As has often been the case in Mennonite history, political upheaval, migration, and the suffering of refugees in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) resulted in the formation of a new and separate Mennonite Church.
In 1990 the Tshiluba-speaking population of the Zaire provinces of West and East Kasai numbered more than five million people and comprised two major ethnic groups known as the Baluba and the Lulua. While there are slight dialect variations, they easily understand each other and trace their genealogy to a common and mutually acknowledged ancestor. But across the years, the Baluba came to consider the East Kasai as their homeland while the Lulua claimed the West Kasai as theirs.
With the advent of the Belgian colonial administration in the early 1900s and the discovery of diamonds along the Kasai River, which marked the western edge of Lulua territory, opportunities for training and employment soon began to attract people, notably the Baluba. By nature alert and aggressive, more and more of them migrated from the East Kasai to settle among the Lulua folk, their fellow Tshiluba-speaking kinsmen. In the meantime the local Lulua, deeply attached by nature to their agrarian way of life, were more inclined to remain in their rural villages to till their fields and tend their livestock.
In the meantime, Mennonite missionaries had also arrived. They eventually established three mission posts among the Tshiluba-speaking people along the Kasai River: Djoko Punda to the north, Kalamba (later moved and renamed Mutena) to the south, and Kalonda, situated between the two and adjacent to Tshikapa.
By the late 1950s, the ferment of political change was clearly detectable. All across black Africa there was agitation against colonial rule, and insistent calls for political autonomy were heard. The Belgian Congo was not excluded. After a hurried round of consultations in the early months of 1960, political independence was granted on 30 June 1960, and freedom came to a land and people who were ill prepared for it. Confusion and disorder quickly ensued and abruptly, as the public security became questionable, the Belgian administrators departed en masse.
When, along the Kasai River, it became clear to the Lulua people that they were in full transition to black government and that there were few members of their clans who were qualified to take government posts in their own region, they began to fear that they would soon come under the authority of government agents chosen from among the Baluba people. Resentful and fearful of such a possibility, the Lulua turned on the Baluba and soon conflict erupted along the river from village to village. After a series of violent encounters with much destruction of property and some loss of life, the Baluba people decided that they had but one choice: to return to the East Kasai, the land of their ancestors. This major migration of refugees took with it not only hundreds of Mennonite Christians but a number of the church's ablest pastors of that time.
While the early months of life as refugees brought hunger, sickness, and, for many, death, the resilient spirit of the Baluba people soon manifested itself. The Mennonite Christians immediately began to seek each other out and with the encouragement of their fellow refugee pastors, began to erect simple thatch-roofed shelters for prayer and worship. They gathered regularly to seek help and courage from one another and from God's word.
Separated as they were from their fellow believers of the Zaire Mennonite Church (CMZA) to the west both by geographical distance and by great political cleavage, they struggled for more than a year with the question of their future and identity. Who were they? Who would they be in the future? Meaningful continued fellowship with the Ëglise du Christ au Zaire, Communauté Mennonite (CMZA) to the west was very problematic. What about schooling for their children? When appearing before local government authorities from whom they sought help, they were without identity or structure as a Christian group. Thus it was that they eventually made the decision to organize as an autonomous church independent of the CMZA and elected to call themselves Église du Christ au Zaire, Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (The Evangelical Mennonite Church of the East Kasai), a name whose French equivalent has been shortened to the acronym CEM.
Critical during this period of pioneering and decision making was the person and ability of their senior pastor, Kazadi Matthew. Attracted as a lad by the opportunity of schooling at Djoko Punda, he early demonstrated his aptitudes as a student and his natural leadership qualities. Following his graduation from the station Bible school he was promptly recommended by the church as a pastoral candidate. After serving in the Djoko station church he and his wife became the first Zairian couple to open a new regional post in the Djoko church district. This took place at Basonga, a large Belgian palm oil center some 150 miles (240 m.) north on the Kasai River. In the late 1950s he returned to a leadership role on Djoko station. It was here that the tribal conflict of the early 1960s found him and this was eventually his point of departure for the East Kasai as a refugee.
Courageous, a man of vision and with a deep commitment to the church, Pastor Kazadi became something of a legend in his own time and clearly was the moving spirit behind the eventual establishment of the CEM. Under his leadership a legal charter was sought and obtained from the government which opened the door to subsidies for CEM schools and the launching of a modest medical service in the city of Mbuji Mayi. A Bible institute was also started under his leadership. After graduating one class, the school closed following a period of disagreement between Pastor Kazadi and his staff over curriculum and policy questions. CEM pastoral candidates have since enrolled in training programs at Kalonda and Kinshasa.
In cooperation with the Mennonite Central Committee, effort has been made in the Mbuji Mayi area in rural development, which has at different times featured the raising of poultry and rabbits.
The initiative to organize and promote a separate Mennonite Church in the East Kasai was for some time resisted and resented by the mother church, the CMZA. As a matter of fact, the Mennonite refugees of one clan chose not to identify with the new church preferring to wait until political conditions permitted them to be officially recognized as an eastern district of the CMZA. Fraternal relations, however, have long since been reestablished and there is now a mutual acceptance of each other as sister churches.
Since the early 1960s the CEM has planted in the East Kasai numerous congregations comprised both of former refugees and new people brought to faith in Christ. In recent years they too have sought out fellow believers who have gone elsewhere and established churches in such areas as Muena Ditu, Kananga, and Kinshasa where they currently have four congregations. Total CEM membership in 1987 was approximately 8,200.
In 1997 Zaire changed its name to Democratic Republic of Congo, resulting also in the name change to Communauté Evangélique Mennonite. In 2011 the Communauté included 92 congregations with a total membership of 22,394 members.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 107-111.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 21.
Mennonite World Conference website
|Author(s)||James E Bertsche|
Cite This Article
Bertsche, James E. "Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (Democratic Republic of Congo)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 29 Aug 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Communaut%C3%A9_Evang%C3%A9lique_Mennonite_(Democratic_Republic_of_Congo)&oldid=55771.
Bertsche, James E. (1990). Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (Democratic Republic of Congo). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 August 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Communaut%C3%A9_Evang%C3%A9lique_Mennonite_(Democratic_Republic_of_Congo)&oldid=55771.
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