The Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Communion of Congo), has its origins in the ministry of the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), which prior to 1971 was known as the Congo Inland Mission (CIM). Its first missionaries arrived in 1912 in the West Kasai region of the Belgian Congo (which became the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1964 and the Republic of Zaire in 1971, and changed again to Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997). They immediately established two stations along the banks of the Kasai River, one at Djoko Punda (renamed Charlesville during the Belgian colonial era) near the Wissman Falls and another near Kalamba, several days trek to the south. The placing of missionaries at Kalamba farther to the south was deliberate since it was the home village of Chief Kalamba known at the time as the king of the Lulua people. (This station was later moved and renamed Mutena.) At Djoko, ministry was started among a mix of Lulua and Baluba people.
Following World War I, two new stations were established among the Baphende people to the west whose villages were located on both sides of the Loange River. Nyanga station was built in the West Kasai Province and Mukedi in Bandundu Province, then known as the Kwilu. In both cases the stations were built adjacent to villages of the same name.
In the ferment following World War II, several smaller faith missions in the Kwilu (which later became the Bandundu Province) were dissolved. Congo Inland Mission acquired yet another station, Kandala, among the Baphende people to the south of Mukedi, plus a second post named Kamayala still farther to the south among the Chokwe people near the Angola border.
At the same time CIM was constructing two new posts in the Kasai. One was at Kalonda overlooking Tshikapa, the Belgian diamond mining center on the Kasai River, where a mix of Lulua, Baluba, and Baphende had been drawn by opportunity for vocational training and employment. Yet another station was also under construction to the west of Djoko among the Bashilele people at a place called Banga. Thus by the early 1960s, CIM had missionary personnel situated at eight different stations scattered across an area roughly equivalent in size to Illinois or Bangladesh.
From the start, CIM philosophy of mission had been to prepare and enable African believers to be the evangelists of their own people. Thus it was that Baluba evangelists from Djoko were the first to reach out to the Baphende who in turn reached out to the Banjembe, the Bawongo, and the Ambunda. Gradually, as clusters of believers began to emerge. all eight mission stations became major Mennonite church centers.
From earliest days the tradition of annual missionary conferences, to which African leaders were invited for fellowship, inspiration, and discussion with the missionaries, was established. With passing time, a system of dual church and missionary conferences was followed.
In 1959 a delegation from the CIM board came to Zaire for a meeting with the church leaders at Djoko and raised the issue of the future of their own church. They were invited to choose a name of their preference for their church and to consider the removal of missionary personnel from one or more of the established stations to allow national leaders to assume more responsibility. Some models of new relations between the mission and the church were also sketched and studied. The African leaders decided that their name was to be the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo, a name which would later be changed to the Mennonite Church of Zaire (CMZA). Before any of the envisioned structural changes could be implemented, political independence suddenly burst upon the scene. This occasioned the abrupt departure of Belgian administrators and civil servants, followed by a time of great turmoil and insecurity which saw, among other things, the temporary evacuation of the entire CIM missionary team and the migration of the Baluba people from the West Kasai to the land of their forebears in the East Kasai.
In 1965 Joseph Mobutu, with the backing of the army, took control of the government and a measure of stability was restored. Missionaries and African church leaders both realized that it was urgent to revive the discussions which had been opened at Djoko in 1959. A number of significant initiatives were taken: The church sought its own legal charter from the government; it was granted in 1964. This secured legal recognition for the church and its officers. Arrangements were made for the Zairian church officers to work with their missionary counterparts in a thoroughgoing orientation in the areas of administrative responsibility and pastoral care. At the same time a committee of missionaries and African leaders were working on a statement of faith and a constitution for the church. In 1971 at another major consultation in Zaire a plan of fusion was adopted in which the CIM was dismantled as a mission, its properties and equipment were turned over to the church and the church was recognized as an autonomous body.
With administrative headquarters at Tshikapa, the CMZA counted a total of 33 districts scattered from Kinshasa in the west to Mbuji Mayi in the east (1986). It administered a school program which had more than 50,000 primary school students and thousands more at secondary levels. It maintained a four-year Bible institute at Kalonda, secondary schools for both girls and boys at a number of church centers, a health service which included four small bush hospitals and more than 40 rural dispensaries. CMZA also was a partner in a variety of interchurch projects. In Kananga it cooperated with the Presbyterian Church in a Tshiluba-language literature production and distribution program known as IMPROKA and LIPROKA, a recording studio for production of religious and public service programming known as STUDIPROKA for diffusion over the Kasai Provincial radio system, and a large reference hospital and nurses training school, called IMCK, at Kananga. CMZA was a shareholder in a large press and publishing house, CEDI, in Kinshasa, and a Protestant guest center known as CAP. CMZA also had representation on the board of a theological training school, Institut Supérieur Théologique de Kinshasa, in the city.
In the area of rural development, the CMZA worked with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in sponsoring an experimental farm and rural development program, SEDA, near its center at Nyanga. A variety of agricultural experiments have been carried out primarily with soybeans and different strains of manioc. There were also some successful pilot projects demonstrating the breeding and care of livestock.
CMZA also operated a portable saw mill in a forest area along the Kasai River north of Tshikapa. Originally funded by a loan from Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA, it was purchased and put into operation to provide lumber for various church building projects and for the local market, where it was always in great demand.
On the national church scene in Zaire, the Mennonite churches, like all others, found themselves in the presence of a national church, Église du Christ au Zaire (ECZ; the Church of Christ in Zaire). During the mission era, a strong and active intermission organization had been created called the Congo Protestant Council (CPC). With the transition from mission to church, the missionary delegates were gradually replaced in the annual assemblies by their Zairian colleagues who in due time elected a Zairian executive secretary. While there was little interest in maintaining the council as a consultative body, there was great interest in using it as a springboard for the creation of a national church of which all former CPC affiliates would automatically become members. As members, they would no longer be referred to as churches, but rather as "communities" which were members of a single Zairian Protestant Church, that is, the ECZ. This entire process created some stress and debate. With passing time, however, it has become clear that while officially there is but a single Protestant Church in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), for all practical purposes each member group functions as, and is considered to be, a church in its own right in the area where it ministers. This is very much the case of the Mennonite churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Church growth among Mennonite Churches in the Congo continues at a rapid rate as it does all across black Africa. Not sharing the Western predilection for the gathering and maintenance of precise statistics, exact membership figures are difficult to ascertain. The Mennonite World Conference membership figures released in October 1986 cited a total Mennonite membership for Zaire of 92,503. Of this figure, the CMZA would have accounted for at least 50,000, a membership which is distributed across 33 districts in three provinces plus the city of Kinshasa. Part of the reason for this steady growth is the aggressive way national leaders have followed rural Mennonites into the mushrooming urban centers and gathered them into prayer and fellowship cells which, in turn, frequently become the core groups for new congregations. In 2003 the Mennonite World Conference reported the Communauté Mennonite au Congo (CMC) (changed from its pre-1997 name of Église du Christ au Zaire, Communauté Mennonite) had 531 congregations with a membership of 86,600.
Another major factor is the active role which laymen and laywomen take in rallying believers and in witnessing to unbelievers in settings where no trained leaders are available. The active lay involvement is both a blessing and a problem. While the readiness and willingness to take initiative in the absence of church leaders is most laudable, it also means that the lack of biblical grounding at times makes such groups vulnerable to the teaching of sects which proliferate in black Africa In effect, church growth in Africa is far outstripping the leadership training programs in place. This clearly constitutes one of the major problems of the African church at this juncture in its history.
CMC has its central headquarters at Tshikapa where the president, vice president, general treasurer, educational secretary, and medical coordinator are based. The task of administration and coordination, given the extent of CMC's ministries, the spread of its membership, and the near total absence of surface transportation is a taxing assignment, to say the least. Regional and ethnic loyalties always lie close to the surface and are capable of exerting serious pressures on the unity of the church. Added to this is the sense of quest, on the part of a younger, better educated generation of believers and leaders, for their own identity and statement of purpose. A question frequently heard in the decade of the 1980s is: "What does it mean to be both African and Mennonite?" These are healthy kinds of issues, and it is in struggling with and resolving them that the future thrust, nature, distinctives, and ministry of the Congo Mennonite Church will be determined.
In 2011 Communauté Mennonite au Congo had 780 congregations with 100,000 members.
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|Author(s)||James E Bertsche|
Cite This Article
Bertsche, James E. "Communauté Mennonite au Congo." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 8 Dec 2013. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Communaut%C3%A9_Mennonite_au_Congo&oldid=91478.
Bertsche, James E. (1990). Communauté Mennonite au Congo. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 8 December 2013, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Communaut%C3%A9_Mennonite_au_Congo&oldid=91478.
Herald Press website.
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