Congo stories will encourage and challenge

Published: September 26, 2012

Mary E. Klassen

Example and encouragement are words Pastor Benjamin Mubenga of the Congo used frequently as he talked about the newly released book, The Jesus Tribe: Grace stories from Congo’s Mennonites, 1912-2012.

The book, featured in a celebration at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary on September 18, marks the centennial of Mennonite witness in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It comprises 88 brief stories of Congolese Mennonite Christians who had life-changing encounters with Jesus and became witnesses to God’s grace in their lives.

Mubenga, who is president of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo (CEM) and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission International Central Council, explained that the book uses vignettes of individual people to trace the history of how the Mennonite Church and Evangelical Mennonite Church began in the Congo. “Some people think many things can happen only in heaven. but here are examples of people who have experienced many things the Bible talks about,” he said.

“There is great value for people to learn about the daily lives of these important individuals who have traced a path to follow,” Mubenga continued. He hopes people today can draw strength and encouragement from it, and when he says this he means both Congolese and North Americans.

Specifically for the North American church, he says, “My hope is that these Congolese can serve as models, as examples, of people who have internalized God’s word and acted upon it.” The stories represent a wide variety of gifts and people, from old and young, women and men. “Each gift is important, and everyone can find something to relate to here because different gifts are represented. These stories can be both a challenge and an encouragement to North Americans.”

At the celebration, Rod Hollinger-Janzen, staff member of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, described how the book came to be with the contributions of many different people. In 2009, when AIMM staff considered doing this project, the church leaders in the Congo not only gave their support but shaped it in ways that fit their context. They identified seven researchers who then received training in gathering oral histories in the Congolese setting. These researchers spent one day a week over the next year interviewing people, sometimes in remote communities, and summarizing the resulting 500 stories. Then over the next two years, several Congolese writers and editors joined with North American editors Nancy Myers, Jim Bertsche and Hollinger-Janzen to complete two volumes. A French book, 100 Ans de Mission Mennonite en République Démocratique du Congo, Témoignages des Apports Locaux 1912-2012, contains 100 stories; The Jesus Tribe in English has fewer stories with some added contextual information.

The book is a project of Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, in collaboration with Mennonite Church of Congo, Evangelical Mennonite Church of Congo, the Institute of Mennonite Studies at AMBS, and the Institute for the Study of Global Anabap¬tism at Goshen College.

John Roth, Goshen College history professor, represented the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at the September celebration. He emphasized how this book witnesses to the necessity of hearing multiple stories. “Stories in The Jesus Tribe describe a dynamic and expanding Anabaptist church that looks very different from the tale I am accustomed to telling.

“The stories gathered in this book should complicate the way we interpret the history of Anabaptist churches in the south,” he continued. “Most of the stories are written by Congolese describing the work of Congolese pastors, missionaries, lay leaders, hymn writers, doctors and teachers who oversaw a period of sustained growth in the church long after the missionaries were formally expelled in 1960. North American missionaries … are no longer the lead characters.”

The Jesus Tribe is available for purchase from the Mennonite Cooperative Bookstore at AMBS, [email protected] or 574.296.6251.
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