Mbungano Yabunyina Muli Kristo, Zambia

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Mbungano Yabunyina Muli Kristo, Zambia (Brethren in Christ Church in Zambia), one of two Brethren in Christ churches in Africa. Claiming 4,395 members in 1985, the church operated through 15 organized congregations and 110 additional preaching points along the rail line from Livingstone in the south to Kitwe in the north. Theological training, church planting, Christian education, literature sales, literacy, radio and television ministry, and medical and educational institutions are all part of the life and work of the church. The Brethren in Christ Church in Zambia is affiliated with the Africa Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship, the Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, and the Mennonite World Conference. In 2003 there were 15,000 members and in 2006 the church had grown to 20,626 members in 158 congregations, led by Bishop Thuma Hamukang’andu.


Brethren in Christ missionaries from North America arrived in southern Africa in 1898. Having felt a call to the African continent, a group of five people decided during their boat travel to Cape Town, now in the Republic of South Africa, to focus on the area that was home to the Matabele people. A tract of land in this area was obtained through the British Charter Company. The work of building, learning the Ndebele language, and teaching school begn shortly afterward.

One member of the group, however, was not satisfied. Having joined the missionary endeavor with a concern for "Interior Africa," H. Frances Davidson eventually began discussing with her colleagues the idea of moving farther north for a new mission effort. After a furlough to North America in order to discuss her idea with the mission board, Davidson returned to Africa. In 1904 a railroad designed to stretch eventually from the Cape in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt had reached Victoria Falls. While Davidson claimed that this fact had no effect on the final decision to begin the move north, it certainly provided the means. In July 1906 she and Adda Engle with two Matabele Christian young men left their colleagues in Southern Rhodesia to begin the trek into the interior, then known as Northwestern Rhodesia.

Following negotiation with the British land commissioner, the group from the south settled in the territory of Chief Macha, for whom their first station was named. Their site was chosen for its agricultural potential, its access to water, the distance from mosquito- and malaria-producing swamps, and its proximity to the Tonga people. The task of building a house came first, quickly followed with some visiting in nearby villages, and initial efforts at the Tonga language, for which no written grammars or dictionaries were then available.

The missionaries noted a difference in the response of their new neighbors as compared to their earlier experience in Southern Rhodesia. When they announced the opening of school in January 1907, no one came to begin classes. However, a special week of prayer in February during which Chief Macha arrived, bringing his son to study, marked a change. By the end of that year 17 boys were studying and living on the mission station. In 1909 10 boys were baptized and received into the church. By 1910 girls had joined the ranks as day students at Macha, and both girls and boys were studying at schools opened in several neighboring villages. Their teachers, young men among the first converts, lived at the mission and went to their daily work from there, since it was feared that their position as Christians would be too lonely and threatened if they lived in the villages.

Myron Taylor, a third member of the missionary team, arrived in 1907, and two years later he and Adda Engle were married. With an active interest in village work, the Taylors began to think of another mission station. It was not until 1920, however, that land was obtained at Sikalongo. The Taylor family moved to begin their new work early the next year, starting once more with a school.

Missions and Institutions

The desire to teach the Tonga people to read, and especially to read the Bible, was central to the missionaries' motivation for starting their work with schools. Quickly, however, pressure was felt to make education relevant to the world introduced into Africa by the colonial presence. Schools which at first were totally organized by missionary teachers soon became part of the expanding colonial administration. In 1931 the station school at Macha closed, and later that year it reopened as a district girls school. It was 17 more years before anyone completed primary school work at Macha. At Sikalongo the day school quickly developed to a boarding school and in 1938 it became an upper level primary school, with earlier primary teaching taking place in the village outstation schools.

In 1952 a teacher training program was begun at Macha. A year later there were 2,443 pupils at mission-run village day schools, and 327 students in boarding schools at Sikalongo and Macha. Before the end of the decade the teacher training program had moved to Livingstone, in a cooperative effort through the Northern Rhodesian Christian Council (later known as the Christian Council of Zambia). A Brethren in Christ church member trained at Messiah College in the United States was among the first instructors there. The Brethren in Christ joined with the Pilgrim Holiness Mission to begin a secondary school at Choma in 1962, and the junior secondary level was added to the girls school at Macha in the 1960s as well.

The need for medical work was obvious to the first missionaries, who observed many basic health problems among their neighbors when they arrived. Even untrained missionaries found themselves treating wounds and fevers, but they were clearly relieved when the first trained nurse arrived in Northern Rhodesia in 1924. In the 1930s a hospital with maternity facilities was developed at Macha and clinic work grew at Sikalongo. In 1954 a missionary doctor moved from one of the Brethren in Christ hospitals in Southern Rhodesia to begin work at Macha. Training Zambian health care workers was central to the medical effort. Macha Hospital School of Nursing graduated its first class in 1969.

The Growth of the Church

While a great deal of missionary effort went into building and maintaining institutions, the task of evangelism and church development was always at the forefront of the missionaries' thinking. The schools themselves, first on the stations and then in surrounding villages as well, were thought of as "lighthouses" for evangelism. As clinics and the Macha hospital developed, these institutions also served as centers for preaching. The church grew slowly from this witness, with 140 baptized members in 1921, 141 members in 1936, and 240 members 10 years later.

Developing leadership among the Tonga Christians was also at issue, although missionary understandings of whether and when to entrust leadership functions were not always clear. Early converts were directed toward the tasks of village evangelism (lay evangelists) and teaching. Later, Christians were elected to functions such as that of deacon. During the 1950s students training as pastors and evangelists began to travel to a Brethren in Christ school in Southern Rhodesia. A Bible institute was founded at Sikalongo in 1967, graduating its first class of three in 1969. Pastors who needed a higher level of training continued to travel to the south until the 1970s. In the 1980s Sikalongo Bible Institute developed from a two to a four-year program, with an internship for third-year students. A major effort to provide Bible training more broadly began in the mid-1970s under the theological education by extension program (TEE), and in 1985 there were more than 15 active TEE centers, awarding 200 certificates each year.

From the beginning the church in Northern Rhodesia, which became Zambia after independence, and in Southern Rhodesia, which eventually became Zimbabwe, was conceived of and administered as one entity by the North American mission board. During the 1950s an administrative structure was formed which made missionaries responsible for the institutional system and a board composed of Africans and missionaries responsible for the work of the church. Beginning in 1962, two missionaries functioning as bishops, directed the work of the church through northern and southern regional conferences. In 1964, as Britain granted independence to Zambia, the mission board gave full authority to the African church. At that point Zambian and (Southern) Rhodesian overseers were brought onto the executive board which dealt with all aspects of church, mission and institutional life. Political realities forced the hand of the African Brethren in Christ Church, as a minority white government in Rhodesia declared unilateral independence in 1965, and closed its borders with Zambia in the early 1970s. Travel became so difficult that the last joint general conference was held in 1973, after which the Zambian church assumed its own separate identity (for Zimbabwe, see Ibandla Labazalwane Kukristu e-Zimbabwe).

William T. Silungwe was elected the first Zambian bishop in 1976. Under his leadership the church grew from slightly more than 1,200 members to more than 4,000 in 1985. Bible conferences and evangelistic meetings were a major focus of church work. An effort to plant new churches had led to the placement of a Zambian pastor in the "Copperbelt" in Zambia's industrial north. In 1985 the church was organized into four districts: Choma, in the area of the mission's original work; Livingstone in the south; Lusaka, Zambia's capital; and the Copperbelt.

A missionary group, numbering 35 in 1986, continues to work under Zambian church administration. Many of them staff the schools and hospitals at the historic mission stations. Others are part of the church's recent outreach movement. Missionaries and Zambian church leaders continue to search for the best ways to witness to the good news in modern Zambia.


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Author(s) Nancy R. Heisey
Richard D. Thiessen
Date Published October 2008

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MLA style

Heisey, Nancy R. and Richard D. Thiessen. "Mbungano Yabunyina Muli Kristo, Zambia." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. October 2008. Web. 18 Oct 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mbungano_Yabunyina_Muli_Kristo,_Zambia&oldid=122558.

APA style

Heisey, Nancy R. and Richard D. Thiessen. (October 2008). Mbungano Yabunyina Muli Kristo, Zambia. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 October 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mbungano_Yabunyina_Muli_Kristo,_Zambia&oldid=122558.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 549-551. All rights reserved.

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