​Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission's board of directors' meeting met in Kikwit, Congo, Oct. 19-21. Photographer: Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

By Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Lynda and Rod Hollinger-Janzen are visiting churches in Benin, Burkina Faso and Congo, through a partnership with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Mission Network. This is the fourth in a series of reflections that Lynda is writing as they travel. Click here to read her first, second and third  reflections in this series.

Anicka Fast spent more than 200 hours in the Mennonite Church USA archives in Elkhart, Indiana, researching material for her doctoral thesis, Becoming Global Mennonites. This case study explores relationships between expatriate missionaries and their Congolese neighbors. Those days spent in a climate-controlled environment with documents, some more than a century old, transported Anicka to a place of brilliant sunshine and vibrant life.

In past years, my husband, Rod and I were privileged to share table fellowship with Anicka when she traveled to Elkhart from her home in Montreal, Canada. Last year, Anicka and her family began a Mennonite Central Committee assignment in Burkina Faso. She and her husband, John Clarke, share responsibilities as country representatives. Anicka has been seconded to Mennonite Mission Network part-time for teaching African church history and mentoring African historians.

In October, our Africa travels took Rod and me through Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where Anicka's family currently resides. We had a lovely evening watching daughters, Anne-Sophie and Maika, exhibit their horse-riding skills and enjoying John's perfected pad thai recipe.

During one of our longer bus trips, I read Unlikely Friends: How God Uses Boundary-Crossing Friendships to Transform the World, to redeem the hours of being stuck in a seat. Anicka adapted a portion of her dissertation for a chapter in this volume of essays honoring Dana L. Robert, her Ph.D. advisor at Boston (Massachusetts) University. Robert was at the forefront of promoting the study of world Christianity in the academic world.

Anicka's chapter, "Friendship, Gender and Power," examines a relationship that began in 1919 at the Ndjoko Punda mission station in Congo. That's when Matthieu Kazadi was hired to work in the house of an American missionary couple, Edna and William Kensinger. Anicka describes the post-World War I era as a time of shifting power dynamics in the Mennonite mission stations, as Congolese voices became stronger. While many expatriate mission workers had returned to their home countries due to an internal conflict, the number of Congolese church members had more than doubled. Many of the early Congolese Bible school students had become evangelists.

Anicka writes that although life at the mission stations, "reflected the profoundly unequal colonial relationship that existed throughout the territory," many expatriate missionary women developed qualitatively different relationships with African Christians than expatriate missionary men did. She believes one reason was that the women worked alongside their African household helpers. This was especially true in Edna Kensinger's case, who often described the three young men who helped wash clothes, clean the house and cook as her family. Matthieu was so much a part of Edna's extended family that he wrote letters to her mother.

Edna had a cheerful, out-going personality. She paid daily visits to women in neighboring villages and often invited school children to her home. As Edna's friendship with Congolese people deepened, Edna and William began to dismantle some of the barriers that separated the expatriate mission community from their Congolese brothers and sisters. In accordance with Jesus' teaching, they helped organize shared meals that incorporated Congolese foods, like bidia, a staple starch prepared from cassava and/or corn.

When two expatriate missionaries got married, a wedding feast in which bidia was served helped bring the Congolese church members and the missionaries closer than ever before, William wrote in a letter. "It is felt by many that only as the missionaries mingle with the [Congolese people] will they be able to reach them for Christ."

Eventually, the Kensingers moved off the mission compound. In 1924, Edna wrote to relatives, "... we are just anxious to get away from the mission stations and just live with the [Congolese people] ... I have not seen another white person for a week, but I am not lonesome."

Anicka wrote that the friendly relationships between the Kensingers and Congolese Christians "contributed to a subtle shift in the segregated dynamics of the mission station.  ... Both the Kensingers and the Congolese [people] with whom they developed friendly relations were transformed."

The last official stop on Rod's and my itinerary included participation in Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission's (AIMM) board of directors' meeting, the International Central Council, in Kikwit, Congo, one of AIMM's original mission stations. This annual gathering, Oct. 19-21, brought together 25 representatives from Mennonite churches in Angola, Burkina Faso, Canada, Congo, Sierra Leone, South Africa and the United States. Of these 25, two were North American and four were women. (Rod and I are not included in the count, as we were present in an honorary capacity.)

AIMM is led by executive co-coordinators John Fumana of Congo and Bruce Yoder of Canada and the United States. This decision-making body that more fully represents the Congolese churches is the 100-year-old fruit of the small challenges made to the colonial status quo by Matthieu, Edna and William and shows the true transforming power of friendship.

Matthieu Kazadi went on to become the first president of Communauté Mennonite au Congo (Congo Mennonite Church) in 1960. He also planted many churches and helped establish another denomination, Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (CEM, Evangelical Mennonite Church). Both denominations were represented at the Kikwit meetings. Jean-Félix Cimbalanga, CEM president, is also president of the AIMM board of directors. 






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​Lynda Hollinger-Janzen is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network.



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