “That’s the funny thing, I think. I was supposed to have been supporting my wife there for her dinner and I was riding the motorcycle, but I came back to the true center. It’s filled my bucket.”

As a volunteer missionary with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s Agricultural Consultancy program, Breman’s role is to teach improved small-scale farming methods and build relationships with Lutheran churches. The program runs in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda, which are all in eastern Africa.

“I do love to ride the motorcycle, and I do love to go fishing now and then,” Breman said. “But really the priority is how can I best help people with the skill set that I still have.”

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Jacque Breman (left) shows a Kenyan pastor a corn crop’s root system and explains what stage of growth to apply additional nitrogen fertilizer. In his volunteer missionary role, Breman focuses on teaching the BAC process: Build organic matter, apply fertilizers properly and control pests. (Contributed)


Preparing for the unknowns

Each group he teaches, Breman experiences a different audience response and group dynamic.

“Holding onto your seat and going along for the ride,” he said. “If you like adventure, this is Africa.”

At one church, the congregants came in formal dress clothes because they heard a professor was coming to town, but Breman arrived in cargo pants with a red backpack over his shoulder, ready to apply the classroom lessons to a nearby field that same day.

In another place, Breman taught community members how to make fertilizer. The Kenyan government had shut down the fertilizer companies, as they were selling sand.

In response, he brought materials for a do-it-yourself fertilizer, purchasing some phosphorus and knowing potassium would weather away from nearby rocks. Since Breman had to determine a ratio that would translate into a 100-pound storage bag, he used sand to thin out the mixture.

As Breman was explaining this to about 35 individuals, they huddled in close while he tried to holler louder than the sheets of rain pouring down and echoing on the roof. Once the group caught on to his idea, they all rushed forward to get a closer look.


“So, you have that extreme where they’re pumped up and excited,” Breman said. “Same tribe, different valley, different response.”

Following his calling

Breman couldn’t believe he would have this opportunity to serve after retiring and getting married. He was even more bewildered that he would end up in Africa because he learned how to read, write and speak in Spanish.

Why wasn’t I asked to go back to South America? Breman asked himself.

Instead, he had to defer to a translator every time he wanted to say the simplest greeting in Swahili.

“I’m just struggling with the language, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “People are people, wherever you go. They respond to enthusiasm and honesty.”

Some people ask if he’s afraid of getting sick while he’s across the ocean in a country with less access to health facilities, but Breman just says he’s more watchful.

“You always try to be a little more careful and not just be foolish,” he said. “But, you know, if you’re called to go, usually it works out.”

Once when he was staying in a very remote area, Breman’s digestive system wasn’t adjusting well to the change of diet.

The local pastor told him he needed to get his strength up by having some dairy. When Breman looked around, he didn’t see anything refrigerated, let alone any dairy products.

Before a market vendor shut down for the night, the pastor asked for some milk to help Breman’s stomach. The woman had a few sealed packages of imported milk on hand, so she heated it for Breman to have before going to bed.

He said it took care of whatever had gone awry in his system.

“You go in faith,” Breman said. “There’s been a time or two I haven’t felt 100%, but the good Lord looked out for me and so did the people.”

Although he hasn’t been back to Africa since 2019 because of COVID-19, Breman hopes to return to “continue the good work.”

“When you get to be 67 and you see some of your friends have passed on and so forth, you know that you’re trying to make the best use of the time that you’ve got left,” he said. “You try to leave a legacy. Not for me because I’ll be long gone, passed on to be with the Lord. But you try to leave a legacy that helps folks go another step or another level.”

Jasmine Johnson joined the Echo Press staff in May 2020 as a general assignment reporter. She grew up in Becker, Minn., and later studied journalism and graphic design at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn.
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