TSHIKAPA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Meetinghouse)—Fifty-some young musicians walked nearly 100 miles carrying their drums, luggage, and a few babies to attend the centennial celebration of Communauté Mennonite au Congo – CMCO (Mennonite Community in Congo) – July 16-22. For a week, the choir members from Ndjoko Punda, one of the first Mennonite mission stations in this central African country, traveled along rugged paths through forests and savannas, crossing rivers on make-shift bridges, and spending nights in schoolrooms.
Chorale Grand Tam-Tam (Big Drum Chorale) arrived in Tshikapa, the headquarters of this Mennonite denomination, to lead Mennonites from three continents in praise for “100 years of evangelization and cultural encounters,” the CMCO tagline for the occasion.
In his historical overview of Mennonite history in Congo, the CMCO president, Adolphe Komuesa Kalunga, named weaknesses and failures in the missionary approach of those who came to Congo through Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and its predecessor agencies: paternalism, a heavy focus on the spiritual with less concern for conditions that oppressed the Congolese people, and a reluctance to trust the Congolese church with financial management.
However, Komuesa also acknowledged with gratitude these same missionaries, hundreds of them, who were faithful to God’s call to share the good news of Jesus – braving sickness, a harsh climate, difficult living conditions, and political instability. Some died of illness while serving. Komuesa asked the gathered assembly to stand for a moment of silence to remember all the Mennonites who sacrificed their lives in obedience to Christ’s call.
In his concluding address, Komuesa said, “I salute those missionaries who gave of their youth and their lives for our country. I also render homage to their descendants who are still laboring for the welfare of our church. Let all of them know how grateful we are.”
Missionary accomplishments were only possible because Congolese people worked hand-in-hand with their brothers and sisters from North America, Komuesa said, in congratulation to his church for their solidarity.
Today, CMCO is a member of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, which brings together eight partners, including Mennonite Mission Network.
Approximately 400 participants gathered for the final worship service on Sunday, July 22. Many of them held candles lighted in celebration of CMCO’s birthday.
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the second century that begins today, take care of our church,” was Komuesa’s birthday wish, as the candles were extinguished as a symbol of the end of CMCO’s first centennial anniversary.
Anny Karichawu directs the Chorale Grand Tam-Tam during the centennial celebration of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Mennonite Community in Congo). Photo by James Krabill. Download full-resolution image.
During the week-long celebration, CMCO’s story was communicated in many forms – through original songs in the tradition of griots
(singer-historians); through a book of short biographies of early Congolese Mennonites; through a PowerPoint program presented by François Tshidimu Mukendi, a Mennonite pastor and historian; and through many examples in sermons and testimonies.
"CMCO has been doing God’s work for 100 years starting in 1912,” sang the Chorale Evangélique Mennonite de Dibumba (Evangelical Mennonite Choir of Dibumba). “Today, we are here to thank God. Now, we are many Mennonites. May we work in unity to spread the good news of Jesus.”
In succeeding verses, the choir went on to describe how eight mission stations were built.
Today, although some of the mission station buildings have crumbled into disrepair, the church has thrived, growing to include 110,000 members, 798 congregations, 95 schools, and seven hospitals, according to a conference given by Anastasie Tshimbila, a professor at the Mennonite Bible institute in Kalonda, about five miles from Tshikapa.
The most passionate debate at the celebration centered on the decision to ordain women. Of the three Mennonite denominations in Congo, CMCO was the only one still denying ordination to women. La Communauté des Frères Mennonites au Congo (the Mennonite Brethren Church) ordained its first female pastor in 2000. Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (the Evangelical Mennonite Church) was preparing to ordain its first female pastor a few days after the end of CMCO’s centennial celebration.
Komuesa was given the mandate for his second six-year term as CMCO president just hours before the centennial festivities began, as the annual general assembly concluded around 2 a.m. on July 15.
Among Komuesa’s accomplishments in his first tenure was the construction of a welcome center, which includes a large conference room, a dining room and kitchen, and three dormitory blocks. The new facilities enabled CMCO to receive 30 delegates from three continents representing eight Mennonite agencies (see sidebar). Because the center is within walking distance from the airport, CMCO hopes that it can be used as a guest house to generate income for the church.
The Mille Voix (thousand voices) choir directed by Mobutu Bongela sing outside the Welcome Center in Tshikapa. Photo by James Krabill. Download full-resolution image.
The welcome center was a collaborative effort that included Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, CMCO, building teams from Mennonite Church USA congregations
, and Arnold Harder, who traveled to Congo four times for a total of six months of volunteer service to facilitate the construction process.
Steve Wiebe-Johnson, Mennonite Mission Network’s director for Africa, said that Congo has experienced many difficult and tragic stories throughout its history.
“Fortunately, those stories are not the only story,” Wiebe-Johnson said. “In the midst of it all, God has been active in bringing people into faith and fellowship. We celebrate the present with Congolese Mennonites, expectantly anticipating God’s leading into the future.”
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-523-3024 or 866-866-2872, ext. 23024.