Communauté des Ëglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo
Mennonite Brethren Mission in the Congo was the result of the interest of the Mennonite Brethren Conference (MB) in doing mission work in Africa evidenced by discussions recorded in its Yearbook as early as 1893. In 1896 Peter H. and Martha Wedel and Heinrich and Maria Enns, supported by funds from the Mennonite Brethren Conference, proceeded to the Cameroons of North Africa to a field of the North American Baptist Mission Society. Unable to withstand the severity of the climate, Martha Wedel was soon obliged to leave, her health broken. After seven months Heinrich Enns died on the field in 1896. Peter Wedel, whose health also failed, planned to go to Europe to seek recovery, but died on the sea 10 August 1897. Maria Enns, too, succumbed to the climate, dying 3 January 1898.
In 1912 the Aaron A. and Ernestina Janzen went to the Belgian Congo of Africa, supported by friends of foreign missions within the Mennonite Brethren Conference. They served on the Congo Inland Mission field from January 1913 to November 1920, when they changed to the Kikwit area of the Kwango district, at first locating at Kikondji, but moving to Kafumba in 1924.
In 1955 the Kwango district field of the MB Conference was some 100 x 110 miles (160 x 175 km) in dimensions. Kikwit was its commercial center. The field operated three main stations. Its population in 1955 was estimated around 400,000, living in 900 villages. The prominent tribes were the Bampende, Bapinda, Bombala, Bongongo, Bambunda, and Bakwezi.
Kafumba, opened in 1924, was 35 miles south of Kikwit on the Kwilu River. The area it served was 50 miles (80 km) square, covering several hundred villages. The station contained an indigenous church, a primary school, a teacher-training school, a Bible school, a hospital, and a printing office. On the mission compound were located five residences for missionaries, two buildings for orphans, seven small buildings for girls, boarding, one large and several small buildings for boys' boarding, fifteen small workers' houses, one church, one new and three old schoolhouses, one new hospital, three old ward huts, and some twenty sheds, storehouses, and workshops. The staff at Kafumba included Aaron A. and Ernestina Janzen, Kathryn Willems, Frank and Clara Buschman, Irvin L. and Lydia Friesen, Mathilda Wall, Mary Toews, and Erna Funk. Former workers, deceased in the 1950s, were Ernestina Janzen and Martha Manz.
Matende, opened in 1946, lies 56 miles (90 km) southeast of Kikwit on an elevated, rolling plateau. Its area was roughly 35 x 35 miles (55 x 55 km), serving 100 villages with an aggregate population of 50,000. In 1955 the station had a church, an elementary school, a dispensary, and dormitories for boys and girls. Its buildings were four residences for missionaries, one church, one schoolhouse, one girls' boarding, one boys' boarding, one dispensary, one small ward, one garage and storehouse, six workers' houses, and three sheds and workshops. On the staff at Matende were A. F. and Mary Kroeker, Abram J. and Sarah Esau, and Margaret Dyck.
Kipungu, opened in 1948, was some 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Kikwit. Its area is 56 x 56 miles (90 x 90 km), containing 200 villages and 200 company posts with a joint population of over 40,000. In 1955 the station had a church, an elementary school, boys, and girls' dormitories, and did dispensary service. Its buildings were one missionary residence, two houses for native teachers, one provisional church building, one girls, boarding, three boys, boardings, six workers' houses, and two sheds for storage. On the staff were John B. and Ruth Kliewer, Anna Enns, and Anna Goertzen.
All three stations promoted evangelization in the villages, maintained around 100 village schools taught by national teachers, and dispensed medicines when on tour. The Kwango Mennonite Brethren field had somewhat over 4,000 baptized believers, one ordained minister, nine licensed preachers and evangelists, and up to 100 station and village teachers. -- A. E. Janzen
As early as 1893, Mennonite Brethren in North America considered mission work in Africa. The first mission ventures from North America in the Cameroons, by Peter and Margaret Wedel and Henry and Maria Enns, were terminated by illness and death within two years of their beginning in 1896. From 1912 to 1920, Aaron and Ernestina Janzen laid the foundations of the Congo Inland Mission, now Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM), at Kalamba in the Kasai district of Belgian Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) and at Nyanga among the Baluba people. In 1920 they independently began a new work for Mennonite Brethren at Kiandji in the Kikwit area of what became Bandundu province, and in 1924 relocated to Kafumba, some 35 miles (56 km.) south of Kikwit. Covering an area some 50 miles square and including several hundred villages, Kafumba remained a major center of Mennonite Brethren mission activity until the rebellion in 1964. Institutions included a primary school, a Bible school, a hospital, and a printing shop.
In the meantime, quite unrelated to the development of the present Mennonite Brethren church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Henry and Anna Bartsch from Canada began a work among the Dengese people at Bololo some 450 miles (726 km) to the northwest in the Deese territory of Kasai district. Begun in 1933, after the Bartsches assisted the Janzens in Kafumba for one year, this work was supported independently by the Africa Mission Society (consisting of Bartsches' acquaintances in Canada). In 1942, following much hardship and heroic endurance, the first baptism took place and a church was organized. Only after the Board of Missions assumed sponsorship in 1943 did the Africa Mission Society dissolve. Joining the Bartsches in their work at Bololo were Lydia Jantz and Katharine Harder in 1933, Margaret Siemens and Herman and Tina Lenzmann in 1937, and Karl and Maria Kramer in 1938. Following a time of no missionaries from 1942 to 1946, William and Margaret Baerg and Susie Brucks were assigned to work among Dengese people, but relocated the mission center from Bololo to Djongo Sanga. This work continued until 1953, when it was transferred to nearby missions.
In 1946, Matende, 56 miles (90 km) southeast. of Kikwit, became a new area of ministry some 35 miles square, serving 100 villages with an aggregate population of 50,000. Besides a church, Matende also had an elementary school, a teacher training school, a dispensary, and dormitories. A. F. and Mary Kroeker were the first missionaries at Matende.
In 1948, Kipungu, 60 miles (97 km) south-west of Kikwit, was opened. Some 56 miles square and serving 200 villages and 40,000 people, Kipungu also had a church, an elementary school, a dispensary service, and dormitories. John and Ruth Kliewer began the work at Kipungu.
By 1950, the Kwango field with its three stations of Kafumba, Matende, and Kipungu had about 4000 baptized believers, one ordained minister, nine licensed preachers and evangelists, and up to 100 station and village teachers for its 100 village schools. In addition, medicines were dispensed as missionaries toured the villages for evangelism.
Further expansion to the south took place at Lusemvu in 1952 when an independent work begun in the 1930s, an institutional program centered on a school and dispensary, was purchased from Mrs. Near. Frank and Clara Buschman and Nettie Berg were placed there by Mennonite Brethren. Still farther south, the Unevangelized Tribes Mission (UTM) dissolved their two stations of Kajiji and Panzi in 1952 and offered them to the Mennonite Brethren with their missionary residences, schools, hospital, dormitories, and storage houses. At this time Clyde and Elisabeth Shannon and Rolfe and Edna Graves transferred from the UTM to the Mennonite Brethren mission. The Kajiji church, first organized in 1942, had a membership of 100, and several hundred more joined after Mennonite Brethren began their work.
On 30 June 1960, Zaire became an independent nation and Belgian colonial rule (1884-1960) came to an end. With this birth of a new nation and the subsequent revolution until 1964, the indigenous church and the mission were severely tested. Missionaries were evacuated via Angola on 12 July 1960. Several returned within months. Others returned to provide relief in 1961, and by the summer of 1962 families were permitted to return. A number of new doctors responded to replace the colonial professionals. Also, extensive relief programs were channeled through Mennonite Central Committee. During this time of transition, the national church encountered harassment by revolutionary leaders, and many of its leaders went into hiding. Only in 1965 was the church regathered, the first post-rebellion conference being convened at Gungu.
In the interim, new forms of ministry emerged with a shift from rural to urban settings. The rebellion of 1964 under Pierre Mulele resulted in the destruction of Kafumba, Lusemvu, and Matende centers with very extensive property losses. Henceforth, missionaries concentrated their efforts at Kajiji, Kikwit, and Kinshasa. The radio ministry, begun in Kikwit by Irwin Friesen, was begun again in Kinshasa in 1960, and later also aired via ELWA from Monrovia, Liberia (1961-1971). At its height it beamed 146 broadcasts a month in four languages. This broadcasting was terminated because of Zaire government programming restrictions. A correspondence ministry, developed through radio broadcasts, offered 17 courses to 6,704 students in four languages in 1970. In the late 1980s this ministry continued in a somewhat reduced form under national leadership. The emphasis upon literature production continued. In 1949 the New Testament was printed in the Kituba language, utilizing a translation completed by Ernestina and Martha Hiebert Janzen with the assistance of Kathryn Willems. Since independence there has been close collaboration between missionaries and nationals in the production of hymnbook, Bible dictionary, Bible subject index, and most recently the Old Testament in Kituba, especially under the supervision of Hardy Schroeder.
Significant to the development of the Églises des Frères Mennonites au Congo (EFMC; Mennonite Brethren Churches in the Congo) was their official recognition as an independent denomination in 1971. As part of the authenticity policy of Zaire, the EFMC was subsumed under the Church of Christ in Zaire (ECZ) in 1973, Christian names were dropped in favor of authentic tribal names, and a new name was given to the Mennonite Brethren churches, the Communauté des Églises de Frères Mennonites au Zaire (Mennonite Community of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Zaire (CEFMZ)). Until 1982 the executive committee included some missionaries. The first two national chairmen were Kilabi Bululu and Kusangila Kitondo. Church membership under national leadership grew rapidly from about 12,000 in 1973 to 35,000 in 1987, and numerous churches merged in the urban centers of Kinshasa and Kikwit. Missionaries have continued primarily as resource persons for evangelism, theological education, health and development ministries. In 1974 all Christian elementary and high schools were placed under government control. In 1977, the church again assumed control, but the Zairian Department of Education continued to pay teachers' salaries.
Theological education has developed both through formal institutions and informal programs. The Bible institute, earlier at Kafumba, was reopened in Kikwit in 1976 under national leadership. In 1987 it continued under the leadership of Kilabi Bululu with some mission assistance both in personnel and finances. During the 1986-87 school year there were some 70 men and 66 women enrolled. At a more advanced level, the CEFMZ participated with several other denominations at the Institut Supérieur Théologique de Kinshasa (IST; Superior Institute of Theology of Kinshasa). Prior to joining IST, the Mennonite Brethren mission and Congo Inland Mission (later known as Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission) jointly conducted a similar advanced school at Kajiji (1963-1968). Annually, some 8 to 10 CEFMZ students attended IST, and both the CEFMZ and the mission had participating faculty. Several students also received graduate training in theology at Bangui, Central African Republic, or Yaoundé, Cameroon. In the 1980s a new elementary lay leadership program was begun at Nzashi Mwadi, in southwest Bandundu province near the Angolan border, under the leadership of John Esau. Moreover, in 1973 Abe Esau began a theological extension program, centered at Kikwit. Led in 1988 by Reverend Kulupeta, it offered some 17 courses (in process of revision in 1987) serving some 900 students throughout Bandundu province.
The Mennonite Brethren were involved in agricultural development in the early stages of mission presence. In the 1960s they cooperated with other agencies in forming the Protestant Agricultural Program, a program designed to promote and assist the introduction of cattle and poultry and village extension agricultural training. In the 1970s they cooperated with Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) in promoting small business and animal husbandry. These programs have been discontinued. The agricultural promotion, fishpond extension, and community development were carried on from small demonstration farms in cooperation with the village health program. In 1984 Mennonite Brethren Missions and Services with the assistance of Canadian International Development Agency began a vocational training school in Kinshasa. The first courses to be initiated were in carpentry and furniture making. The first students graduated in 1988.
A hospital begun in Kajiji in 1955 had 144 beds and a large maternity ward in 1966. More recently a tuberculosis treatment center moved to the site, and both programs were enhanced by a nutritional center. The nurses' training school was also begun in 1955 with a three-year training program. In 1983 the program was revised with courses specifically geared to public health emphasis and extended to a four-year period. A major building program was completed in 1985. A public health program was initiated in 1982. It was designed to provide initiative for the formation of village health committees and training village health workers. The goals of the project are that these village health workers with their committees will work towards better health by providing information on nutrition and sanitation and by encouraging vaccinations. Other areas of emphasis include family planning and under-five well-baby clinics. Regional dispensaries are provided for treatment of some of the more common ailments. -- Peter M. Hamm
In 1997 Zaire changed its name to Democratic Republic of Congo, resulting also in the name change to Communauté des Églises de Frères Mennonites au Congo. In 2011 the Communauté included 613 congregations with a total membership of 98,050 members.
Esau, H. T. First Sixty Years of Mennonite Brethren Missions. Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1954: 289-375.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL, Mennonite World Conference, 1978:104-106.
Martens, Phyllis. The Mustard Tree: The Story of Mennonite Brethren Missions. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Board of Christian Education, 1971: 63-102.
Mennonite World Conference website.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL, Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 19.
Peters, Gerhard W. The Growth of Foreign Missions in the Mennonite Brethren Church. Hillsboro, KS: Board of Foreign Missions, 1952: 245-282.
Toews, John B. The Mennonite Brethren Church in Zaire. Fresno, CA: Mennonite Brethren Board of Christian Literature, 1978.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 269-270; vol. 5, pp. 262-263. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Janzen, A. E. and Peter M. Hamm. "Communauté des Ëglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2010. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C65403.html.
APA style: Janzen, A. E. and Peter M. Hamm. (January 2010). Communauté des Ëglises de Frères Mennonites au Congo. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C65403.html.